First off, I want to thank everyone for their comments on this piece from last week. The format was really well received so I’m definitely going to keep these rolling each week.
Well that was an ugly game. It’s only week 2 so I won’t be chicken little-ing yet, but there was definitely plenty to “learn from” in this game.
Well, through 2 weeks the team has to be feeling pretty good about their decision on how they’ve handled the Melvin Gordon situation. Yes, Austin Ekeler had the regrettable fumble on the goal line (which also happened in the preseason), but that situation would never have happened if the officials didn’t negate 2 TDs on that drive that were questionable calls at best. Against a very good run defense, one that includes Damon “Snacks” Harrison who is one of the best run defenders in the league, the combo of Justin Jackson and Austin Ekeler carried 24 times for 125 yards, 5.21 ypc, and a touchdown. It would have been closer to 160 and 2 TD’s if Justin Jackson’s fantastic run wasn’t called as I mentioned above. Jackson was especially explosive with his 7 carries going for 59 yards (8.4 ypc) even with the penalty ruining his best run of the day, taking 30 yards and a TD off his totals. On top of that, the pair combined for 7 catches for another 72 yards, again that number could have been higher with Ekeler’s 22 yard TD reception being wiped out by a crappy penalty. That means on 31 touches the 2 headed monster in the Chargers’ backfield combined for 196 yards from scrimmage and a TD.
I’d honestly like to start seeing more of Justin Jackson, and that doesn’t need to mean less Ekeler. They can find packages to get them both on the field at the same time as they’ve done for Gordon and Ekeler in the past. Especially when the offensive linemen we are constantly criticizing in pass protection are showing to be better in run/screen blocking.
What an improvement. After giving up 203 yards and a TD on the ground in week 1, the Chargers run defense only gave up 94 yards on the ground and no TDs, while keeping Kerryon Johnson limited to 41 yards on 12 carries (3.4 ypc). Joey Bosa was extremely active in the run game doing an excellent job of stacking and shedding his guy to make actual defensive stops at the line of scrimmage, rather than clean up tackles 6+ yards downfield. I still need to re-watch the game to be sure, but I think this also has to do with the fact that Uchenna Nwosu saw double the snaps (14 in week 1 vs 27 in week 2) and took advantage of it racking up 5 tackles.
The team also went heavy up front on defense more in week 2. In week 1 the team had 63 plays on defense and the combined snaps for Brandon Mebane, Damion Square, Jerry Tillery, Isaac Rochell, and Justin Jones was 134. With 2 less defensive plays in week 2 (61), those 5 players had 140 combined snaps. That change seemed to help in the run game without being a detriment in the pass game.
Pass protection improvements
I’m going to re-watch the game and focus here to see what the changes were that they made here to see if it was more scheme or if the actual play of the OL improved, but whatever it was, it is definitely a sustain. When I looked at the snap counts the Chargers definitely spread it out more. With only 4 more offensive plays, the WR group as a whole saw an increase of 36 snaps. Part of that was necessity with Hunter Henry being out, but I assume part of that was also to keep more DBs on the field to help reduce the number of big bodies in the box rushing.
Whatever the change turns out to be, it worked. In week 1 Philip Rivers dropped back 34 times and took 8 QB hits and 4 sacks. This week Rivers dropped back 36 times and took only 4 QB hits and 1 sack. That’s a huge improvement. Sure, the Lions front 7 are built more for run stuffing rather than rushing the passer, but in week 1 that Lions defense had 5 sacks and 6 QB hits against an infinitely more mobile QB in Kyler Murray.
When the staff, and eventually the team, goes over the film from this week, the pass protection wins this week need to be highlighted and a focus needs to be put on making it repeatable, especially with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus coming to town this week.
Chargers WRs had 7 drops in the game yesterday, including 2 for first downs and 2 for touchdowns. They were game killing mistakes. And these are only counting the catchable passes, as Rivers was off target a few times yesterday. The Chargers wound up 6-13 (46%) on 3rd down yesterday and definitely could have used an extra touchdown or 2. Between officials wiping out 2 TDs (which I’ll just count as 1 since if the 1st one wasn’t wiped out the 2nd one wouldn’t have happened anyway), and the 2 dropped TDs, the Chargers left at least 3 TDs on the field yesterday. Keenan Allen was working over one of the best CBs in the league in Darius Slay for basically the whole game yesterday, while playing 91% of the offensive snaps. He can’t be asked to do it all. With Tyrell Williams gone, someone needs to step up. Mike Williams has shown flashes of it but needs to be more consistent. Travis Benjamin is frustrating because he’ll have games like he did at the end of last season where he’s reliable and clutch, then he’ll have games like yesterday where he’s on the field for 66% of the offensive snaps and have 0 catches on 2 targets including an awful drop on 3rd down that would have been a 1st down. This can’t happen anymore.
