According to the stats, Philip Rivers played a B to B+ game. 20 of 24 (83.3%) for 184 yards (7.7 YPA) and 1 TD is certainly a respectable stat line. For the 3rd straight game, he showed good touch and anticipation. He avoided mistakes and protected the football. He produced a 2nd half lead for the 3rd straight week. Opposing all of this, however, was Rivers' Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty in the 2nd quarter which took the Chargers from 1st and Goal at the TEN 15 to 1st and Goal at the TEN 30. A QB in his 10th NFL season simply cannot kill scoring opportunities because he doesn't know when to shut the hell up.
Running Backs: B
RB Danny Woodhead had another marvelous game, gaining 31 yards on 5 carries, plus another 55 yards on 7 catches (8 targets). His versatility and situational awareness continue to be tremendous assets for the offense. RB Ryan Mathews carried 16 times for 58 yards, and was clearly hampered by the OLine issues - although he seemed a bit tentative in the backfield. FB Le'Ron McClain added a reception for 7 yards, plus a 7 yard carry late in the 4th quarter when the Chargers elected to sit on the ball. The backs again were solid in pass protection, although not used very much for that purpose.
We'll start with the TEs, Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. They combined for 103 yards on 9 targets (7 catches), plus Green drew a 17 yard interference call against SS Bernard Pollard. Neither Pollard, nor OLB Zach Brown could cover either TE in the passing game. Which begs the question - why weren't they targeted about 10 additional times? Of course, John Phillips got in the game and tried to block some, but not very well - still stealing snaps from Green. Otherwise, it was a quiet game for the WRs - targeted a combined 6 times with 5 receptions for 41 yards. Eddie Royal had the most success, but he generally struggled to get open, as did Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen.
Offensive Line: C plus
This group was dealt a tough hand with the absence of RT DJ Fluker, whose presence in the running game was sorely missed. That said, reserve T Mike Harris was serviceable as his replacement, which is a step up from last year. Even more noticeable was the loss of LG Chad Rinehart, and the struggles of replacement Rich Ohrnberger, who was a step slow both in pass and run blocking - OLB Akeem Ayers sack was a combined failure with LT King Dunlap getting beat inside, and Ohrnberger being late with the help. C Nick Hardwick generally held his own against DT Jurrell Casey. RG Jeromey Clary had a decent game, although he still struggles when asked to pull on running plays, and did get beat by DT Antonio Jackson for a 3rd quarter sack.
Defensive Line: D
Yes, it's true this is the 3rd straight good offensive line this unit has faced. That doesn't change the fact that none of the players, starters or reserves, have had any impact on these 3 games whatsoever. For talented players like DEs Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes, they should be able to win matchups at least on a periodic basis. In this case, however, they were both utterly handled, Liuget by LG Andy Levitre, Reyes by RT David Stewart. NT Cam Thomas simply doesn't have the size/strength combination to occupy blockers in the middle of the defense, although he marginally held his own against C Robert Turner and occasionally got the better of rookie RT Chance Warmack. As a group, the DL combined for 5 tackles, and no plays of impact.
Reggie Walker and Bront Bird at ILB. Walker is just a bit better if only because he's more athletic. His 1st quarter sack came when Chris Johnson missed a blitz assignment. However, there's still a lot of difficulty recognizing plays, running into blocks, rallying to the ball, taking good angles to the ball carrier, and wrapping up. On the outside, OLB Dwight Freeney was mostly contained by LT Michael Roos, while OLB Jarret Johnson had a rough game setting the edge against TE Delanie Walker. OLB Larry English did get a sack following through on pressure created by Freeney.
Marcus Gilchrist had a nightmare game (as if the last 2 weeks weren't bad enough). Lost playing zone as a SS, beaten in the slot by WRs Kendall Hunter, beaten by TE Delanie Walker a few times, missing tackles, dropping a game clinching INT. At FS, it's becoming clear that Eric Weddle is being stretched way too thin, as he continues to have issues doing things he normally handles with aplomb - missing tackles, playing man coverage - although he did have a nice stop on Walker inside the 5 yards line, and helped break up a potential TD pass when WR Justin Hunter beat CB Johnny Patrick. Patrick was a disaster, as WR Nate Washington burned him repeatedly for big catches. On the other side, CB Derek Cox actually had a solid game opposite WR Kenny Britt.
