I'm not going to do the regular grades thing this week, because there were very few Chargers players who merited any discussion whatsoever.
Also, I already gave away 3 hours of my life watching that debacle, and I'm not going to do it again.
Most of the problems (and the players with those problems) we saw on Sunday were simply the same problems we've been seeing the last several weeks, just magnified and in neon lights - and at this point, I really don't see much value in beating those dead horses anymore.
So, instead, I'll make this week more like a general series of thoughts, rather than a traditional Grades Post. With that in mind... we'll do the "Short, short version" of Grades, as the Druish Minister in Spaceballs might say.
Fs for everyone, excepting these specific players or decisions
WR Malcom Floyd
Some have suggested Floyd showed "alligator arms" on the pass which resulted in Rivers' 1st interception. I disagree, as the ball was well behind and overthrown, and it's not a ball Floyd remotely had a chance to catch or make a play on. Otherwise, Floyd finished with 4 receptions for 69 yards on 5 targets. each reception resulted in a 1st down, 2 of them on 3rd down.
DE Corey Liuget
Yes, his penalty on 3rd down in the 3rd quarter probably killed the last real chance the Chargers had to get back into this game. He still finished with 5 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 pass defensed - most of the time while battling constant double teams and the Dolphins trying to run away from him for most of the game.
LB Andrew Gachkar
Gachkar is still very hit or miss in pass coverage, but he played (by far) the best run defense of any member of the linebacking crew. He did a nice job shooting gaps and making tackles, finishing with 4 solo tackles and 3 tackles for losses. Gachkar may not be very talented, but what's unmistakable is the energy and passion he plays with. In an ideal situation, he'd strictly be a reserve defender and special teams star. In this situation, however, I'll settle for having a "try-hard" guy on the field getting the most out of his abilities.
CB Shareece Wright
Wright has never been a good matchup against speed receivers, but he did a very nice job (primarily) against WR Mike Wallace. Wright allowed only 1 catch for 5 yards on 4 targets against Wallace, and also was credited with a pass defensed.
KR Chris Davis
This was the 1st extended time Davis saw at KR for the Chargers, and it was immediately evident that he added an element of explosiveness to the return game which has been non-existent for the entire year. Davis finished with 4 returns for 116 total yards, with a long of 35. I'd also like to note that while Davis wasn't great in pass coverage, he did a nice job forcing a fumble on Dolphins' QB Ryan Tannehill late in the 2nd quarter.
Head Coach Mike McCoy - Game Manager
McCoy deserves every bit of the scrutiny he's going to get over the next couple of weeks, between the Chargers handling of concussion issues and the debacle on Sunday. This will be an excellent test of his ability to keep the locker room together, make critical adjustments, and get the Chargers back on track.
However, I absolutely want to offer praise of his decision to attempt the 4th down conversion on the Chargers' opening drive of the game. For a struggling team, playing on the road against a quality opponent, early in the game - it was absolutely the right decision. I have issues with the play call - I personally would have spread the Dolphins defense out and given Rivers a run/pass option. The decision to go for it was sound, and it was heartening to hear McCoy reiterate on Monday that he'd make the same decision again.
Specific Criticisms and Thoughts
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano
At this point (42 total games), it seems to me Pagano is something like Ted Cottrell 2.0. It took Cottrell about 10 games in 2007 to figure things out, but once he figured it out, the defense was terrific. Of course, in 2008, his defense fell apart the moment OLB Shawne Merriman and CB Antonio Cromartie were lost (or hampered) with major injuries, and he was replaced by Ron Rivera mid-season. Simply stated, Cottrell's defense was only as good as his players.
Pagano is exactly the same kind of coach. A guy whose creativity is limited without his elite players playing at an elite level, and a coach whose less-than-elite players regularly struggle with basic defensive elements such as tackling, taking good angles, and basic pass coverage.
Furthermore, it seems evident to me he doesn't make his players better. His best players are veterans whose formative experience came under different coaches (Eric Weddle, Jarret Johnson, Brandon Flowers), or whose talent outshines the scheme (Corey Liuget, Jason Verrett). Otherwise, most moderately talented players under Pagano (Kendall Reyes, Melvin Ingram (when healthy), Donald Butler, Marcus Gilchrist) are regressing, stagnating, or maddeningly inconsistent.
