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Week 6 Chargers Grades: Squeaking out a victory in Oakland

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The Chargers manage to pull out a tougher than expected victory against the hated rivals from the north by making crucial plays in the last 10 minutes of the game, and turning a 7 point deficit into a 3 point victory.

Branden Oliver - the next MJD?
Branden Oliver - the next MJD?
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback: A

Ho-hum, another fantastic statistical performance from Philip Rivers, not to mention the now standard array of terrific touch passes, and a 4th quarter comeback win as the cherry on top. Rivers finished with 22 completion on 34 attempts (64.7%) for 313 yards (9.2 YPA), with 3 TDs and no turnovers.  And as we have seen repeatedly in this 2014 season, Rivers continued his uncanny ability to climb the pocket and extend plays, not to mention avoiding sacks. He was also great again at distributing the ball, with 8 different receivers catching passes.

All that said (to reiterate a point made in Bolts and Dolts), I'm concerned Rivers is stretching the offensive line by holding the ball and trying to generate big plays downfield - 11 of the attempts were listed as deep - 5 completed. Rivers' worst game this season was the Arizona game - where he held the ball and tried to push the ball downfield instead of taking the first open receiver. It's an occasional habit left over from his days under Norv Turner which needs to be broken.

Running Backs: B+

RB Branden Oliver had his second strong game, finishing with 124 combined yards (101 rushing, 23 receiving) and the game winning TD. Oliver averaged 3.9 yards per carry on his 26 carries, and averaged 5.8 yards per catch on his 4 receptions (5 targets). Oliver's play reminds me a bit of younger Maurice Jones-Drew, with the low center of gravity, strong downhill running, and deceptive quickness and agility. With the problems the Chargers' offensive line has shown opening holes, Oliver's ability to make the most out of small creases makes him an ideal fit for the offense right now.

RB Ronnie Brown, signed last week as an emergency fill in, gained a total of 2 yards on 2 carries, but did add a 24 yard catch on his only pass target, and was strong in pass protection as expected.

Receivers: A-

WR Malcom Floyd continued his strong 2014 season with 5 catches (7 targets) for 103 yards and a TD. He also won a 44 yard jump ball, and made a ridiculous catch while being interfered with and face-guarded. He's averaging a ridiculous 21.2 yards per catch so far in 2014. Before leaving with a rib injury, WR Eddie Royal finished with 2 receptions for 49 yards. The first for a TD, the second was a clutch grab over the middle which resulted in the injury. WR Keenan Allen finished with only 3 catches for 27 yards on 6 targets.

At TE, the Chargers got their first strong game this season from TE Ladarius Green, who finished with 4 catches for 60 yards on 5 targets. Antonio Gates did score a TD, but was the least productive receiver, as he finished with 3 catches for 27 yards on 8 targets. With limited opportunities as blockers, neither David Johnson or John Phillips distinguished themselves, on one occasion both players were blown up on the same play.

Offensive Line: C

This was another uneven game from the offensive line. Starting on the right side, RT D.J. Fluker actually fared pretty well in pass protection, but continued to struggle to get much push on running plays against either DE Justin Tuck or DE C.J. Wilson. The combination of Johnnie Troutman and Chris Watt at RG was marginally better than in previous games, although both were pushed backward a fair amount in both pass and run blocking.

C Rich Ohrnberger made his return, and did a solid job getting off the ball on some running plays, but had one bad snap and drew a Holding Penalty. LG Chad Rinehart struggled early and often in this game - his failure to handle his part of a double team with Ohrnberger against Wilson led to the Raiders only sack. LT King Dunlap allowed a couple of pressures to DE LaMarr Woodley, but was generally solid in the run game.

Defensive Line: D+

For me, this was the most disappointing performance of the game. Nobody in the defensive line managed to make much impact. For a large part of the game. DT Corey Liuget was neutralized by regular double teams and the solid play of LG Gabe Jackson. On the other side, DT Kendall Reyes was regularly washed out of plays by RT Menelik Watson, although Reyes did make a couple of really nice hustle plays to stop small plays from becoming huge plays. As the Snap Counts post indicated, the DTs did not see much playing time, and the snaps seen did very little to affect the outcome positively. Unfortunately, the preponderance of 2 man fronts allowed the Raiders to run draws all game - see Coaching.

Linebackers: C

This grade was very close to being higher had this group of players simply cashed in the chances they were given. To start, OLB Dwight Freeney was mostly a non-factor, but his best pressure resulted in a near INT. OLB Jarret Johnson struggled a bit on the edge in the game, but very nearly intercepted a pass on the next-to-last Raiders' drive. And OLB Jerry Attaouchu would have been the hero with a strip sack and fumble recovery but for an unfortunate penalty for hitting Raiders' QB Derek Carr in the face mask.

On the inside ILB Donald Butler dropped the near INT caused by Freeney, and otherwise just looks really slow to me this season. He was slightly better in run support and in shallow coverage in this game - as his 9 total tackles shows, but still didn't make any impact plays. ILB Kavell Conner was decent with some limited chances, but LB Andrew Gachkar was on the field far too long, and the Raiders made a point of targeting him often.  Gachkar allowed the TD pass to WR James Jones - coverage was solid in that case, but other times he was simply exposed in space and missed a few tackles.

