Really, this win was that important for the Chargers. They're by no means home free, but with this win, they've immeasurably helped their chances to reach the 2014 postseason.
Given the opponent, the setting, and the stakes, this was Philip Rivers' best game of 2014 so far. Rivers finished with 34 completions on 45 attempts (75.5%) for 383 yards (8.5 YPA), with 3 TDs and 1 INT. First of all, the bad - the INT was not Rivers' fault, as it came when Ravens' OLB Elvis Dumervil hit Rivers' arm while he was throwing. Rivers had one other throw to the sideline late in the game which could have been intercepted.
There was lots of good. Rivers was terrific climbing the pocket and avoiding pressure - he was sacked twice, but avoided 2-3 others. He did a very nice job moving his receivers around to create favorable matchups against the Ravens defense. He remained patient and avoided forcing the ball downfield (i.e. he took what the Ravens gave him). Lastly, and most importantly, he was accurate on all three levels of the defense throwing the ball, which gave his receivers plenty of opportunities to generate yards after the catch.
Running Back: C minus
The Chargers all but abandoned the run in the 2nd half and went to the passing game, but that doesn't change the fact the running game was largely ineffective. RB Ryan Mathews finished with only 40 yards on 12 carries (3.3 YPC), however his long carry of 14 yards went for the a TD early in the 4th quarter. In the passing game, Mathews finished with 1 catch on 2 targets - his drop was a killer which likely would have led to a TD instead of a FG in the 3rd quarter.
Beyond Mathews, the production was non-existent. RBs Branden oliver and Donald brown combined for 5 yards on 2 carries, and Brown had the only reception for 6 yards. Brown also had a mistake in pass protection, sliding to pick up an outside delay blitzer and missing the free player coming up the middle off a stunt, which resulted in a sack.
This was a terrific all around game for the WRs. Keenan Allen finished with 11 catches on 15 targets for 121 yards and 2 TDs, one on a great diving catch, another making an adjustment to locate the ball on a fade route. Eddie Royal finished with 9 catches (10 targets) for 81 yards and the game-winning TD catch, shaking off a costly 2nd quarter fumble caused by "friendly fire." Malcom Floyd finished with 3 catches on 6 targets for 85 yards, with a long gain of 59 on a post route. Seyi Ajirotutu was targeted once, but had no receptions.
At TE, Antonio Gates had a productive day, finishing with 7 catches on 8 targets for 83 yards. Ladarius Green finished with 2 receptions on 2 targets for only 1 yard - he was used only on a couple of TE screens. In the running game, Gates and Green were regularly tasked with blocking on OLB Terrell Suggs, which went predictably badly for most of the game. The one good block Gates got on Suggs resulted in Mathews' TD run.
Offensive Line: C minus
Coming off a week where he'd played relatively well, RT D.J. Fluker drew a horrendous matchup against OLB Elvis Dumervil. Fluker did get a little better as the game went on, and while Dumervil didn't record a sack, he did get 2 QB hits - the 1st of which caused Rivers' INT, and several pressures. He also, inadvertently caused Royal's fumble trying to push Royal forward. RG Johnnie Troutman played serviceably, mostly against DT Bernard Williams. C Chris Watt, before being injured, played solidly, mostly helping Troutman or Rinehart whenever possible and continuing to do a nice job finishing off running plays. LG Chad Rinehart often drew NT Haloti Ngata, and was pushed into the backfield regularly on both pass and run plays.
The two saving graces on the offensive line were LT King Dunlap, who did a good job of taking OLB Terrell Suggs out of the passing game, allowing only 1 QB hit. The other was reserve C Trevor Robinson, just picked up from CIN, who did a great job filling in for Watt throughout the latter 3rd of the game.
Defensive Line: C
DE Corey Liuget had another terrific game, this time recording 6 tackles, including 3 tackles for losses. He was terrific when 1 gapping against the Ravens zone running scheme. DE Kendall Reyes had a surprisingly decent game, as he also finished with 6 combined tackles, did a better job of holding his ground on running plays, and generating a couple of late pressures on QB Joe Flacco. He also did a better job of hustling downfield to make tackles than we've seen in recent weeks.
DT Sean Lissemore had a difficult game - he was regularly doubled by the Ravens and routinely blown out of the way on running plays. He had one or two plays where he got some pressure. He finished with 2 tackles, but it was not a good performance overall. In reserve duty, neither DT Tenny Palepoi or DT Ricardo Mathews were impressive, but they weren't quite as bad as Lissemore was.
I felt the best game (and the only really good game) came from OLB Jarret Johnson. He only finished with 2 tackles, 1 for loss, but the Ravens consistently ran away from him, and he did a terrific job staying with his responsibilities on the frequent play-fakes employed by Ravens' Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. Otherwise... OLBs Dwight Freeney, Jeremiah Attaochu, and Melvin Ingram all had little to no impact on the game, as they were largely neutralized by the Ravens' offensive line on 3 and 4 man rushes - but did generate some pressure when sent as part of a blitz.
