These are getting funnier and funnier to do very quickly!
Like always, I rewatch the game and try to find some hidden or not-so-hidden reasons why the score ultimately was what is was or why it maybe should have been something different. Sometimes its just a small little detail (like formation, personnel, route, defensive assignments, ...) I notice and find interesting to highlight. My points are usually in a somewhat chronological order however that is not a hard restriction. I try to include screenshots and gifs to illustrate the points as good as possible but usually, these posts will work best for someone having seen the game in its entirety.
1) Bosa played a lot, also many different spots. 3-4 DE, 4-3 DE for the most part I think. At least a few times he played 3-tech in a passing situation in a 4-man front. He has a nice motor and is also quick and powerful to impact plays. Fun player to watch.
2) That ILB corps was good. Toomer provides solid depth and although Brown was a little bit off in the run game (Falcons made sure someone blocks him all the time) as he was not aggressive here, he still showed nice ability to cover RBs and to play zone. Perryman obviously the man of the match but one has to wonder if a rotation here (except for whoever the playcaller is), would be the best case scenario. I also feel like that while Brown has been a massive upgrade, I think Te'os ability to line everyone up kind of gets overlooked. It just feels like that those runs who do work against us, they are gaping holes and it just did not feel that way for the first games when Te'o was there. But I would have to look at that again to make a definite claim.
3) Ingram again played all over the field and I truly like it. The unlikely reason is to keep his sack total down to keep his contract demands down but he is such a dynamic player and I like the physicality with which he goes after RBs and WRs in space. And he is just instinctive. On Bosa's 2nd sack, he stayed put, read it perfectly and covered the RB because they wanted to run a screen. Bosa owes Ingram a beer for that.
4) Matt Ryan was not good at executing those bootlegs ATL likes to call. Like he did good play-fakes but two times he overthrew wide open receivers and once was stopped short of the marker on a 2nd & 10 when he had, again, someone open down the field. The fake-aspect of the bootleg worked incredibly well but other than that, he could not make the Chargers defense pay.
Matt Ryan is also zoned in on Julio Jones to a degree it hurts the Falcons sometimes, especially on key downs. Yes, he is the best WR in the game, but look at the play below: Julio is never open, Ryan never looks somewhere else. He basically throws it slightly away from the defender into good zone coverage or should I say "zone" coverage because after watching that play 7-8 times, I cannot tell you what the plan was here if there was one. Chargers got lucky here.
It also seems like Ryan does not have full command of audibles or he does not do a good enough job on it. It may be harsh and its exactly how the OC wanted it to run in this situation, but when you bring such a formation, you usually count players and go with the best matchup. If the defense has less than 6 guys in the box because they fear the WR screen, you run it. But here, the Chargers have enough men in the box and Ingram comes in early from the side to blow up the play. Ryan needs to throw the WR screen up top.
5) I wanted to take a closer look on how Pagano decided to take away Julio Jones. Obviously, everybody has an opinion about how to stop such a transcendent talent but not many would agree with how Pagano decided to play #11: He treated him basically like JAG. That might be important given the overall talent in the ATL passing attack but it was also surprising that the Chargers were able to keep Jones from making game-changing plays (even though he had over 170 yards). Especially in the first half, there was some zone, some man and literally no special attention to him (at least not to a degree that someone looking for it would easily find it). Naturally, the best CB (Hayward) had him when in man coverage most often, but not exclusively. Many times Steve Williams, Craig Mager or Trevor Williams covered him 1-1 with two deep Safeties.
In the second half, some things changed a little. On several occasions, the Chargers' DBs kind of let other receivers run away from them just to drop underneath Julio's routes. Usually this meant that the initial receiver was taken over by a Safety. Below you see Mager making a nice play in such a situation although he is too late for the INT.
Perryman's game changing INT was a very similar play. He tracks his receiver (TE) in man coverage and as soon as that receiver makes a break towards an area of the field where an additional defender is (in that case Lowery), he stays and undercuts the route by Julio Jones. This stuff actually reminds me (see my last post) of how the Broncos pass off our crossers.
