This was the first game of the season where the Chargers offense made a consistent and repeated attempt to attack an opponent vertically. And, despite playing on the road in swirling and unpredictable wind conditions, Philip Rivers had a strong outing. Rivers completed 72% of his passes (18 for 25) for 256 yards, and a phenomenal 10.24 Yards Per Attempt. Rivers, also carried forward his streak of ball security, not forcing any bad passes, and did a better job of protecting the ball in traffic.
The few downsides, in my view, would be that Rivers did not hang in the pocket as strongly as he did against Seattle's rush, and also was not as good climbing the pocket to avoid pressure - there were a couple plays where it appeared that he bailed out early. Among the missed throws, the biggest miss was a late under throw to TE Ladarius Green in the 2nd quarter, which ended up costing the Chargers 4 points.
Running Backs: C+
Because of injuries to Ryan Mathews last week, and Danny Woodhead this week, RB Donald Brown ended up with 36 touches for a total of 89 yards (31 carries, 62 yards, 2 yards per carry), and 27 yards on 5 receptions (6 targets). In fairness to Brown, 7 of those carries came at a point in the game when the coaching staff was trying to burn clock, and the Bills' defense had stacked the box - those carries gained 0 yards combined.
Woodhead gained only 1 yard on his lone carry, before being lost for the season. Rookie RB Branden Oliver added 11 yards on 3 carries in his 1st NFL action, and showed both some good burst and elusiveness on his limited opportunities.
Receivers: B +
WR Malcom Floyd was the Chargers vertical threat in this game, making his 2 catches (4 targets) for 98 yards. WR Eddie Royal followed his strong rebound game vs. Seattle with another solid performance - 4 catches on 6 targets for 42 yards, and 2 red zone touchdowns and 2 3rd down conversions. WR Keenan Allen was limited to 2 catches on 2 targets for 17 yards.
On the TE side of the ledger, we finally got to see TE Ladarius Green making a big impact. Green finished with 4 catches on 6 targets for 64 yards, as well as drawing a pair of defensive holding penalties against. TE Antonio Gates finished with only 1 catch on 1 target for 8 yards.
Offensive Line: C+
This was another case of 3/5ths good, 2/5ths not so good. Starting with the good, the left side of the line did a good job keeping Rivers clean in the pocket, although the stats will show that OLB Manny Lawson recorded the only sack - against LT King Dunlap. LG Chad Rinehart was beaten a couple of times in the running game by KT Kyle Williams, while C Rich Ohrnberger was solid in providing help and picking up blocks on stunts and blitzes.
Now to the right side, where problems are not getting fixed. RT D.J. Fluker struggled badly, especially early as Buffalo moved DE Mario Williams to his side, and he repeatedly beat Fluker inside to blow up running plays, although Fluker's pass protection was serviceable. RG Johnnie Troutman also had major issues inside against DTs Kyle Willams and Marcel Dareus, especially in the run game. In the pass game there were a few instances where Troutman got pushed straight back into Rivers.
Defensive Line: B+
This was the best game of the young season for DE Kendall Reyes. He was getting washed out frequently on runs to his side early in the game. However, once Defensive Coordinator John Pagano started moving him and DE Corey Liuget around, Reyes' play picked up, as he was able to make use of his quickness - such as when he beat RG Erik Pears on a huge 3rd down stop, and later when he got a sack off a stunt.
Liuget also recorded a sack, chasing down QB E.J. Manuel following a nice rush by OLB Reggie Walker, and forcing a fumble in the process. He also drew a (highly questionable) personal foul for roughing the passer. The Safety for Intentional Grounding was created by pressure off a stunt between Liuget and Reyes. DT Sean Lissemore had another solid game manning the middle of the defense.
Figures. Just when ILB Manti Te'o starts to look really good, he suffers an injury which will take him out multiple weeks. A shame, because he had another solid game both in pass and run defense, and had been getting better by the week at taking good angles to the ball carrier and making strong tackles (9 combined). I'm also getting concerned about ILB Donald Butler, who, despite 9 combined tackles, took a number of bad angles to the ball, whiffed on tackles, looked lost in coverage, and seemed a step slow or confused for the 3rd straight game. ILB Reggie Walker had a strong game serving as the spy on Manuel, and did a nice job of either forcing a throw away, or not allowing Manuel room to run upfield.
On the outside, OLB Jarret Johnson made a welcome return, and did his usual good work in setting the edge and providing short coverage on the TEs, finishing with 8 combined tackles. On the outside, OLB Dwight Freeney had his third strong game generating pressure off the edge, collecting another sack as well as a tackle for loss.
