That was fun.
Somehow, I think we all knew the Chargers first win of 2013 had to come in that fashion. That fashion, meaning exasperating, stressful, thrilling, entertaining, exhausting, and finally... gratifying.
It was gratifying to watch a team and QB, which had failed so often in the clutch so many times the last three seasons, come through when it mattered most, and on the heels of the unclutch loss to the Texans.
It was so gratifying, I've been able to overlook how overmatched the Chargers' defense was against Eagles' Head Coach Chip Kelly, QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, and WR DeSean Jackson. Thank God the Eagles only had the ball for 19 minutes and 43 seconds.
On to this week's grades.
Really, this might have been the best performance of Philip Rivers' career. 76.5% completions (36/47), 419 yards, 8.9 YPA, 3 TDs, and no turnovers. There was the perfect start, there was the pair of 4th quarter answering drives to retake the lead at 30-27 and win 33-30.
My favorite thing about this game was that Rivers never really came close to throwing an INT, mostly remained patient, and even threw a ball away inside the redzone when the play (to WR Eddie Royal) wasn't there.
He also did a really good job of spreading the wealth, as three different receivers collected both 5 receptions and 90 yards receiving. Rivers even had a scramble for 10+ yards for the second straight week!
Running Back: B
If Ryan Mathews doesn't fumble the ball in the redzone, this group is closer to A territory, because they did everything else well. Mathews totaled 76 yards on 17 touches (16 carries for 73 yards, and 1 reception for 3 yards). Mathews is a great straight-ahead runner with no ability to create space for himself using lateral movement (unlike, say, LeSean McCoy). On the plus, Mathews generally moves the pile and fights for tough yards - helping to keep the offense on schedule.
Ronnie Brown continues to pass block way better than run or receive and totaled only 18 yards on 4 touches. Danny Woodhead had misleading stats (64 yards on 17 touches), but he converted 8 catches on 9 targets and was instrumental in extending drives - 3 of his catches resulted in 1st downs. Pass blocking was good across the board.
Receivers: A minus
Despite the goal line fumble, TE Antonio Gates pulled in 8 receptions on 10 targets for 124 yards. He may not be the explosive player he once was, but Antonio's still a nightmare matchup for linebackers and smaller safeties.
Before his scary (and, thankfully, not season- or career-ending) injury, WR Malcom Floyd collected 102 yards on 5 receptions (6 targets) by halftime. Floyd was physical and repeatedly took advantage of PHI DB Cary Williams - drawing an additional 2 DPI calls.
WR Eddie Royal seems to be a) fully healthy and b) a perfect player in McCoy / Whisenhunt's system. Royal had 7 catches for 90 yards and 3 TDs, and the only incompletion his way was the QB's throw away mentioned above.
Rookie WR Keenan Allen had 2 nice catches on 3 targets for 34 yards, including a huge 3rd down catch. WR Vincent Brown added 4 catches for 26 yards and, although he was missed on three deep balls, one of them drew a DPI.
Thankfully, we didn't see much of TE John Phillips, whose most noticeable moment was getting defeated on a running play by OLB Connor Barwin.
Offensive Line: B plus
Rookie D.J. Fluker appears to be a quick learner. Admittedly, everyone is a step down from J.J. Watt, but the only major mistake Fluker made was allowing a drive-stalling sack to PHI OLB Connor Barwin in the 1st quarter. Otherwise, he was solid both in pass and run blocking.
The interior line of RG Jeromey Clary, C Nick Hardwick, and LG Chad Rinehart were terrific at closing off blitzes coming up the middle, and did a solid job in the running game. Clary, in particular, had a better outing this week when pulling left. Rinehart had a second consecutive strong outing, and has great communication in terms of when to leave or assist Hardwick or LT King Dunlap, although he gave up a blitz pressure late in the 3rd quarter.
Dunlap had a decent effort against his old teammates, mostly neutralizing the pass rush of PHI OLB Trent Cole, and drawing 1 holding penalty on a rushing play to his side.
Defensive Line: D
You'd think this starting unit was maybe one of the biggest strengths going into season, but through 2 games, it's been a disappointment.
DE Corey Liuget drew a second consecutive tough assignment, mostly going against LT Jason Peters and LG Evan Mathis and it showed. I don't expect Liuget to win this battle most of the game, but expect at least a few wins here and there. Unfortunately, no pressure, and he was pushed around in the running game. DE Kendall Reyes didn't fare much better, getting nothing against RG Todd Herremans or rookie RT Lane Johnson.
The best games from the D Line game from NT Cam Thomas, who was fairly stout on running plays up the middle, and showed some nice pursuit. Otherwise, the best game game came from reserve DE Jarius Wynn, whose sack against Herremans stalled PHI's opening possession, and he had a huge QB pressure that knocked Michael Vick out of the game late in the 4th to help prevent a TD.
Linebackers: B minus
Thank God for Dwight Freeeney. The OLB was moved all around the field, and though he didn't get a sack, his pressures broke up more than a few plays - one of which saved a near-TD pass from Vick to WR DeSean Jackson late in the 1st half. Otherwise, OLB Jarret Johnson was marginalized by the Eagles lack of running game, and was not effective at rushing the passer.
