I thought of something after I wrote the "Chargers will lose" post yesterday and had to look it up.
A lot of times, picking these Week 1 games is easier than we think. Some coaches do well with extra time, building a stronger gameplan, and end up with more consistent success in Week 1 and coming off bye weeks. Some do worse. It's probably too early to tell which Mike McCoy is, right?
Arguably the two most disappointing games of the San Diego Chargers 2013 season were in Week 1 (losing a game to an eventual 2-14 Texans team after being up 28-7 with less than 5 minutes left in the third quarter) and after the team's bye week (losing a game to an eventual 3-13 Redskins team). Yesterday's loss fits in well with those two games in terms of a San Diego team that looked unprepared and generally confused by everything their opponent was doing.
I'm not saying McCoy will always struggle to coach in games coming off a long break, but I am saying that the Raiders game on 11/16 looks a little more difficult today than it did yesterday. For all of the ways in which McCoy has been a godsend for Chargers fans, he still has a few flaws, and this is one of them.
Onto the Bolts & Dolts! As always, these are a mix of what I remember from the game (which usually isn't much) and what I get from the box score the next day.
Antonio Gates - 6 catches, 81 rec yds
Was #85 perfect? No, and his dropped pass late in the game was annoying. That being said, I was surprised by how often he was getting open against the Arizona Cardinals. He's still a very viable third down threat.
Malcom Floyd - 4 catches, 50 rec yds, 1 rec TD
Boy, it was great to see Malcom out there doing Malcom things, including scoring a touchdown with a catch over the middle, surrounded by Cardinals defenders. He may not be a #1 WR, but when he's healthy, Floyd is one of the league's better #2 WRs.
Brandon Flowers - 7 tackles (6 solo)
Larry Fitzgerald was targeted four times and caught just one pass (for 22 yards). As I predicted, Flowers was on Fitzgerald almost every play, with Shareece Wright on Michael Floyd and Jason Verrett on John Brown. Flowers proved worthy of his label as a #1 CB and was everything the Chargers were hoping Derek Cox could have been last year. Great start for him.
Jason Verrett - 4 tackles (3 solo), 1 pass defended
This draft pick already looks fantastic. With almost no hitting in training camp and the preseason, Verrett was still laying the wood and providing sticky coverage all game long. He actually played more than I thought he would, and I wish he had played even more.
Jerry Attaochu - 4 tackles (4 solo), 1 sack, 1 force fumble
Jerry arguably looked as good as Verrett, which is amazing when you consider how great Verrett looked. Not only did he provide pressure nearly every time he was on defense, he looked like the team's best special teams player the entire night. He (easily) blocked a punt and made two other tackles on special teams coverage units. This guy is a playmaker and a difference maker.
Corey Liuget - 5 tackles (4 solo), 1 sack
Just keep playing like that Corey. The pocket was collapsing almost every time Carson Palmer dropped back. Eventually, the LBs behind you will figure out how to keep the QB from scrambling for a first down every time there is pressure.
Manti Te'o - 6 tackles (6 solo)
Still early, but that was a strong start from Manti. He looked a lot more like the player I saw at Notre Dame, instinctively gliding towards the play and shooting the gap the stop it in its tracks. If he could do that for 16 games this season, he'd be an above-average player.
As you know, this space is typically reserved for players, but sometimes I have to drag coaches into it. Reich will get torn apart this week, mostly for his play-calling, but I'm much more upset with his usage of the "three-headed monster" at RB that Tom Telesco gifted him with this offseason. Let's go one by one:
- Ryan Mathews - 12 carries, 40 rush yds, 1 rush TD, 2 catches, 20 rec yds The "bellcow" back that is supposed to touch the ball a lot when the team has a lead and wants to burn clock. Despite the Chargers having a lead for over 24 minutes in the second half, Mathews finished the game with 12 carries and 14 total touches.
- Danny Woodhead - 6 carries, 5 rush yds, 1 catch, 6 rec yds The best 3rd-down RB in the entire league is no longer playing RB on 3rd down. He was in exclusively on 1st and 2nd down, and all but one of his touches came on runs up the gut, which is maybe the only thing he doesn't do well.
- Donald Brown - 2 carries, -2 rush yds I can't. I just can't.
Does anyone remember when I figured this out last year? Here's a quick reminder:
When Ryan Mathews gets 15+ touches, the 2013 Chargers are 9-5.
When Danny Woodhead gets 15+ touches, the 2013 Chargers are 1-2.
When Mathews and Woodhead combine for 30+ touches, the 2013 Chargers are 8-0.
Not only did Mathews not get 15 touches, and not only did those two guys not combine for 30 touches together, all three of the Chargers running backs totaled 23 touches. That shouldn't even be possible. Not with this group of wide receivers.
Eddie Royal - 1 catch (6 targets), 20 rec yds
Speaking of the team's lack of depth at WR, Eddie Royal is not nearly as good as Danny Woodhead or Ladarius Green (guys who don't play WR) at being a WR. Why the heck was he being featured all game long? They were running special plays just for Eddie! That worked when Ken Whisenhunt caught everyone by surprise with it last year, but now everyone knows who he is and how to defend him in this offense.
On a team that is filled with offensive weapons that are complete and total mismatches for almost every defense in the league (Mathews, Woodhead, Green, Gates, Keenan Allen), why did Mike McCoy and Frank Reich decide to build an offensive gameplan around their undersized, inconsistent, oft-injured WR that can be covered by a decent CB? And even if that's to be excused (it isn't), Royal was terrible all game long. He had bad hands, he quit on a route (which lead to an interceptions), and he generally looked like he did in those last few years with the Broncos when he didn't seem to be really into it anymore.
Wake up, Eddie.
I don't want to throw too much dirt on them. I know Joe D will get them right and I know not having Nick Hardwick out there in the second half hurt them a lot (he is the most valuable center in the NFL if only for his blitz recognition, Philip Rivers was lost without him), but I still have to point out just how bad they were. Reich or McCoy should have realized that they were more set up to run than pass with the lead and without Hardwick out there, though.
That being said, D.J. Fluker looked terrible all game long. I honestly don't care that he laid a big hit on Patrick Peterson during a fake interception return because that play didn't matter or actually happen. What I care about was that he was a full second behind everyone else getting off the snap and was beat on almost every running play as a result. That needs to be fixed.
Johnnie Troutman probably deserves some spotlight as well, for getting eaten alive in pass-blocking before and especially after Hardwick left the game with an ankle injury. That wasn't a great defensive line and he was hopeless to stop them. Looked more like a lack of focus than a lack of talent to me.
Richard Marshall - 3 tackles (2 solo)
I can not wait for Jahleel Addae to get healthy.
That's it! Everyone else either played exactly to my expectations, or they did enough good things to equal out the bad things. In the comments, tell me who I missed.