Inside, both ILB Donald Butler and ILB Kavell Conner struggled to make tackles. Conner was whiffing, showing lack of discipline and taking poor angles, while Butler would either shoot the wrong gap, get swallowed up by the offensive line, or hesitate in the hole when he had the ball carrier dead-to-rights. ILB Manti Te'o combined for 4 tackles, but again did a solid job in pass coverage.
Secondary: D plus
Brandon Flowers was terrific in this game - playing mostly against WR Steve Smith, he took Smith completely out of the game. He also saved the Chargers with a terrific tackle on WR Kamar Aiken to make sure Aiken did not get out of bounds with a couple of seconds remaining. Otherwise... CB Shareece Wright again was the primary target, allowing 62 receiving yards and a TD, along with a couple of ill-timed DPI penalties (although one was bogus).
FS Eric Weddle had what was probably his worst game of the season on Sunday. Weddle finished with 4 tackles, missed several open-field tackles, took poor routes to the ball carrier, allowed 56 yards and a TD on 4 receptions, and committed a terrible Roughing the Passer penalty which extended a Ravens' drive. SS Marcus Gilchrist wasn't as bad as he was for most of the game against the Rams, finishing with with the team lead in tackles with 8.
Special Teams: D
Some of this is a result of coaching decisions (see below), but the coverage units on kickoffs were a train wreck. Even before allowing a 72 yard kickoff return to KR Jacoby Jones late in the 4th quarter (which almost killed the game) the Chargers were allowing return yards on squib and pooch kickoffs. It pains me to say it, but PK Nick Novak's inability to consistently produce touchbacks on kickoffs is a major competitive disadvantage for this team. P Mike Scifres only punted once for 54 yards, and a 10 yard return. Novak, as is usually the case, was reliable on FGs, converting attempts of 52 and 26 yards.
For the 2nd straight week, Head Coach Mike McCoy presided over a competently run 2 minute drill. This game featured one at the end of each half which produced 10 total points. He also did a good job with his timeouts late in the game, making sure to preserve the opportunity for a game winning drive with enough time remaining. That said, the decision to squib and pooch on kickoffs was terrible, as it resulted in consistently good field position for BAL, without Jones having to prove he was a danger in this game. It was so conservative it was reckless, and it did nothing to help an already struggling defense.
Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich may have had his best game of the year regarding adjustments. Once he realized the Chargers couldn't consistently run the ball, and that he had to slow the BAL pass rush down, he spread the Ravens out and forced a patchwork secondary to cover his receivers (hat tip to Jerome Watson for pointing this out during the game). Special credit again to Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris for having Robinson ready to play effectively in a critical situation.
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano repeatedly attempted to manufacture pressure with blitzes, but it appears he needs to add a few new wrinkles, as the Ravens looked prepared for most of his calls. I'd also like to know why he thought it was smart to play soft zones so close to the end zone, and essentially gift the Ravens TDs with slants and skinny posts, especially when his more aggressive coverages had been successful at forcing the Ravens to kick FGs. Also, can someone on this defensive staff teach the DBs to TURN THEIR HEADS AND LOCATE THE BALL?!
6 Biggest Hidden (i.e. non-scoring, non-turnover) Plays:
- 0:09 4th Quarter. 1st and 10 BAL at BAL 33. Flacco completes deep down the right sideline to Aiken at the SD 43, who is just barely tackled inbounds by Flowers, resulting in a running clock and preventing BAL K Justin Tucker from having a chance to win the game on a long FG attempt.
- 0:46 4th Quarter. 1st and 10 SD at BAL 24. Rivers throws deep to Floyd, who draws DPI against DB Anthony Levine, and sets the Chargers up at the BAL 1. Royal scores on the next play, producing a 1 point lead for SD with less than 40 seconds remaining.
- 1:57 4th Quarter. 2nd and 10 SD at SD 46. Rivers is sacked by Dumervil, but the play is wiped out by an Offsides penalty against Dumervil. 3rd and 16 at the SD 40 becomes 2nd and 5 at the BAL 49.
- 2:27 4th Quarter. 4th and 4 BAL at SD 13. The Ravens are going to attempt to fake the FG, but the fake is called out by the Chargers' coaches and the Ravens are forced to burn their 2nd timeout before settling for a FG and a 33-27 lead.
- 3:53 4th Quarter. 3rd and 5 SD at BAL 28. River throws incomplete to Gates, but S Will Hill is called for defensive holding, resulting in 1st and 10 SD at the BAL 24. Instead of 4th down, Keenan Allen scores on the next play to bring the Chargers within 3.
- 7:57 3rd Quarter. 3rd and 8 BAL at SD 39. Flacco throws incomplete to Aiken, setting up a punt or very long FG attempt, until Weddle is called for roughing the passer. The result is 1st and 10 BAL at the SD 24. BAL goes on to score a TD and take a 23-13 lead.
Looking Ahead To:
The Patriots. Sunday Night Football. Philip Rivers in December. A win would be really sweet as well.