Philip Rivers was virtually flawless on Sunday afternoon. Seattle's defensive design is to force teams to play near–perfect football to maintain possession, and Rivers' solid number of 7.68 yards per attempt is a testament to his consistently taking what the defense gave him, and not trying to force the ball downfield and create plays which weren't there.
He completed 28 of 37 passes (75.6%) for 284 yards and 3 TDs, with no turnovers. There wasn't a moment in the game where Rivers forced the ball, and he did a remarkable job of staying patient. The only downside to Rivers' day was a missed snap with C Rich Ohrnberger, and later a missed handoff to RB Ryan Mathews.
This game also highlighted Rivers' ability to buy time and evade the rush while remaining in the pocket. Rivers is credited with 17 yards on 11 carries (technically 22 yards on 8 carries since 3 carries for minus-5 yards occurred on the final possession when Rivers was kneeling down). These carries were a function of evading the rush just long enough to get back to (or past) the line of scrimmage. Sometimes simply not trying to make the big play is just as important as making the big play, and Rivers was perfect at deciding when to attack, and when to protect the football.
Running Back: B
One of the best things about this game was that the running backs were not only utilized much more, but also utilized more effectively.
RB Ryan Mathews finished with 11 carries for 31 yards, as well as 2 catches for 26 yards. He was more effective in the 2nd half, as the Seattle defense wore down and he was given the ball between the tackles. Mathews, unfortunately, sprained his knee on a missed exchange with Rivers and will be out for several weeks. Mathews also had 1 fumble, which he was able to recover.
RB Danny Woodhead was back after a week's absence, and he created mismatch problems for Seattle's LB's on draw plays and dump–offs — finishing with 8 carries for 32 yards and 4 catches for 28 yards. RB Donald Brown finished with 7 carries for 21 yards, and another 10 yards on 3 catches.
As opposed to last week, this game was "Exhibit A" of how to use WR Eddie Royal. Royal finished with 7 catches (10 targets) for 69 yards, mostly on screen passes and a couple of picks — plays which get him the ball in space and don't rely on precise route running. The precise route–running was handled by WR Keenan Allen, with 5 catches (6 targets) for 55 yards. After a nice return game, WR Malcom Floyd was only targeted once, and held without a catch.
That leaves the other star of the offense, TE Antonio Gates. Gates finished with 7 catches (7 targets) for 96 yards and 3 TDs, all of which were the product of (a) experience with his QB, and (b) understanding how to create space against younger, faster players using deception and quickness (and one–handed TD catches). Gates was a nightmare matchup for SS Kam Chancellor, LB K.J. Wright, and LB Bobby Wagner, as none of them seemingly were able to handle him. Just a future Hall of Famer having a Hall of Fame day; one of the 10 best games of his career, in my opinion.
Offensive Line: B-
Let's start with the good.
LT King Dunlap had a strong game in pass protection, though Seattle realized that rushing their best guys against him was a waste. Dunlap fared well against both DE Michael Bennett and OLB Bruce Irvin in limited chances. LG Chad Rinehart rebounded from his tough game and performed solidly against DT Brandon Mebane, although there were a couple moments where Mebane pushed him backwards on run and pass plays. Considering who he's replacing, C Rich Ohrnberger performed adequately, and was seldom asked to make one-on-one blocks.
RT D.J. Fluker did not have a strong game, as he drew a tough matchup in DE Cliff Avril. Fluker managed to avoid giving up a sack, but was not good moving the ball in the run game. RG Johnnie Troutman — who Seattle clearly identified as the weak link up front — was attacked all game. Troutman gave up the early sack to Bennett, and nearly allowed another sack late to DT Jordan Hill off a stunt, and got beat on multiple run blocks. Seattle ran multiple stunts his way, and even blitzed behind them in an effort to get Rivers, but Rivers' pocket awareness, and the quick passing game saved another 3-4 sacks.
Defensive Line: B
DE Corey Liuget did not have the same impact on this game as last week, as he was regularly blocked by LG James Carpenter. However, the focus seemed to be for the defensive line to maintain their rush lanes, and preventing Russell Wilson from scrambling for big yards. The same was true of DT Sean Lissemore, who generally battled C Max Unger to a draw. DE Kendall Reyes probably struggled the most of the 3 linemen, as he was regularly moved off or washed out by RG J.R. Sweezy, although he did do a nice job this week of staying in his rush lane and not providing any easy outlets for QB runs.
OLB Dwight Freeney continued his strong start to the season, finishing with a sack and 2 other hurries of QB Russell Wilson, coming against LT Russell Okung.
