Philip Rivers' stat line would seem to indicate a better game than he seemed to play. Rivers completed 30 of his 41 attempts (73%) for 252 yards (a paltry 6.15 YPA), with 3 TDs and 2 turnovers. What I did like in this game was that Rivers mostly resisted the urge to chuck the ball deep, excepting the late INT which was intended for WR Malcom Floyd. The earlier INT was an unfortunate break when Rivers threw a pass intended for WR Keenan Allen, and Allen slipped coming out of his break.
Rivers was also solid this game climbing the pocket when the opportunity arose, and extending plays. That said, it seemed that Rivers held the ball it but too long on some plays, which forced him to check down to RB Branden Oliver, which resulted in several catches for negligible gains or losses.
Running Back: C
Oliver had very little opportunity to make a positive impact on this game. On most of his 13 carries for 36 yards (2.76 YPC), he had absolutely nowhere to run and was swallowed up by the Denver defense. Denver also made a point of spying Oliver on his flat and delayed release routes, resulting in 7 catches (8 targets) for only 27 yards - 22 of them coming on one play - he was otherwise taken out of the game by LB Brandon Marshall and CB Aqib Talib.
RB Ronnie Brown appeared in only a handful of plays, and he had two touches. 1 catch for 2 yards, and 1 8 yard gain on a draw play to close out the 1st half.
Allen had the strongest overall game, finishing with 9 catches on 13 targets for 73 yards and 1 TD. Against Denver's zone coverage, Allen's route-running consistently allowed him to find open places and create separation for receptions - the offense struggled when he wasn't involved.. Floyd finished with 4 receptions on 7 targets for 58 yards - all three incompletions were deep passes against either double coverage or requiring adjustments. WR Eddie Royal caught all 3 of his targets for 29 yards, two of which were tough catches in traffic.
At TE, Antonio Gates finished with 5 catches on 8 targets for 54 yards and 2 TDs. His best play however was a fingertip catch on a 30 yard post route on a beautiful touch pass from Rivers. late in the game, TE Ladarius Green added 1 catch for 9 yards. As far as blocking goes, the TEs were a non-factor, and once again, blocking TE David Johnson and John Phillips were blown up on their handful of opportunities to contribute.
Offensive Line: D
Let's start with the good. LT King Dunlap did a nice job keeping DE Demarcus Ware off of Rivers, and RT D.J. Fluker allowed one sack when OLB Von Miller beat him on an outside speed rush. The other sack was a coverage sack when Rivers tried stepping up and running for yards. On the interior, the combination of Troutman and Watt mostly held up, while the biggest overall struggle was LG Chad Rinehart against DT terrance Knighton.
Against the run, however. There wasn't a single decent performance, and most were poor. Ware was able to stand Dunlap up repeatedly, Knighton regularly moved Rinehart backwards, Ohrnberger, Watt, and Troutman were mostly neutralized, and Fluker had no counter for Miller's speed.
Defensive Line: D
I'm at the point where I think it's time for DE Kendall Reyes to be rotated in on passing downs only. He's simply not an every down player, and he's a major liability in run defense when teams show passing personnel groups. The Broncos made him the focal point of their run game, and he was buried and/or shoved aside regularly by RG Louis Vasquez and RT . His ineffectiveness has a ripple effect, allowing teams to double team DE Corey Liuget out of plays completely in 2-4-5 personnel. Liuget, despite drawing major attention from Denver's line, still finished with 4 solo tackles.
DT Sean Lissemore was mostly neutralized by C Manny Ramirez, however, reserve DT Ricardo Mathews made a couple of nice tackles, one of the for no gain, and another for a loss. In his limited snaps as a reserve, DE Tenny Palpoi also did a solid job of in the middle of the defense, holding his ground and not getting gown off the ball.
OLB Dwight Freeney was virtually absent in this game, totally neutralized by LT Ryan Clady. On the opposite side, if I had to pick the best game, I'd go with OLB Jarret Johnson, who made 3 solo tackles and didn't make any big mistakes or miss tackles. ILB Kavell Conner continues to provide workmanlike defensive play, although he was not as effective as he had been in run defense. OLB Andrew Gachkar had a schizophrenic day - making 3 solo tackles - including one for loss, and playing some solid pass defense against TE Julius Thomas, but also occasionally getting lost in space and missing tackles.
Still, I'd give the worst game distinction to ILB Donald Butler. Butler finished with 3 tackles, 1 for loss, but committed a horrendous personal foul to aid a Denver TD drive, repeatedly shot the wrong gap or overran the ball carrier, got blocked out by Denver's TEs, and generally looked slow and disinterested. Butler, whether injured or otherwise, stands as the single biggest disappointment so far of the 2014 Chargers' defense.