ILB Donald Butler had a pretty quiet game, collecting only 2 tackles. The coaching staff must have seen what we all saw last week in regards to ILB Bront Bird, because he was barely on the field in this game. He was replaced by ILB Reggie Walker, who at least showed better closing speed and took better angles to the ball carrier. Further, he was not the liability in shallow zones that Bird was.
Honestly, after rewatching this game, it seems PHI deliberately avoided allowing Butler and Johnson to make an impact on this game.
There was one thing anyone in this unit did well, and that was the havoc FS Eric Weddle created when he was sent on a blitz, or showed a blitz and then backed out. Otherwise... Egad!!!
CB Shareece Wright had what will (hopefully) be his worst career game, as he was torched by DeSean Jackson for 193 yards on 8 receptions, and it could have been much worse, but for three deep ball misfires by Vick.
Nickel CB Johnny Patrick was torched twice by rookie TE Zack Ertz, and nearly gave up a TD to Jackson which was only reversed by penalty. CB Derek Cox had the "easier" assignment, and was beaten 2 times for 23 yards and a TD by WR Riley Cooper.
SS Marcus Gilchrist was about as lost as I've seen a SS since Clinton Hart lost his job in 2009, and Weddle was abused by RB LeSean McCoy repeatedly, missing a tackle for a safety, getting juked in the open field, and getting torched in coverage. Just an awful performance.
Special Teams: B
PK Nick Novak had a clutch performance, converting FGs of 33, 44, 46 (the game winner), and 49 yards. His kickoffs still leave something to be desired, as he generated zero touchbacks. P Mike Scifres almost got the day off, as his single punt of 40 yards was not returned. Fozzy Whitaker averaged 23.3 yards per return, and was bailed out in a big way when his 4th quarter fumble was not only recovered, but recovered in PHI territory, giving the offense a short field. On the whole, kick coverage was improved from the Texans game, with no long returns allowed.
You have to hand it to Mike McCoy, who did a great job getting this team ready play following a brutal defeat, a short week of preparation, an East Coast trip and a 10AM PDT starting time. The offensive game plan was executed to near perfection by OC Ken Whisenhunt, who attacked the Eagles pass coverage weaknesses repeatedly without mercy, and ran the ball effectively. Special credit also goes to McCoy and Whisenhunt, who have taken Eddie Royal from an A.J. Smith boondoggle and turned him into the NFL's most lethal redzone weapon of the early 2013 season, by giving him space to get a clean release, avoid getting jammed, and taking advantage of his quickness in space.
As far as John Pagano is concerned, he made a positive change, such as blitzing Weddle early and often on 3rd down, and took a smart gamble as long as he could - forcing Vick to beat him with the long bomb until it actually happened. However, it's painfully obvious he doesn't trust the CBs to cover man-to-man (in fairness, few defenders can cover Jackson and McCoy one-on-one), and also doesn't have the ILB and SS needed to play strong zone coverage. Until Manti Te'o, Brandon Taylor, and (maybe) Melvin Ingram get healthy, we may be stuck with a bunch of shootouts.
Hidden Plays (Non Scoring, non-turnover plays that directly affected the outcome):
- 3rd and 2, SD 2, 5:41 1st Qtr. Vick rolls right and throws to TE James Casey, who drops a TD pass. PHI forced to kick a FG on the next play.
- 2nd and 1, PHI 31, 13:41 2nd Qtr. Vick misses Jackson on a bomb down the right side.
- 1st and 10, PHI 31, :30 2nd Qtr. Vick misses Jackson on a bomb down the right side.
- 1st and 10, SD 37, 7:50 3rd Qtr. Vick hits Jackson for a 37 yard TD, but the play is wiped out on an illegal formation penalty against rookie RT Lane Johnson. PHI forced to kick a FG 4 plays later.
- 3rd and 4, SD 18, 3:47 3rd Qtr. Rivers throws to gates, who is stopped for no gain by Cary Williams, but a Defensive Holding penalty against Patrick Chung gives SD a first down. The drive continues into the 4th quarter - see next entry.
- 2nd and 10, PHI 18, 11:44 4th Qtr. Rivers throws for Gates in the end zone, who can't hold on the ball. SD forced to kick a FG 2 plays later.
- 7:13 4th Qtr. Fozzy Whitaker returns the kickoff to the SD 39 where he fumbles. Following the scrum, the ball is recovered at the PHI 39 by Darrell Stuckey - producing a short field for the Chargers' TD Drive.
One Play I Really Liked: Royal's 1st TD.
- On the left side, Floyd runs a slant while Gates reacts to the blitz with a quick curl.
- Mathews stays in to block.
- On the right side, Royal runs a Quick Out, while Brown runs a Slant.
- This is a 3 step drop. As the PHI corners back off, Brown's job is to run the DBs into the Endzone, and also basically pick PHI S Nate Allen ("covering" Royal) without making contact, which will give Royal the room to get to the end zone.
- Brown does an exceptional job (see image below), clearing space for Royal to reach the front pylon. a nice quick throw from Rivers, and great unselfish play by Vincent Brown.
Looking Ahead To:
The Chargers not having to face a dominant offensive team. Or a deadly QB. Hopefully, another can get a win against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday without all of the 4th quarter drama.