The coaching yesterday (and over the last week) left a lot to be desired. First, despite the fact that the Chargers were playing with the lead for most of the game they still didn’t try to let the run game roll. Jackson was averaging 9 ypc and Ekeler racked up a respectable 4 ypc, all while WRs were dropping balls left and right. Even if you take half of the 15 incompletions and turned them into runs for no gain, that is multiple minutes of time off the clock, and a lot more time that the Lions defense is stuck on the field.
Speaking of clock management, I still cannot wrap my head around that final drive of the first half. The team gets the ball back on their own 3 yard line, 1:20 left on the clock, and 2 Time Outs. The Chargers are winning, but barely at 7-6, and the Lions are getting the ball after halftime. The first play is a handoff up the middle, which I can’t be too mad about since that’s what every offense in the league dials up as their first play backed up on their own goal line probably 90% of the time. But when the run got stuffed, the coaches had Rivers let 40 seconds run off the clock before he called the time out! I get that you don’t want to “score too quickly” and give the Lions another shot before the half, especially when they had 3 TOs. But you kill the clock at the END of the drive, once you’re in scoring range already. With 1:20 and 2 TOs only up by 1 point the plan should have been going for a TD first and maybe settling for a FG. They had 1:20 before the 1st play, and :34 on the clock after it. After they squandered all that time Rivers basically willed the team 74 yards down the field to the Detroit 21 yardline where they had to settle for a 39 yard FG since there was only :04 left. Sure the play calling and execution during that 30 seconds was great, but realistically, if they had called their first TO after the Ekeler run, there is AT LEAST 1:10 on the clock and 1 more TO. It was bad coaching and bad clock management.
Finally, I didn’t like how Anthony Lynn handled the post game press conference. From a leadership standpoint, especially coming from someone like Lynn, it was a bad look. Lynn is by all accounts a great leader and holds people accountable, but he had a lapse yesterday. During the post game press conference he was peppered with questions about the things that went wrong, and he laid everything at the player’s feet. He even went so far as to say “we teach certain things and we expect the players to execute and do it.” I know this isn’t a huge deal but it just kind of rubbed me the wrong way after something that was a complete team failure.
The 53 players the Chargers currently have on the roster are not “the best 53” that it could be.
We were all pleasantly surprised when Ty Long was so solid in week 1, but continuing to rely on that for more than 1 week was always going to be a mistake. His versatility is perfect for situations like week 1 when your kicker gets hurt 2 or 3 days before the game and you don’t really have time to do anything else. But rolling with one guy to handle both kicking and punting leaves no redundancy for 3 jobs (kickoffs, place kicks, punting), AND means that 1 guy has to split his practice time and mental focus much more broadly than he is used too. With how important repetition and mental focus are in the kicking game, asking a guy to do all of this for an extended period of time is a recipe for disaster. There are guys on this roster *cough Nick Dzubnar *cough, that could be released (and likely brought back without an issue honestly) to bring in a kicker rental for 1 week.
Travis Benjamin shouldn’t be on the roster anymore either. When you consider his salary, the fact that he has completely lost his return duties, in fact he’s played 0 special teams snaps through 2 games this season, the fact that he’s played 74 snaps and has 2 catches on 5 targets for 12 yards, and the performances that Artavis Scott and Andre Patton turned in during the preseason, he’s literally wasting a roster spot that the team desperately needs to be utilizing.
I’m also going to start complaining about it now, and hope they make me look like an asshole, but I have 0 faith that they’ll do the right thing now that Adrian Phillips is out indefinitely with a forearm fracture. There are a number of options that make a ton of sense and make the team better: Trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick (even if the cost is a 1st, you’re counting on having a low 1st round pick anyway and you’re getting an excellent, versatile player, at a position of need, who’s only going to cost the team $5.9M total over the next 2 seasons). Throw Nassir Adderley in as the starter. He showed in preseason that he’s more than just a ball hawk. He is aggressive and a good tackler and should be seeing staring snaps. Give Drue Tranquill some of Phillips’ role. He’s hyper athletic, hyper intelligent, played both safety and LB, get the kid on the field. Even giving Eric Berry a call could be a good option, but he’d have to be willing to play for a discount and I’d rather give Adderley/Tranquill snaps first. But they’ll likely just settle for giving Jaylen Watkins all those snaps and Adderley will likely get a small sprinkle of snaps, maybe 10 or so a game.