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San Diego Chargers Player Focus: D.J. Fluker

Every week, Jason Peters will look at the coaches film on a particular Chargers player and review how well he performed for the Chargers. For this first week, he is taking a look at how rookie RT D.J. Fluker did against J.J. Watt.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

As most people reading this know, right tackle D.J. Fluker was the San Diego Chargers first round draft pick this year. He was hailed as huge upgrade over incumbent Jeromey Clary, and would significantly improve the running game. In his first game, he was given the task of handling one of the best players in the game, J.J. Watt. How did he do? Let's run through the game film running diary style.

First Quarter
  • First play of the game, Watt stunts inside, and Fluker follows him around. Trying to run through the middle of your own line? Not good. Clary correctly tries to pass off Cushing to a Fluker who isn't there to pick up Watt. Luckily, Rivers was on time with his throw, and Cushing could only resort to an attempts to jump and swat the ball.
  • The first drive starts off with two runs to the left, not much for Fluker to be involved with here.
  • On 3rd and 6 with 11:15 left, Houston brings 5, and Fluker handles OLB Brooks Reed pretty well, directing him behind Rivers and out of the play.
  • Watt blows past Fluker on a run up the middle. Harmless enough in this situation, but could be a problem later.
  • Rivers gets sacked on the next play, though no fault of Fluker. With the help of of a solid chip from Le'Ron McClain, Fluker handles Watt just fine.
  • Fluker handling Watt one on one so far on passing plays. Watt is getting him to retreat, but Fluker is holding him off well enough that if Rivers started feeling pressure, it is because Rivers is holding the ball too long.
  • Finally, on the fourth play of the third drive, a run to the right! And Watt makes Fluker look silly, neatly slipping past him into the backfield. Fluker falls forward on his face. John Phillips holds Watt off long enough for Mathews to do a nifty side step around Watt and rumble for 8 yards.
  • Watt gets past Fluker again on the next play. Watt manages to get a hand on Rivers leg, forcing Rivers to rush the ball out early for an incompletion.
Second Quarter
  • Fluker does a fine job on the rest of the drive, holding off Watt (usually with help) or Reed (solo).
  • The whole offensive line does very well on the Royal touchdown to end the third drive. The Texans send 7 pass rushers, and everyone handles their assignments well, letting Rivers have enough time to get the ball out. Fluker starts off blocking Watt well solo, and when Watt stunts inside, he correctly hands him off to pick up a blitzing Cushing. VERY well done.
  • On the first play of the Chargers 4th possession, Fluker manhandles Reed on a run up the middle, shoving him back 4 yards. Now that's what I'm talking about.
  • The next play is a run to the right end, and Watt gets Fluker to fall down AGAIN. The man is unreal.
  • Rivers gets sacked on third down, but it isn't the fault of the offensive line. Danieal Manning comes on a delayed blitz, and Rivers holds on to the ball way too long. Should have been out of his hands a half second to a full second earlier.
  • The Chargers get the ball with 2 minutes left, let's see how Fluker handles the hurry-up offense.
  • On the first play, Fluker does a good job helping Clary with Watt while waiting to pick up Reed coming from the outside.
  • Fluker almost lets Reed get to Ronnie Brown in the backfield on a run up the middle. Looks like bad footwork on this play.
  • Fluker misses his assignment on 3rd and 8, starting on Watt and then flailing at Reed, who brings pressure on Rivers. Rivers gets the ball out on time though, and it is a 34 yard gain to Gates.
  • On the Vincent Brown touchdown, Houston rushes 3 around the right end, creating an unblocked defender. Fluker handles it well, forcing the free man to run around everyone else before getting to Rivers.
Third Quarter
  • On the 47 yard pass to Floyd to open the second half, Fluker did a GREAT job handling Watt. He had some help with Watt, but he did not need it, and Watt was very effectively blocked.
  • This was done to absolute perfection. Neither defender even got close to Rivers.
  • Fluker played exceptionally well on the drive to start the second half.
  • Fluker was seeing Watt less in the second half, as the Texans were trying to line him up other places along the line, often over Clary.
Fourth Quarter
  • On the first play of the Chargers third 2nd half drive, Watt makes Fluker look absolutely silly on a run up the middle. Fluker winds up falling forward again (for the fourth time by my count), and Watt tackles Mathews for a loss. On running plays, Watt has been absolutely owning Fluker.
  • On third down of the same series, Fluker is pushed back almost all the way into Rivers by Reed.
  • It looks like Fluker was holding Reed on the Rivers interception.
  • On the next drive, the Chargers go pass-happy, and the Texans are blitz-happy. Fluker does just fine pass blocking one on one, though.
  • On the Chargers final drive, Watt gets by Fluker with a swim move AGAIN on a first down run. Fluker had absolutely no answer for that.
  • On second down, Fluker pretty much just tackles Watt from behind before Rivers throws the screen to Mathews. Not a good final drive for Fluker.
Final Thoughts

While these notes may be critical, it is important to note that Watt is absolutely the best defensive lineman in the NFL right now. There is no shame in getting beat by him. I'd also note that the Chargers were right to not run to the right overly often. Watt would just swim move right by Fluker, and be well on his way to a big play. The two effective runs to the right were largely thanks to John Phillips getting hands on Watt to give the runner time to avoid Watt. Fluker is a beast in run blocking, but he has to get his hands on the defender first, obviously a tall task against more athletic linemen.

I was encouraged by what I saw from Fluker in pass protection, though. With the expection of a few plays, he handled his duties in the passing game admirably, not allowing much pressure on Rivers, even against the blitz.

Fluker is definitely still a work in progress, but the initial signs are promising. We may revisit him later in the season to see how he does against Denver's Von Miller