It's hard for me to imagine Philip Rivers playing a more ragged game without it costing the Chargers a win. Rivers finished with 22 completions on 34 attempts (64.7%) for 194 yards (a miserable 5.7 YPA) with 1 TD pass and no turnovers. Luckily, that was just enough for the Chargers to win. In fact, Rivers' most effective weapon was the hard count, which got the Raiders D Line to jump on multiple occasions and drew multiple offsides penalties.
The lack of turnovers shouldn't be misconstrued as a lack of mistakes, as Rivers had at least 2 passes which very easily could have been intercepted. I can't point out anything specific wrong with Rivers, except that he was generally better on short throws over the middle of the field than he was on throws to the perimeter. Maybe that's a function of his (alleged) rib injury, maybe he just didn't see the field well. Unfortunately, his tendency to hold the ball for a big play was evident again - there were more than a few occasions where he passed on open short throws in favor of tougher throws which went incomplete.
Running Back: C+
RB Ryan Mathews made his welcome return from injury this week and was clearly the Chargers' best option out of the backfield. He finished with 70 yards rushing on 16 carries (4.4 YPC) and added a catch (1 target) for 5 yards. He showed his classic good burst into the hole, was tough to tackle, and was (regrettably) still not nimble enough to evade contact in open space - which may have cost him 2 long TD runs.
Among the reserves, RB Branden Oliver added 13 carries for 36 yards (2.8 YPC) and only 1 catch for 3 yards on 3 targets. Oliver was not very decisive on his cuts, and often ran into tackles instead of away from them. He also frankly looked a bit lost as an outlet receiver. RB Donald Brown had very little impact, finishing with 1 carry for no gain and 1 catch for 4 yards on 2 targets.
WR Keenan Allen was the most heavily targeted receiver for the Chargers, finishing with 8 catches on 13 targets for 63 yards. Allen was most effective on slants, shallow crosses, and in routes, and struggled to get the timing with Rivers on routes further downfield. WR Malcom Floyd added 4 catches on 6 targets for 44 yards and the 22 yard TD. WR Eddie Royal was relatively quiet in this game, with 2 catches on 3 targets for 27 yards, and 15 yards rushing on a jet sweep.
Among the TEs, Antonio Gates finished with 3 catches on 3 targets for 32 yards, including a ridiculous near INT he stole from OAK DB Charles Woodson to help seal the game in the 4th quarter. TE Ladarius Green was targeted early, though he disappeared later in the game and finished with only 1 catch on 2 targets for 11 yards. TE David Johnson also added 1 catch for 4 yards. Blocking wise - nothing to write home about, although the TE weren't quite the epic disaster they'd been prior to this game when blocking.
Offensive Line: D+
Bad things first - LG Chad Rinehart had an awful, awful game, going primarily against DT Antonio Smith. Rinehart was regularly stood up in the run game, and also driven backward into Rivers on multiple pass plays, and allowed one of the 2 sacks. Prior to his injury, C Rich Ohrnberger also had regular problems, going primarily against DT Justin Ellis. RG Johnnie Troutman struggled early in both pass and run blocking, but got better as the game went along, especially when he wasn't asked to pull on running plays.
Although he struggled on the edge with the speed of DE Justin Tuck, RT D.J. Fluker did not allow any sacks and was better in run blocking than he's been in several weeks. LT King Dunlap was solid overall, despite allowing a hustle sack to OLB Khalil Mack in the 4th quarter. My favorite performance was Chris Watt at C, where he was solid replacing Ohrnberger. Watt was good helping with double teams, picked up stunts and blitzes regularly, and also did a nice job finishing on run plays. In my view, he should be the starting C from this point forward.
Defensive Line: B
Substituting in for DT Sean Lissemore, DT Ryan Carrethers was mostly strong with his extended playing time. Carrethers did wear down a bit as the game went on, but for most of the game he was able to fully occupy C Stefen Wisniewski, and often drew a double team without giving up ground. Carrethers further showed the ability to shed his blockers and bottle up the running back, finishing with 3 tackles.
DE Corey Liuget wasn't the force he's been often this season, but still did a solid job holding his ground against G Gabe Jackson. DE Kendall Reyes, mostly playing only as part of the 3 DL front, played a decent game against RG Austin Howard, and managed hold his ground in the run game better than at any point since the Buffalo game. DT Tenny Palepoi and DT Ricardo Mathews were decent in limited action
OLB Jeremiah Attaochu probably had the biggest overall impact, beating RT Menelik Watson for a sack, blowing up a shovel pass to stall a Raiders' drive, and forcing QB Derek Carr off his spot multiple times. OLB Melvin Ingram finished with 4 combined tackles and did a nice job of simply reading the correct gap and making (mostly) solid tackles. OLB Dwight Freeney was largely neutralized going against LT Donald Penn.
Inside, ILB Donald Butler was restricted mostly to run plays (where his reads were still slow) and recovered the opening fumble - but more importantly wasn't on the field as much. ILB Manti Te'o was mostly on the field on passing downs, doing a nice job of playing in space, making good reads on run plays and recording 2 tackles. ILB Kavell Conner was terrific, finishing with 8 combined tackles, 1 sack (chasing Carr out of bounds for a loss), and 1 tackle for loss, while also playing solid pass coverage. And ILB Andrew Gachkar had another solid game in coverage.