It might have been a blown coverage or that Hayward simply saw no threat outside (as he would then probably play deep thirds) and decided to follow Julio but on at least one play I saw how Hayward followed #11 in man-to-man while the other players dropped into zone coverage:
In totality, this does not mean that they were overly concerned with #11 as a whole over the course of the game. Not at all: First play of the fourth quarter, Falcons are driving, up 7 points. Another TD here and who knows if the Chargers can climb out of that hole? ATL gets Julio singled up against an UDFA, no Safety help, no help inside. Now I do not know whether this is extremely brave or stupid or just great film study. Maybe they knew that given the formation, down and distance, it was unlikely that they come out throwing. But what if Ryan looks over there and simply throws one up? Please raise a hand if you think Trevor Williams (who, to his credit, played well in his few snaps) can defend that. What? Anyone? I thought so... Falcons are ultimately forced to kick a FG on that drive.
On a crucial play before that 4th down stop in OT, Hayward is singled up against a deep comeback by Jones and he can just force him OOB.
So overall, they had some nice little wrinkles in there specifically to stop Jones, but for the most part, they tried to defend ATL's offense and live with #11 racking up 150+ yards. Yes, they played Cover 2 Zone, Cover 3 and Man Coverage with 2 Safeties, so its not like they put someone on an island against him and played 10-10 with the other guys, but these are usual plays that every defense runs week in and week out and the Chargers defense, for the most part, did not shift Safeties over or so to Jones' side. This seems fine because the other options, including the run game, apparently will not kill you. If you had told me a week ago that we play this much regular zone and man with deep Safeties without Verrett, Flowers and ultimately Mager (so 3 out of the top 4 CBs) and "get away" with it, I would have said you are crazy. But give credit where credit is due, that was a good plan against Jones and it worked (as much as it can work against a player like that).
5) Sometimes the criticism of Pagano takes strange forms. I mean if "18 seconds left, ball on the opponent's 25" is not a time for Prevent defense, then when? Hayward is simply playing a little too close to the LOS and cannot make a play. An incompletion here would have been awesome however the Chargers defense holds anyways (one incompletion and one quick slant to Julio) and forces an 58 yard FG attempt which, historically speaking, is very unlikely to be made.
6) We all know by now about Perryman's run stuff. I also think Freeman does not get the first even if Perryman misses. The Chargers did a nice job to crowd the line and also move the LOS back. Great play. Bad call by ATL. One new set of downs if you convert (at midfield) vs. the opponent close to game-winning FG range if you do not convert? I think that calculation is not correct.
it felt like the Falcons sometimes could do whatever they wanted but the Chargers were usually able to make at least one good run stuff to make it a long 2nd & 12 or to force a penalty or to make one good break on the ball or get one sack or whatever... They found a way to get off the field. Do not forget that one FG was set up by the tipped INT which was returned to around the 10 and they held up. Another 7 points came on the sack fumble and another 7 came on a drive which started on the 50. So, in reality, the defense gave up 16 points really because you cannot blame them for that FG after the INT, nor the sack fumble TD and regarding the drive starting on the 50, a FG (e.g. 3 instead of 7 points) would be expected, so 30-3-7-4 = 16. That is really good. Still, many plays were bad but there was also a lot of good plays that ultimately forced the Falcons into bad situations.
1) Gordon. You can see he is 100% committed to hit the holes where they should be and compared to last year, there is at least something there this year. Given the down & distance where he is used, I think that approach is good. Rivers can work with a 2 yarder on first down to make it 2nd & 8. But if he bounces play and play again just to look for the big play, he will also lose a few yards every now and then. And for this Oline, nothing is worse than a 3rd and 12. Gordon also is used a lot on 2nd & short or 3rd & short and there it is imperative to get that yard and be over with. Its not like a walk-in TD is just a cut away. I do think he is praised this year as much as he was blamed last year. I mean he is definitely improved but a lot of his production change comes from the Oline at least giving him a crease and simply from the amount of goal line snaps he gets. Last year, he had ONE carry from inside the 3 yard line if I remember correctly. He has a long way to go but he looks good. The biggest improvement comes in the passing game and that is obviously based on the added opportunities to do so. On many catches, he got a little more than what was there and kept quite a few drives alive, just like he did with his running. He is fast, strong, can catch and pass protect at least on a basic level.