Pagano may be a good guy, and I don't necessarily think he's a bad coach. But I don't think he's a difference maker by himself.
Former General Manager A.J. Smith and Head Coach Norv Turner
I know this will seem like shooting fish in a barrel. Simply, the Chargers might not be so hampered by injuries had Smith and Turner not left a bare cupboard at several key positions following 2012. Currently, the biggest problem the Chargers have is the play of the offensive line. Much of this problem is the result of poor depth.
For example, from 2007 until current GM Tom Telesco was hired, the Chargers drafted only 1 Offensive Lineman in the 1st 3 rounds - the departed Louis Vasquez. Of those players drafted, only Johnnie Troutman (5th Round, 2012) remains on the roster. To Telesco's credit, he has attempted to address this issue - however, RT D.J. Fluker is suffering what might generously be called a sophomore slump, and G/C Chris Watt has yet to break the starting lineup.
Maybe last year's playoff run conveniently helped many (including myself, to some extent) forget the 2012 Chargers were a thin, bad, slow team with 2 years of Salary Cap problems ahead. I thought in January 2013 the Chargers would need 2-3 years of solid, productive drafting and free agency before they could become championship contenders.
I'm not saying the Chargers are as bad as they were in 2012 - they're not, but I'm saying this team is in some way still paying for the mistakes of the past, and we should remember that.
Some Suggestions to Explore During the Bye Week.
Everyone can take these ideas or leave them. I'm not going to advocate for any coaching changes until the season is played out.
- Use DE Kendall Reyes as a substitute on passing downs. Reyes' best attribute is his quickness, and his ability to shoot gaps. He's not great against double teams, and he's not great at holding his ground on run plays. Since Pagano doesn't like to let his DLs "one gap", the Chargers need to put Reyes in positions where he can succeed.
- Move Donald Butler to OLB, and use him as a situational pass rusher. One, it would get Butler out of the middle of the defense, where his poor tackling and pass defense have been major liabilities. Two, it gives the Chargers the ability to put a speed player on the edge of the opposing offensive line, and forces opponents to account for him. Three, it helps the OLB rotation by keeping Freeney, Attaouchu, and Ingram (when he returns) fresh. On the inside, I'd go with a combination of Manti Te'o and Kavell Conner / Andrew Gachkar, and maybe sign a free agent to bolster the depth. More than anything, the Chargers' defense just needs guys who will flow to the football and make the tackles when the opportunity is there.
- Move LG Johnnie Troutman to LG - where he was at least serviceable in 2013, and start Chris Watt at RG. This returns G Chad Rinehart to his best role, utility offensive lineman, and adds a much needed element of full-time athleticism to the offensive line. Further, Watt tends not to repeat mistakes, and has shown steady improvement over the last few weeks.
- On offense, I'd like to see more use of zone run, especially if Watt is going to see more playing time. I'd also like to see the Chargers get away from running plays requiring trapping and pulling, as these are plays Troutman has seldom executed at a high level.
4 Biggest Hidden (i.e. non-scoring, non-turnover) Plays - the game itself didn't have 5.
- 7:42 1st Quarter. 4th and 1 SD at MIA 22. The Chargers attempt to extend their opening drive is stuffed when Branden Oliver is stopped for a 1 yard loss by Reshad Jones.
- 0:11 1st Quarter. 3rd and 4 SD at SD 32. Rivers scrambles out of a congested pocket for an apparent 1st down, but starts his foot-first slide a fraction too soon, resulting in a 3 and Out possession and punt to MIA.
- 3:55 2nd Quarter. 3rd and 12 MIA at SD 46. With a chance to force a punt, the Chargers allow a 38 yard pass play to Mike Wallace, setting up a Dolphins FG and a 20-0 lead.
- 13:18 3rd Quarter. 3rd and 7 MIA at MIA 49. Donald Butler gets a sack on Tannehill via blitz, but the Dolphins gain a 1st down when Liuget is flagged for illegal hands to the face. MIA goes on to score a TD and take a 27-0 lead, effectively ending the game.
Looking Ahead To:
Not thinking about this game ever again.