CB Brandon Flowers came back strong following a missed game, and all but neutralized whichever receiver he lined up against. He finished with 2 passes defensed, 1 of which was a near INT. CB Jason Verrett was limited following an injury, but up to that point had posted another strong performance in coverage. The weak spot unfortunately was CB Shareece Wright, who (thankfully) wasn't targeted often, as he played much of the game opposite WR Sammy Watkins. Wright's tackling in this game was also not good, following 2 weeks of at least being strong in the tackling department.
The Bills' WR corps finished with 7 receptions on 21 targets for 49 yards, combined.
FS Eric Weddle had a strong game, finishing with 10 combined tackles and a pass defensed, including one crushing hit on WR Marquise Goodwin. SS Marcus Gilchrist and S Richard Marshall managed to avoid both getting exposed and or making serious mistakes in coverage, as they combined for 4 tackles. SS Jahleel Addae made his welcome return, managed to draw a holding penalty, and combined on 1 tackle in limited duty.
Special Teams: B
For the 1st time this season, the Chargers failed to make any game changing Special Teams plays. That said, kick coverage was strong for the 3rd week in a row, especially by LB Kavell Conner, WR Seyi Ajirotutu, and Te'o. Of course, it was also par for the course that the Chargers gained nothing in the return game, with Royal gaining a total of 6 yards on 3 chances.
P Mike Scifres was victimized a bit by circumstance - punting with the wind 5 times in the 4th quarter, as 3 ended up going for touchbacks, and another 2 being dropped inside the Bills' 20 yard line. His 1st punt earlier in the game was also dropped inside the 20. PK Nick Novak continued to convert his scoring chances this week, with FGs of 19 and 37 yards under less than ideal conditions. Novak took advantage of the wind in the 1st quarter with touchbacks, and 3 other were squib kicks designed to prevent C.J. Spiller with a running return chance.
In some ways, this game was a crucial test for Head Coach Mike McCoy. One of the problems until December last season was the Chargers inability to beat the teams they're supposed to beat. This game had "trap" written all over it - McCoy and his staff managed to get a solid, workmanlike effort to secure the win against a dangerous team playing with confidence at home. That said, I really wish McCoy would learn to go for the jugular - as I thought his decision to essentially sit on a 10 point lead throughout the 4th quarter invited trouble.
Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich had another strong week calling passing plays, although I think some time needs to be spent this week on fixing the problems with the running game. Reich tried several types of runs, and none of them were really effective. I also think the offensive staff should think long and hard at either putting Chris Watt into the lineup in Troutman's place, or at least flip flop Troutman and Rinehart to put Troutman at his best position (LG) - the veteran help inside would probably help Fluker's struggling game as well.
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano called a strong game this week. While he didn't bring a lot of pressure, he did bring it selectively to try and keep Buffalo in 3rd and long, which was mostly effective. He saved his biggest blitz for the failed 4th down in the middle of the 4th quarter. He's also beginning to move away from the ineffective 3 man rushes - which negates the strong initial pass coverage he's getting from Flowers and Verrett. He and his staff have had a good game plan for containing mobile QBs two weeks in a row. He also did a really nice job breaking stunts in the 2nd half of the game against the Bills' O-Line, and it gave them fits.
5 Biggest Hidden Plays (i.e. non-scoring, non-turnover plays):
- 8:50 4th Qtr. Bills 3rd and 1 at SD 41. Trailing by 10 and just beyond FG range, the Bills run for a 1st down is stuffed by Reyes and Butler for a 2 yard loss, setting up a 4th and 3 pass play. The pass fails, effective closing out the game.
- 3:24 3rd Qtr. Bills 3rd and 14 at SD 38. Manuel beats a 3 man + spy rush for a 15 yard gain to WR Robert Woods to sustain the drive. Bills would later score a TD to cut the lead to 20-10.
- 10:56 3rd Qtr. Chargers 3rd and 11 at SD 42. River throws to Green in the flat, who picks up a block and gains 14 yards to sustain the drive. Chargers would go on to score a TD and take a 20-3 lead.
- 0:42 2nd Qtr. Chargers 2nd and 6 at BUF 14. Rivers takes a sack by Lawson, pushing the Chargers into 3rd and Long and effectively killing the drive. They settle for a FG and a 13-3 halftime lead.
- 11:17 2nd Qtr. Chargers 1st and Goal at BUF 6. Rivers misses Green with a poor throw. He also doesn't see Brown open in the flat on 3rd down, forcing a FG attempt and a 10-0 lead.
Looking Ahead To:
Watching the Chargers take advantage of a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars team. Also, how about a week without any more key players getting badly hurt. Hardwick, Woodhead, Mathews, Ingram and Te'o are quite enough.