This is holding to form with the grading from the prior two quarters. While some of the negative observations about the coaching have, in far too many cases, not improved through this season, I will give the coaching staff a lot of credit for one thing: Keeping the team emotionally involved enough to bounce back from what was (hopefully) the low point of this season, which shall not be mentioned. Ever. Again.
This quarter featured two of the worst games the team has played in the year and the culmination of a three game losing streak. Other staffs could not have (in some cases have not) prevented a team from packing it in after the 3rd straight loss, especially with that one being one of the worst defeats in franchise history. That did not happen.
I will also give the coaches credit for bringing back the short passing game (while still wondering where it went for 5 games), putting the guys returning from injury to good use (especially on the defensive side of the ball), and making some improvement in game management. I have also appreciated getting the team’s receivers back to the usual roles instead of trying to be clever with them. While many of us may have reservations about the coordinators and the team’s tendencies to commit penalties or play sloppy too frequently, it is my opinion that the coaching is generally solid.
Put your knives away, I saw you drawing them as soon as you read "B". This grade is a composite of two horrible games from PR and two great games:
Frankly, with a TD:INT ratio of 5:5, I may be too generous with the B grade. A QB’s primary job is to take care of the ball and the mark of quality QB play is a 2:1 ratio in that stat. Still, the 3-1 record, rumors of a chest injury, and a couple of offensive game plans that just seemed bizarre kept the grade higher than an Average C. Given the schedule, Philip Rivers will need to build on the last two games and continue that level of play to lead his team into the post-season…again.
This grade is also holding true to form and actually improved from the prior quarter. Put that on Keenan Allen. His play over the last two games has been stellar. In addition, Eddie Royal has started getting some plays called his way in the last couple of games that are fitting in better with his skill set. Hopefully, trying to use him as a deep threat has been shelved permanently. Gates just keep rolling along and I certainly hope we are all appreciating how special Malcom Floyd is playing. The team’s premier deep threat is having a great season and while he is not the leading receiver in terms of targets and yards, he has a gaudy 17.7 yard per catch average. This remains the strongest unit on the team.
Running Backs: D
This grade has finally slipped to the level of the offensive line, with the disappearance of the running backs from the passing game. The team is 30th in the league in yards per attempt. I do believe that this is part of the issues that the O-line has had all season, but still… I do understand that Ryan Mathews is being eased back in, but the run game needs to get a little more creative with their primary back. Oliver and both Browns have been basically non-factors in the last four games.
Offensive Line: D
As I said in the Ravens Game thread, the worst career choices ever (in terms of personal safety) seem to be the drummer for Spinal Tap and Center for the San Diego Chargers. It is possible that the Bolts will use their 5th starting center this season in the game against the Patriots. In addition to the revolving door in the center of the line, both guards have not played well at all and the play at the right tackle position has been atrocious at times, mediocre at best. DJ Fluker hit his low point (hopefully) against the Ravens by forcing an Eddie Royal fumble. Any luster that Coach D had with the line last year is fading with the performance of this year’s unit.
Special Teams: B
The kicking game against the Ravens and the muffed punt against the Rams dragged this unit’s grade down from an A- minus. The punting performance by Scifres in the Oakland game was probably the reason the Bolts won that game. Novak remains nearly automatic. The special teams have been able to almost always prevent a big play. Among the items that prevent this grade from being higher are the continuing lack of big plays from the Bolts own return game.
Defensive Line: C+
This unit has shown some marginal improvement, especially when Ryan Carrethers saw some limited time before sustaining an elbow injury against the Rams. Liuget has found some ways to make an impact and the younger guys (Palepoi and Matthews) are making contributions, too. Reyes and Lissemore are too inconsistent here to make this a strong unit.
Say you want to about Manti Te’o, this unit looks a lot different with him getting regular time. The same could also be said about Melvin Ingram. The real issue here is the lack of a pass rush, which is supposed to come from the LB’s in a 3-4 defense. Attaochu has flashed some play making ability, plus Conner and Gachkar have been adequate to good in their reserve roles. JJ and Freeney have mostly been quiet over the last 4 games, but have not been liabilities. I have nothing more to say about #56. If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs this year, the team will need to come up with a pass rush from somewhere to beat Brady, Manning, and Kaepernick.
Defensive Backs: C-
You can put the ‘minus’ on the awful game Eric Weddle had in Baltimore. This unit will struggle while QB’s have the time to find receivers "covered" by Wright and Gilchrist. I am hoping that Addae stays healthy and on the field for the last quarter of the season. If the coaching staff can figure out that perhaps Gilchrist and Wright can be disguised or helped by others, or other personnel (Davis or Stuckey maybe?) step up, this unit can perhaps improve to a level that would slow down the elite QB’s the Bolts will face the rest of this year. Getting Flowers locked up for the next few seasons should be a priority for this team’s front office in 2015 (or now).
This may make no sense, given the 3-1 record and the composites from the position groups. I recognize that, but I believe that it is a fair grade. I also believe that the Bolts are really starting to get results that are more than the sum of the parts. This is a trait of a good team and another reason why the coaching grade was slightly over average.
This quarter saw the team play two of its worst games of the year. In one of them, it had the good fortune to be playing against the Raiders and get a win from one of the ugliest games I have seen in a while. The point differential formula clearly has this team overachieving by more than one win.
It also seems as though during games that some units can produce decent results when the other units are not. Sometimes, members of a unit can make one special difference making play, after struggling most of the game. I think of the last 3 games of this quarter as being illustrations of "just enough" and the B- seems really appropriate.
Just enough will have to be at a high level indeed for the rest of 2014. The Bolts have been able to do just about everything an NFL team can do at times during the season. They have ran the ball well in a couple of games. The have passed the ball well in several games. They have played decent run defense at times and played decent pass defense at times. They have been stingy in the Red Zone. The one thing the team has not done well in even one 2014 game is have a disruptive pass rush. The next two games would be a good time to see that added to the mix.
Of course, being able to do all of it in the same game, not involving the Jets would be fantastic, too.