At ILB, Donald Butler had his second straight quiet game, finishing with only 3 total tackles, and was beaten in coverage by both TE Zach Miller and RB Marshawn Lynch. It was also a quiet game for ILB Manti Te'o, who finished with only 3 combined tackles.
At the other OLB spot, Melvin Ingram (finally) had some really good plays, along with some not so good. He made two impact plays in the first half, beating TE Zach Miller on a tackle for loss, and later beating TE Luke Wilson for a strip sack, which Wilson recovered. On the downside, Ingram chased play action fakes more than once, leading to some pressure–free throws and easy completions.
On Percy Harvin's 51-yard Officially–Sanctioned TD, OLB Jerermiah Attaochu followed the ball fake inside, and lost Harvin on the pitch.
Because of the solid work up front against Wilson, and the offense holding the ball for over 40 minutes, Seattle could not exploit the injury to CB Brandon Flowers. CB Jason Verrett continued his strong play this season, allowing only 3 catches for 36 yards, and 5 solo tackles.
CB Shareece Wright did not struggle as badly as last week, and was still strong against the run, making a critical tackle late in the game on Harvin to blow up a jet sweep. He also finished with the only Pass Defensed and a team–high 7 total tackles.
CB Steve Williams allowed one 30–yard catch and drew defensive interference on the play, but otherwise was not severely tested. FS Eric Weddle finished with 3 solo tackles, and SS Marcus Gilchrist finished with 1 solo tackle. But, Gilchrist was beaten on a couple of roll–out passes and seemed confused on the second Seattle touchdown, like he wasn't sure whether to cover RB Robert Turbin or spy on Wilson.
Special Teams: B+
For the 2nd straight week, Special Teams provided a huge boost.
This week, LB Kavell Conner forced a fumble from WR Percy Harvin on a kickoff return, which helped set up the Chargers second touchdown of the game. Nice tackles in coverage were also made by WR Seyi Ajirotutu and Attaochu.
PK Nick Novak converted all 3 of his field goal chances, from 50, 43, and 28 yards. P Mike Scifres had 3 punts with a net of 34.7 yards, including 2 kicks dropped inside the 20 and 1 touchback. On kickoffs, Novak did not generate a touchback, and had one kick go out-of-bounds.
The only return attempted by the Chargers was a Royal punt return, which went for a gain of 6 yards.
Last week, I said I wanted to see how well this team handled adversity. Phenomenally well, as it turned out.
Never mind overcoming a short week, a host of critical missing players (Hardwick, Flowers, Johnson to name a few), and some seriously bizarre play calling, Mike McCoy and his staff did a great job of getting this team to shake off the Arizona game and execute the game plan at a high level against top-shelf competition.
Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich had a stunning turnaround from last week to this week, and while I'd think McCoy had significant input into the game plan, Reich was still the one making the calls. And what this game showed is that Reich is able to quickly move on from mistakes and find the best ways to maximize his players abilities. Reich did a great job of using formation to get the match-ups he wanted (particularly with Gates), and managed to disguise conventional calls (such as screens on 2nd and long) with formation and personnel (such as WR screens to Royal).
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano made one serious mistake, which was to play soft zone coverage at the end of the first half, allowing Seattle to drive for a touchdown to keep the game close. Otherwise, he did a nice job of mixing zone coverage with blitz calls, although he again was maybe a bit too selective on his blitz calls. The biggest play allowed was Turbin's catch–and–run which should have been negated when Freeney was held by Okung. Furthermore, the defensive staff did a good job coaching up the front seven players on keeping QB Russell Wilson in the pocket (either by spying or staying in their rush lanes).
5 Biggest Hidden (i.e. non-scoring, non-turnover) Plays:
- SEA 3rd and 8 at SD 33. 11:49 1st Qtr. Freeney sacks Wilson for a 13 yard loss, killing the drive and pushing Seattle out of FG range.
- SD 1st and 10 at SEA 25. 4:31 1st Qtr. Rivers fumbles the exchange with Ohrnberger, but manages to fall in the fumble. The drive stalls out, and forces a 50 yd FG attempt.
- SD 1st and 10 at SD 45. 9:48 2nd Qtr. Mathews runs left and fumbles the ball, although recovers. SD maintains possession and drives for a FG.
- SD 1st and 10 at SD 44. 12:22 4th Qtr. Rivers and Mathews err on the handoff, resulting in a fumble recovered by Mathews, although he injures his knee on the play. Chargers maintain possession and take another 2 minutes off the clock.
- SEA 1st and 10 at SEA 11. 3:04 4th Qtr. Percy Harvin is blown up by Shareece Wright on the jet sweep for a six yard loss, and killing their last legitimate possession almost before it starts.
Looking Ahead To:
A surprisingly compelling and a tougher-than-we-all-thought road test at Buffalo.