At this point, it feels like the Chargers are a parody of the Chargers.
Known for a plague of injuries and a string of horrendous losses, the Chargers nearly - once again - managed both. They placed a player on IR after the game (more on that later), and very nearly blew a comfortable lead against a mediocre Texans side.
After playing prevent defense to let the Texans bring it back to a one-score game, the Chargers gave up another successful onside kick attempt - their second already this season - meaning that they had to defend a Hail Mary to hold onto the win. While Dexter McCoil's interception sealed the deal, who can honestly say they weren't expecting the impossible to happen and the Texans to tie it up? I know I can't.
A win is a win, but it's no fun to just accept that as fact and move on. I'm here to crush dreams. Not every Charger played well, and it's my job to point that out. I'll also talk about players who did well, of course. I'm not a monster. Not all of the time, anyway.
1: Dontrelle Inman/Korey Toomer
I'm grouping these two together because I'm very close to running out of things to write about them. In fact, since the start of November, I haven't done a Winners or Losers article where at least one of these two hasn't made the list. I want to stop writing about them, but they just won't let me. I can only be entertaining for a certain amount of time, guys (usually about 1.4 seconds - which is conveniently how long Philip Rivers has to throw a lot of the time).
Dontrelle Inman caught every single pass thrown his way on Sunday, finishing with 6 catches for 119 yards, including a 52 yard TD where he threw an absolutely beautiful double move to shrug off Quintin Demps. I haven't seen anyone bite that hard since 'Charlie bit my finger' was introduced to the internet in 2007. I could watch both for hours.
On the season, Inman now has 38 catches for 527 yards and 2 TDs. That's already a career high in receptions and yards, and another TD or two may not be far away. He's also now gone over 1,000 yards for his career - pretty impressive for someone who made their NFL debut in 2013 as a UDFA, coming from the CFL in desperate pursuit of an NFL dream fast closing.
You'd be hard-pressed to find any player who's had as rapid a rise this season as Inman. Considered a strong candidate to be cut in the preseason in favor of someone younger, Inman has spent the last 11 games developing into Philip Rivers favorite target in the absence of Keenan Allen. Inman's contract is up in the summer, but he's not going anywhere. There's a spot for Inman on this team for a few more years yet.
If there is another player who's stock has risen as much this season, you'd have to point to Korey Toomer - especially considering he was stuck on the Raiders practice squad until late September this season. How depressing is that? Not only are you on a practice squad, watching your NFL dream pass with each waking day but... well, you have to play for the Raiders. (As an aside, congratulations on securing a winning season, Oakland! Good job. Hopefully, you don't have to wait 13 years for the next one).
Toomer gets everywhere on defense. Everywhere. Against the Texans, Toomer had 14 combined tackles. Clay Matthews has 14 combined tackles on the entire season, to put that into perspective. Since joining the Chargers, Toomer has 51 tackles. Just 11 more will give him more than Manti Te'o had in either of his first two seasons. He also has 2 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. This is all in three starts, by the way.
Korey Toomer may be one of the best 'finds' of the Tom Telesco era. Players this good should not be available on the scrapheap - especially considering that Toomer has a ring, having won the SB in 2013 with Seattle.
27-year-olds on a practice squad generally don't go on to have a flourishing NFL career for too much longer, to be honest. Toomer was given a chance by the Chargers, and to say he's taken it would be an understatement. He's made Manti Te'o replaceable, and could seriously challenge Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman for playing time when Brown is back healthy. As a Free Agent next year, Toomer now has a chance to collect a big, big, paycheck. That means the continuation of his NFL dream, but - more importantly - financial stability for him and his family.
Congratulations, Korey and Dontrelle. You guys deserve everything you're going to get.
2: Jahleel Addae
Addae is back! I may be getting too excited, but I'm fed up of watching terrible play at safety. It won't be long before Addae injures himself out of the lineup again, and I'm going to enjoy him being around while I can.
Against the Texans, Addae showed the Chargers everything they had been missing with him gone. Of course, that's not all good things. He wouldn't be Jahleel Addae if it was. He missed one tackle where he decided that using his arms wouldn't be necessary, and looked a little rusty at times. That doesn't mean he didn't provide one of the best performances I've seen from a San Diego safety this season. That's not saying a whole lot, but Addae was actually good. I promise.
Lamar Miller was held to just 3.0 YPC, even without Brandon Mebane in the lineup. Jahleel Addae was a huge reason why. Addae could be found time-and-again flying in from deep to help make a tackle at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Addae had 8 tackles on the day (6 of them solo), and I'd bank on the majority of them being a positive play against the run or for a short gain in pass coverage.