CB Jason Verrett gave it a go, but was clearly hampered by his shoulder, and was beaten early by WR Emmanuel Sanders on some contested catches. Still, it's better than what the team got from Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall. Wright had a pair of passes defensed, but was otherwise no match for WR Demaryius Thomas. In a performance (combined with his game against KC) which got him released Monday, Marshall was beaten for a TD at the end of the half, and was flagged for interference against TE Jabob Tamme (!!!) while posting a single tackle.
At FS Eric Weddle was all over the field, posting 9 solo tackles, forcing a fumble, and had a sensational 1-handed INT taken away by a dubious holding penalty against SS Marcus Gilchrist. Other than that penalty, however, Gilchrist played a solid game, finishing with 6 solo tackles, and doing nice coverage work against a combination of TE Julius Thomas and WR Wes Welker. Despite his stinger/concussion injuries during the game S Jahleel Addae finished with 3 solo tackles, but was late in coverage on plays across the middle.
Special Teams: C+
PK Nick Novak did not get any FG attempts, but managed to convert his 3 XPs without trouble. And although he generated 2 touchbacks, it's most likely a function of the thin air in Denver. P Mike Scifres had a terrific game in the thin air, crushing his 4 punts for a net average of 44.8 yards, and dropping one punt inside the 20, and no touchbacks. Punt coverage units were strong against PR Isaiah Burse, limiting him to 18 total yards on 2 attempts. Kickoff teams allowed 1 long return to KR Andre Caldwell, but also almost forced a critical fumble late in the 1st half. The Chargers did not get a kickoff return attempt, and PR Keenan allen had only 1 punt return for 6 yards.
This was the 1st game of Head Coach Mike McCoy's career where his team was not within 1 score at any point in the 4th quarter (26 games including playoffs). This week, it wasn't because of his shaky game management decisions, although the decision to sit on all 3 timeouts to close the 1st half was decidedly conservative - especially considering the opponent. Later, he made the obvious (even to Phil Simms) decision to go for the touchdown on 4th and Goal late in the 3rd quarter, with the team trailing 28-7. The resulting touchdown kept the Chargers alive until Rivers' 2nd INT in the 4th quarter sealed the game.
I'd really like to know why Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich even bothered with the run in this game. 8 first carries resulted in 13 total yards, with a long of 8 yards coming on Ronnie Brown's run to close the 1st half. Denver's defense had decided a) the Chargers were not going to run the ball to control the clock, and b) not hit big plays deep. The short-to-intermediate passing game was there all game long, and the Chargers went away from it on 1st and 2nd downs until it was too late to make a difference.
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano decided early on that he was going to play conservatively, probably a function of the injuries to his defensive starters. That said, the defense was able to force a couple of poor throws from QB Peyton Manning when Pagano sent 5 (once involving Marshall) in the 1st half of the game. As far as adjustments are concerned either he has to try new personnel, or shelve the 2-4-5 personnel grouping. It also took about a game and a half too long to figure out having Marshall in man coverage against anyone is asking for utter disaster.
5 Biggest Hidden (i.e. non-scoring, non-turnover) Plays:
- 3:11 left in the 2nd Quarter. SD kicks off to DEN. KR Andre Caldwell is hit by Kavell Conner at the DEN 28, forcing a fumble recovered by Ladarius Green. The fumble is overturned on review, with DEN retaining possession. DEN goes on to score a TD before halftime, a likely 10-14 point swing.
- 1:53 left in the 1st Quarter. 1st and 10 DEN at DEN 31. Manning throws deep to WR Emmanuel Sanders for a 38 yard gain. CB Jason Verrett re-injures his shoulder on the play, resulting in his eventual exit at the end of the series and Marshall's entrance.
- 13:00 left in the 3rd Quarter. 2nd and 9 DEN at 50. Manning throws a 5 yard completion to Ronnie Hillman, who incurs an unnecessary roughness penalty from Butler, resulting in 1st down at the SD 30.
- 13:44 left in the 4th Quarter. 1st and Goal DEN at SD 2. Manning's pass to WR Wes Welker is intercepted by Weddle, except for a Defensive Holding Penalty call against Gilchrist. DEN scores on the next play to take a 35-14 lead.
- 3:57 left in the 2nd Quarter. 3rd and 20 SD at DEN 33. Rivers keeps the drive alive with a terrific 30 yard pass to Gates, resulting in a 1st and Goal. Gates sets the Chargers' all-time Receving Yards record with the catch.
Looking Ahead To:
The Chargers hopefully breaking a 32 year drought in Miami. With hopefully something more closely resembling a healthy roster and quality performance from all 3 units for the 1st time in about a month.