First drive here, after the big play by Williams (below), he makes a nice read on the fly and picks up 8 tough yards which ultimately lead to his walk-in TD a play later.
2) Tyrell Williams simply is a good player and it showed on that first drive. He is still lacking in the "throw the ball up and I will make a play"-department, but if he can catch it cleanly and accelerate, he looks great. Rarely does one look so smooth while outrunning a defense. On the very first drive, he provided Chargers fans with that big play everybody expects from him by now.
3) I think that is Rivers fault on the tipped INT. McCluster needs to come up with it but Rivers threw it so McCluster had to turn around. That was a simple checkdown, not an out route or whip route or option or whatever. Rivers did not make an accurate throw facing the pressue and McCluster was not able to make a tough catch. The INT is returned to the 10 and you wonder if the defense could hold up (it could).
Also (just before the INT), if I am a defender and Benjamin is the end man in a bunch or outside of another receiver in a stack, I get myself in position for the drag. So many times, the Chargers will run the drag with someone clearing/picking Benjamin's defender with a deeper route.
4) Again a little razzle dazzle. This time, Benjamin gets a reverse handoff from Gordon running the toss. He squares his shoulders, pulls the ball back down, sets his feet again and throws it. The ball is thrown pretty solidly (definitely not dangerously and Williams stepped out of bounds by an inch or two) but still incomplete. I always remember a few years back when VJax ran a similar play that the announcer said something like that the toughest thing in this situation for a non-QB is to NOT throw the ball. You get to throw a football in an NFL game maybe once or twice over your career, so you better make it count. VJax back then pulled it down and picked up a few yards. In Benjamin's case its hard to fault him because Williams was open and he made a safe throw which was almost completed. But he had a lot of room to run here. Nice play call however. Makes the defense think a little bit instead of flying towards Gordon. Stuff like that maybe opens up a TD a few games later when an ILB is frozen when Benjamin runs a fake reverse motion.
5) Let's come to my weekly "Gordon's biggest impact is on play-action"-segment. It feels like on 10-15 plays, each week, opponents overreact to play-action or to the Chargers formation even without a play-action.
There were also many other instances where the Chargers completely opened up the middle of the field with play-action. For the most part, they threw it outside on those plays however. Like corner routes, deep outs. Its not like the play-action has no effect there as it maybe eliminates an underneath sideline defender, but usually, you would expect more seam routes or deep "in" routes to attack the void behind ILBs who step up.
6) So a 20-10 game after the short field caused by Whalen's "return". You need some breathing room here. Well, better not tell the Chargers because they thought its better to have a few penalties and then turn it over. That recklessness was stupid. You do not need to score here. But a few first downs and get some of that momentum back. However the Chargers played like a chicken with its head cut off. 2 yard gain by Gordon, -5 yard sack, procedure penalty -5 yards and the sack fumble returned for TD. A series for the ages. Barksdale is beaten badly but Rivers simply has to play it smart here and get Gordon the ball on the check down or audible to a draw. The "McCoy and his stupid draws" crowd might not like it, but its the smart thing to do here with the type of protection. Get 10 yards, punt the ball and see what happens. That return TD almost put the game out of reach. Down 10 on the road against a top 5 team is bad, down 17 is catastrophic.
7) Crazy good drive there to stop the bleeding right before the half. Chargers draw within 10. Key play again, just like on the first drive, a huge catch by Tyrell Williams. He simply runs by the zone coverage. That is obviously a function of his speed but someone also should have been there to protect against that. That was too easy. Its easy to nitpick now but if Rivers throws the ball further outside and with a little bit more on it, that is a TD.
Later Benjamin converts a 3rd down with a crossing route and Henry rumbles to the goal line after the Falcons again drop the coverage on him after being confused with covering Watt and Gordon. Gordon punches it in to end a nice drive.
8) Pick play not working? That is certainly something new. First drive of the second half ends in a quick 3 & out. Inman cannot make the catch but he really did not get behind Benjamin quick enough and so his defender could break on the ball. If I see that alignment by the Dline, I would guess draw anyway, I mean its 3rd & short, make them pay for that.
9) Then a nice drive where the run game works (even Farrow chips in), Henry almost comes down with the TD and Gates is held on 3rd down. Still, the Chargers draw within 7 with the FG.