I know that Jahleel Addae can be reckless. It's not fun to watch. There's a real chance that he's doing himself irreversible long term damage, and some of his more 'questionable' hits have left opposing players - or, sometimes, his teammates - shaken up. However, I also know that he's far and away the best safety on the Chargers roster. He's not a liability in pass coverage, and he's one of the better run-stopping safeties in the NFL. Considering the Chargers other options at safety, I don't see any way they can avoid bringing back Addae in FA this year.
Much like Toomer and Inman, Addae is in line to receive the biggest paycheck of his life in summer. His reckless play (it isn't as often as it seems, but it's still far, far too often) means I can't say he deserves it as much as the other two, but this is the culmination of 26 years of hard work in chasing a dream. And, as long as he's a San Diego Charger, I'm going to support him with everything I have.
You disagree? Fine. Roll the Adrian Phillips highlight tape.
That's what I thought.
3: Dwight Lowery
I don't like Dwight Lowery (as a player - I'm sure he's a perfectly nice human being), but credit where credit is due. Lowery had his best game as a San Diego Charger against the Texans.
I'm not going to give him credit for his interception because Osweiler's pass was thrown so badly I'm still not convinced that he had another laser shone into his eye and thought Lowery was his receiver, but the rest of his game deserves some praise. That includes managing to perform a celebration with Jahleel Addae so well that it was flagged for a 'choreographed celebration' that wasn't actually choreographed. Good job, No Fun League. The Ravens can put Bengals players in various wrestling holds (I'm pretty sure I saw someone bring out a steel chair at one point), but Dwight Lowery wants to celebrate his first interception as a San Diego Charger? Back up 15 yards. We can't have that disgraceful act tarnishing our image. You know what? Make it 30 yards. No reason. I just don't like the name Dwight.
The key play Lowery made was forcing a fumble on Lamar Miller when the Chargers were up by just one score. Lowery's tackle was textbook putting his body right on the nose of the football and forcing it to squirt free, where Trevor Williams recovered. It was also just the second time Miller fumbled this season on 211 carries.
I actually don't think that Lowery's best play in pass coverage was on the interception, either. He did an excellent job of helping blanket the Texans passing game - he didn't do it as well as Brock Osweiler did, but he was close. Lowery had 2 passes defensed on the day, and, in all honesty, probably put together the best performance by a Chargers safety since 2014. Two turnovers forced and two passes defended? Good work, Dwight. Hopefully, I can praise you more often in these columns going forward.
4: Damion Square
When Brandon Mebane was placed on IR, that essentially opened the door for Damion Square. Consider it a 6 game job interview - perform well, and you'll be kept around for another year or two, possibly on better money than you earn now. Fail to live up to expectations? Good luck in your new career path. After Sunday, Square has passed the first chapter.
Was he as dominant as Brandon Mebane? No, of course not. He was never going to be. I still maintain that Square isn't big enough to be a true NT like the Chargers want and that he'd be much better served as a rotational DE in their 'base' 3-4.
With that said - Square was pretty impressive against the Texans. I was worried that being undersized would work against him, getting moved out the way and opening big running lanes for Lamar Miller. That didn't happen. Square did a really nice job of staying stout at the point of attack and holding his ground. He may not have been the one shedding the blocks and making tackles, but Square did more than enough to limit the Texans rushing game - forcing them to use Brock Osweiler more, which was hugely beneficial for the Chargers.
The most surprising thing about Square - for me, at least - was how effective he was when rushing the passer. Square didn't collect any sacks on the day, but he managed to get a QB hit on Osweiler and applied a good amount of pressure all game, showcasing some real power when pass rushing.
Square was far from a lock to make the roster in preseason, but he managed to hold off Ryan Carrethers to win the backup NT job. As much as I like Carrethers and his potential, I just can't find a way to argue that it was the wrong move. Square offers some real value to the Chargers as a rotational DL, whether that's at NT or DE. His contract is up in the summer, and I'd love for the Chargers to bring him back on a deal that works for both parties. We all (unfortunately) know how important depth is, and Square provides a quality option at a low price.
5: Trevor Williams
The Chargers may have found a gem in Trevor Williams. Undrafted out of Penn State, the CB had to wait for his chance whilst stuck on the Chargers practice squad. I think it's fair to say he's taken it.
Williams had played well in limited action and very much forced John Pagano's hand with regards to his usage, playing 53 snaps against the Texans - more than he'd played in every game this season combined up to this point. You know what? He played pretty well.