Special Teams: D plus
This group is really hurt by the blocked 38 yard FG attempt at the end of the 1st half, which prevented the Chargers from having a chance in OT. Green was . Also, there was an uncharacteristic shanked punt from P Mike Scifres, which utterly ruined McCoy's second decision to punt of 4th and 1 from TEN territory. Apart from that, Scifres was able to drop 3 kicks inside the TEN 20 with no touchbacks. PK Nick Novak converted his other opportunity from 44 yards, and as is usually the case, did not produce a touchback on any of his kickoffs. Punt and coverage teams were solid, while Whitaker and Royal generated a combined 28 yards on their 2 total returns.
Mike McCoy made 2 egregious game management mistakes, electing to punt on 4th and 1 twice in TEN territory. These mistakes are egregious because his defense has not proven they can consistently stop an opponent from moving the ball and scoring points. Thus, McCoy needs to increase his own scoring opportunities by maximizing every possession in opponents' territory. Personally, I can't shake the feeling this game was lost when McCoy elected to punt from the TEN 39, holding a 7-0 lead. Then there was the whole "Inactives" fiasco with Donald Butler and Tourek Williams, which cost the Chargers an extra body at a paper-thin position.
Ken Whisenhunt missed a golden opportunity to punish the TEN defense by not continually taking advantage of the mismatch afforded to him by playing Gates and Green at the same time - neither Pollard or Brown could cover them. This is especially bizarre considering Rivers accuracy in the game, the Chargers' inability to run the ball, and the dearth of options at WR.
I realize John Pagano doesn't have the players to run his defense, especially in the secondary. But pounding square pegs into round holes doesn't work. It seems clear Pagano needs a NT who draws double teams to give Liuget and Reyes the 1-1 match ups they can win - because they're not winning now. First rule of coaching (and it's the one that got McCoy hired) is your personnel determines your scheme. What you've got now is defense which can't stop the run, can't attack the passer, can't cover, and an All-Pro FS trying to fix everyone's mess. And about the last drive... if you're going to blitz, you blitz at the beginning of the drive. If you're going to play prevent, you do it at the end of the drive.
Hidden Plays (Non-Scoring, non turnover plays which directly affected the outcome).
- 1st Quarter. 2:59 remaining. 4th and 1 TEN 39. Instead of going for the 1st down with a 7-0 lead, SD punts the ball to the TEN 8. It takes TEN 3 plays to advance past the punt spot - see next entry.
- 1st Quarter. 1:33 remaining. 1st and 10 TEN 19. Locker scrambles 39 yards to the SD 42, despite Chris Johnson committing a chop block penalty, which was then picked up by the referee based on an erroneous understanding of the NFL rule book. TEN goes on to score a FG on the possession.
- 2nd Quarter. 6:57 remaining. 1st and Goal at the TEN 5. Rivers throws an apparent TD pass to Royal, which is wiped out by an OPI call against Keenan Allen. Then comes Rivers' PF. A TD pass becomes 1st and Goal from the 15, then becomes 1st and Goal from the 30.
- 3rd Quarter. 11:02 remaining. 4th and 1 TEN 47. Instead of going for the 1st down with a 10-10 tie, SD punts the ball to the TEN 24 when Scifres semi-shanks a 23 yard punt. It takes TEN 3 plays to advance past the punt spot. This leads to a scoring opportunity for TEN, but K Rob Bironas misses the FG.
- 4th Quarter. 0:51 remaining. 2nd and 6 SD 45. Locker goes deep to Delanie Walker, and the pass is batted in the air. SS Marcus Gilchrist drops a game clinching INT.
One Play I Really Liked
Rivers to Ladarius Green off Play Action
- This is 13 Personnel, with the 3 TEs (Gates, Phillips, Green) in a loose bunch formation to the right. Brown is the single WR, with Mathews at RB.
- Green comes in motion to the left side of the formation.
- With this play action, Clary pulls to the left as Rivers fakes to Mathews.
- Phillips stays in to block.
- Gates runs a curl on the right.
- Brown runs a Go, Green a Post, while Mathews leaks out to the flat.
- Rivers is looking at SS Pollard who has the deep left of this Cover 2 defense (Griffin is to the right). When Pollard moves toward Brown, Rivers throws to Green on the post.
Looking Ahead To:
A broken defense going against Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, and a banged up O Line going against DeMarcus Ware. Yippee!