10) TD drive in the fourth Q: Gordon with a nice catch here, turning a short gain into a 9-yard gain close to a new first down. Benjamin again converts on a crosser out of a bunch formation. Then, sack and a 3rd & 11 coming up. Probably one of the easiest 3rd and long Rivers has ever converted.
Shortly after that, quick recognition by Rivers to throw the ball outside as the defense fails to align properly against the trips formation. Whalen picks up an easy 12 yards. I am not even sure the Oline or McCluster know, at the time of the snap, that Rivers will throw the ball here (its a quick pass so there will not be a foul for "illegal man downfield").
Then another sack where Rivers waits too long for Inman to come open on a dig instead of hitting Whalen for another safe gain. Chargers convert from 2nd & 15 with a nice catch by Gordon followed by a run Gordon where he shows nice power as he is hit in the backfield and gets the first.
Afterwards, Williams converts a 3rd & 10 before Gordon gets his easy receiving TD to draw within 3. Great drive, many pressure moments. Punting was not out of the question. Settling for the FG likely. But they got the TD.
11) Final drive of regulation. Since I talked about the easiest 3rd & 11 Rivers has ever converted, I think the 4th & 2 also needs to be mentioned. Easiest 4th & 2 conversion ever. Gates has a 5 yard cushion, makes one step upfield, catches the ball and gets the first. I am not even sure that was designed. I think Rivers and Gates are able to exploit such a coverage without prior notification. A few missed opportunities later, the Chargers settle for the FG and tie it up.
12) In OT, nothing too fancy except for the least aesthetically pleasing kneel in football history by Rivers. I thought he might have torn something there. Gates got easily open for a huge gain and Gordon shows off his newfound no-nonsense style by going over the pile on 3rd & 1. Great situational football. He is very conservative nowadays but Rivers will not need much more. A yard here is all you need.
This is a good offense, finding its groove. The run game is doing enough to keep defenses honest and I actually think, based on how play-action works, based on how quickly LBs are in to defend the run, that this is a huge part of our passing game. The threat of the run game opens up a lot. Sometimes just the formation and down/distance will lead a defense to run blitz and Rivers can throw into huge windows on the 2nd level. Play-action from any formation works almost all the time. What was absent were screens (one was dropped by Gordon but it had little chance) and also mostly draws even though Gordon had one nice run on a draw from an I formation.
My main observation is with this offense is that defenses are confident that neither old man Gates, nor Williams, nor Inman, nor Benjamin, nor Henry (lesser degree here) are killing them and they can afford to stack the box and run blitz. They know we like to run, so many times they get the reward. Defenses think they can stop this WR corps 1-1 and prefer to keep Gordon in check. If you think otherwise (e.g. defenses dare us to run because of Rivers) I challenge you to show me some plays where this was the case. My point is much easier to make and defend.
1) Refs? While not very bad, I think some decisions were a little wrong. I think Gates got held two times pretty obviously on 3rd downs where a drive stalled and we had to settle for a FG. So that at least evens out the minor DPI against Julio on the last drive in regulation where Steve Williams held Julios arm. On the very first drive, Tyrell Williams dove forward for the first down but his knee touched before he hit the ground completely. I think he still got the first down, but the refs probably gave him a full extra yard. A similar situation was before Ryan's other sneak (which was successful), when Ryan scrambled and Bosa came after him but they spotted the ball at least a yard further down the field after he began to slide. Also on what planet is standing around OPI (Benjamin got called for OPI when he, really, simply made a step upfield and then turned around)? Benjamin did not even move towards the defender. Bad call. It was declined but still a horrible call.
2) Whalen, you are alright? Please never again field a kick-off that lands at the 5 or so. And especially not one that will most definitely go out of bounds. These are kick-offs, they have a huge horizontal component to their overall velocity. They are not like a punt with backspin. Thank you Griff!
3) In OT, you kick it from the 42? I mean that speaks volumes about Lambo but I would have liked if they run Gordon one/two times to the left, tell him to fall forward and keep both hands on the ball. That way, even if you kick it on 3rd down (which seems appropriate here), you might be able to make this into a 37 (avoid loss by Rivers and maybe gain 2-3) yarder with the much higher win probability.