Usually, you know when a weak CB is on the field
because you see the #29 jersey because the opposing QB identifies and attacks them, like an animal stalking their pray. Osweiler tried to go after Williams but soon realized that it wasn't going to be as profitable as he hoped, and so gave up and started throwing balls to the Chargers defense directly instead.
Williams held his own against the Texans. He wasn't perfect, but he was never going to be. Williams made some mistakes, learnt from them, and came back stronger, being one of four Chargers defenders to record a pass defended on the day (Casey Hayward had three. Casey Hayward is awesome). The Texans had very little success in the air before John Pagano reverted to prevent defense, and Trevor Williams deserves praise for the role he played in that.
Will Trevor Williams ever develop into becoming a CB capable of starting in the NFL? Maybe not - but he's got a chance. It's rare for a CB - especially an undrafted one - to look so competent in their first few NFL games. Not much has fazed the rookie so far. As long as he's on the field, he'll keep being targeted. If he continues to rise to the challenge, the Chargers could have a very special talent on their hands in Trevor Williams.
1: Jerry Attaochu
Oh, Jerry. 2016 has not been your year. Somehow, you slipped from being on the verge of a potential breakout (dare I say 10 sack?) season to running with the 3rd stringers in Training Camp, and you never quite recovered. You've been used sparingly this season, with just 178 snaps to your name. You played okay in a very limited role, but something seemed missing. Now, you're the thing that will be missing for the last five games, as the Chargers announced on Monday that Attaochu is going onto IR with a broken foot.
I don't know what happened to Attaochu this year. That's not fantastic journalism, but it's the truth. He didn't look out of shape, and I struggle to believe that the coaches could hold such a deep grudge against him that they'd play Kyle Emanuel and Tourek Williams instead. But... what? There's clearly something not right with Attaochu. My worry now is that we never see him in a Chargers jersey again.
His 2016 season is over, meaning he just has one year left on his contract. The Chargers clearly don't value Attaochu, and the chances of them re-signing him look about as likely as Dean Spanos declaring the 1st of December 'San Diego is great!' day. There's every possibility they decide to simply cut ties with Attaochu a year early, to free up space for more talented players, such as Tourek Williams and Chris Landrum.
In January 2016, Attaochu had just wrapped up a 6 sack, 55 tackle season, in which he also ranked as one of the best OLBs in the entire NFL against the run. By June, he was an afterthought to the coaches. He's too talented to be on the sidelines. He's way too talented to be released by a team - especially one that traded up for him in the second round in just 2014.
The Chargers are a good team, and Attaochu is a good player. That's a combination that works. Unfortunately, Attaochu's season-ending injury may mean that it's a combination that's come to a disappointing end.
2: Craig Mager
Craig Mager is not good at football right now.
I'm sorry. I try to support every Chargers player. I'd love nothing more than for Craig Mager to be a top CB in the NFL. I just don't think it's ever going to happen.
As a 3rd round pick, you come into the NFL with certain expectations. Mager was promised as a raw prospect with all the potential in the world, but it seems incredibly unlikely that he'll ever reach that level. I'm highly skeptical that he'll even manage to make the 3rd round pick look anything other than a waste.
If there's a big pass given up by the Chargers defense lately, there's a good chance that Mager was the one it was completed on. Against the Texans, Will Fuller got behind Mager for 33 yards, allowing the Texans to strike first in the game. Fair enough, you could argue. Fuller is one of the fastest players in the NFL. Asking Mager to cover him deep without safety help is a mismatch.
Two problems. First of all - it's not a one-off. Mager has been getting beaten pretty badly recently. It's not always speed, either. It's pretty much anything with two arms and legs.
Secondly: The way he covered Fuller. Oh boy. Go back and watch the play if you want. Mager gets out-ran, but he never once looks comfortable on that route. He's not running smoothly. He's stumbling, losing his balance and flailing his arms desperately - before the ball's even been thrown. That doesn't exactly fill me with a lot of confidence.
If you feel like I'm being harsh on Mager, you're right. I am. I'd argue that it's very much warranted, however. Nothing I've seen from Mager makes me think he'll ever 'get it.' He doesn’t look any better today than he did when he came into the league over a year ago.
Mager's had somewhat of a baptism of fire of late, being thrust into the lineup and asked to cover WRs like DeAndre Hopkins due to injuries to Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers. I doubt that Flowers recovers from his concussion in time to play on Sunday against Tampa Bay, which means Mager is going to be matched up against one of the best WRs in the league right now in Mike Evans.
If Mager can help to limit Evans' production, you're damn right he's going to be the first name on the Winners list next week. I genuinely hope that's the case. Unfortunately, I just can't see it happening.
Mager may very well end up on this list again next week. It just probably won't be as a 'Winner.'