Secondary: C+

Really, the play from the Chargers' starting CBs was solid throughout the game. Flowers ended up getting picked by S Jahleel Addae on the 77 yard TD pass to WR Andre Holmes, and was beat badly as a result. The rest of the game until his injury, he was solid in coverage. Much the same could be said for CB Jason Verrett, who was even better, allowing only 2 catches and making a sensational INT to seal the game late, and recording 6 solo tackles. They forced Carr into making great throws - to Carr's credit, he did so multiple times.

FS Eric Weddle had a strong game in coverage, finishing with a pass defensed and 7 total tackles. SS Addae was mostly a non-factor on defense, finishing with only 2 tackles. The worst game came from CB/S Marcus Gilchrist, who got beat on an inside-out route by WR Brice Butler, which turned into a 47 yard TD catch and run. Later, He got lost in space as Holmes crossed  behind the defense and scored his 2nd TD in the 4th quarter. Gilchrist knocked away a pass early, and otherwise finished with 2 tackles.

Special Teams (except the fake punt): B

PK Nick Novak converted his lone FG opportunity of 30 yards (and had a 54 yard FG taken off the books by penalty), and he was much better on kickoffs, generating 3 touchbacks (although one came from the 45 yard line). P Mike Scifres punted 3 times for a 47.7 yard average, and dropped 1 inside the 20 with no touchbacks. Covergae units were not as strong as they've been so far this season, allowing KR/PR T.J. Carrie a pair of long returns (19 on a punt, 38 on a kickoff). However, while the Chargers had no KR chances, and Eddie Royal fair caught 2 punts, Keenan Allen came up with a terrific 29 yard return to set up the Chargers' game winning drive inside the Raiders' 40.

Now, about that fake punt. Weddle admitted after the game he made the call, and calling for the fake on 4th and 35 seems crazy on its face. But having a second look at the play, field position was in the Chargers' favor (at the OAK 46), and more importantly, the pass to WR Seyi Ajirotutu was available. If Weddle makes a better throw (i.e. gets it out on a line) Ajirotutu has a chance to run after the catch and gain yards. Even if he's tackled short of the 1st down, the effect is like a punt rolling into the end zone, or a solid return. The one thing which couldn't happen was an incomplete pass, which, of course is what happened.

Coaching: C-

This was the first game this season where the ghosts of 2013 game management came back to haunt Head Coach Mike McCoy. There was no reason not to use the 3rd timeout before Raiders' PK Sebastian Janikowski attempted his FG. Considering the distance of the missed FG (53 yards), the Chargers would have had about 35 seconds and needed 25 yards to have a shot at their own FG at the end of the half.

On offense, this game reminded me a lot of the game plan against Arizona, which seemed intent on 1st down running and vertical passing as opposed to simply staying ahead of the chains. There was very little use of Shallow Crosses, Texas, Slants, WR screens, or other shorter routes which are normally this offense's bread and butter. They came back to these plays later in the 2nd half when urgency set in.

On defense, it was heartening to see Defensive Coordinator John Pagano stay with the blitz after he got burned. However most of the blitzes produced little pressure. That, combined with the limited use of stunts, twists, or other games up front resulted in a largely clean pocket for Raiders' QB Derek Carr, and he made the Chargers pay - even with some strong coverage. Also, Pagano had no answer for the Raiders running 2nd down draws against Chargers' nickel personnel.

5 Biggest Hidden (i.e. non-scoring, non-turnover) Plays.

  1. 5:03 4th Qtr. 3rd and 8 OAK at OAK 27. Carr throws the ball away when pressured by Weddle, resulting in an Intentional Grounding call, backing the Raiders up and setting up Keenan Allen's punt return.
  2. 8:35 3rd Qtr. 1st and 10 OAK at OAK 44. Carr is hit by Freeney, leading to a dropped INT by Donald Butler. Carr throws a TD pass to WR Brice Butler 2 plays later, giving the Raiders a 21-14 lead.
  3. 10:28 3rd Qtr. 2nd and 10 SD at OAK 21. Rivers throws complete to WR Keenan Allen at the OAK 12, setting up 3rd and less than 1, but the play is called back due to Holding on C Rich Ohrnberger. This sets up the worst Chargers sequence of 2014 so far, with 3 total penalties, a 54 yard FG by Novak taken off the books, and Weddle's horrendous throw on the fake punt.
  4. 00:59 2nd Qtr. 2nd and 10 OAK at SD 34. WR James Jones is flagged for offensive interference, killing the drive and leading to a missed 53 yard FG attempt by Janikowski.
  5. 10:57 2nd Qtr. 3rd and 8 OAK at OAK 26. Darren McFadden runs for 12 yards on a draw play to extend the Raiders' drive. The drive would end with a TD and tie the game at 14.

Looking Ahead To:

The Chargers running their division record to 2-0, and hopefully knocking a dangerous Kansas City Chiefs team all but out of the AFC West race with a victory at home.