CB Brandon Flowers was rarely if at all targeted, and effectively took away half of the field. The bulk of the attention was focused at CB Shareece Wright, who finished with 4 tackles and a pass defensed, but also allowed 5 catches for 102 yards (though the 33 yard pass to TE Mychal Rivera was more a result of Carr breaking the pocket and extending the play). More troubling for me was the 22 extra yards (and ultimately a chip-shot FG) with a sloppy tackling effort following a 13 yard catch in the 4th quarter against WR Kenbrell Thompkins.
SS Marcus Gilchrist had another solid game - he wasn't really tested down field, finishing with 7 combined tackles and a tackle for loss. FS Eric Weddle finished with 4 tackles and a pass defensed - a pass which should have been intercepted. S Darrell Stuckey was able to make a tackle and was credited with a pass defensed in limited action.
Special Teams: A-
There's not much I can say about the performance of P Mike Scifres which hasn't been already gushed over elsewhere. Scifres punted 9 times, with an average of 42.4 and a net of 41.4, which means that very little yardage was gained on any of the punts returned. This included 5 punts dropped inside the 20 yard line, which went a long way towards keeping the Raiders offense bottled up. A terrific performance.
PK Nick Novak converted his lone extra point, and converted FGs of 22 and 52 yards, while missing his first FG of the year, from 48 yards out late in the 1st half (see below). Novak did not produce a touchback on any of his 4 kickoffs. Kick and punt coverage was strong, while kickoff and punt blocking continued mild improvement. PR Keenan Allen had a return of 17 yards and averaged 11 yards on 4 returns while KR Chris Davis had a single 25 yard return.
Game Management and Strategy: C-
It was apparent that Head Coach Mike McCoy decided not to employ David tactics in this game, and was extremely (even by his standards) conservative in managing the game - Scifres was so good it was borderline forgivable this week. That said, there were 2 drives where McCoy elected to punt on 4th and 5 or less on OAK's side of the field, and a horrendously managed sequence at the end of the 1st half which wasted 25 seconds - with a timeout in hand - blowing a chance for at least 2 more offensive plays, settling instead for a 48 yard FG attempt (which Novak missed). He also wasted a challenge (and a timeout) on an OAK pass reception in the 1st half and lost - a bad challenge not only for losing it, but even winning the challenge wouldn't have made an impact. High risk, low reward, and stupid all around.
Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich made a couple of good decisions during the game - seeing that zone and man-to-man run plays were more effective, Reich went almost exclusively to them as the game progressed. What he didn't do was repeatedly take advantage of the soft middle of Oakland's defense with quick passes to Gates, Green, and Royal, and he also didn't take full advantage of his WRs and TEs ability to create space quickly. It was also evident that the RBs need a lot of work knowing where to be on outlet passes. I did like the jet sweep run by Royal - something which could be part of a packaged play which gives Rivers a read option (not for Rivers to run the ball, except maybe in short yardage and goal-to-goal situations) in the future.
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano did a really nice job overall with his substitution packages and personnel groupings, even if they were a bit predictable as the game wore on. It seemed evident Pagano spent some time during the bye week assessing his players strengths and weaknesses, and putting them in better positions on the field. One thing I liked was his deployment of a 4 man front of Attaochu, Ingram, Liuget, and Freeney on obvious passing downs - it allowed the defense to be aggressive with limited risk, and reminded me a bit of some of Dom Capers' more exotic looks in Green Bay.
5 Biggest Hidden (i.e. non-scoring, non-turnover) Plays which affected the Outcome:
- 7:36 1st Qtr. 3rd and 7 OAK at SD 23. QB Derek Carr attempts a shovel pass to RB Darren McFadden, but the ball is batted down by a Raiders' O lineman reacting to Attaochu's speed rush, and forcing a FG attempt.
- 0:27 2nd Qtr. 2nd and 5 SD at OAK 37. Rivers throws complete to Allen, who fails to get out of bounds. Instead of spiking the ball with maybe 12-15 seconds and attempting another play (or two), the Chargers run the clock down and settle for a 48 yard FG attempt, which is missed by Novak to end the half.
- 8:34 3rd Qtr. 3rd and 4 SD at OAK 31. Rivers completes a 26 yard pass to Floyd for a 1st and Goal at the OAK 5, wiped out by Holding penalty against King Dunlap. Chargers settle for a FG 2 plays later and a 13-3 lead.
- 5:44 4th Qtr. 3rd and 5 OAK at 50. Carr completes to Thompkins to the SD 37, where he bounces off Wright's hit and runs another 22 yards, setting up a short FG attempt and a 13-6 margin.
- 2:37 4th Qtr. 3rd and 5 SD at SD 40. Rivers throws towards Gates, the pass is undercut by Woodson, then stolen away by Gates for a 15 yard gain and 1st down. Instead of an INT near midfield, or even an incomplete pass with 2:32 remaining and 2 timeouts, the Chargers retain possession until 1:05 remains. OAK finally gets the ball at the OAK 12, with no timeouts.
Looking Ahead To:
Watching the Chargers' beleaguered offensive line protect Philip Rivers and open running lanes against the front four of the St. Louis Rams.