“It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves.” Yesterday’s game was a tale of two halves for the Los Angeles Chargers. Going into halftime up 17 - 7 at home was awesome, and better than I expected it would be. Then the 2nd half happened. The Houston Texans scored 20 unanswered and took home the W 27 - 20.
Before we jump into the sustains and improves for this game, I want to take a quick review of the things I pointed out last week to compare to this game. For sustains I had: Chargers RBs, Run Defense, and Pass Protection. I’ll dig more into this below, but the Chargers only sustained 1 of these 3 things, not ideal. For improves: Drops, Coaching, Personnel. None of these 3 were improved and you could argue 2 of the 3 actually got worse.
Alright lets get into it.
It’s a good thing they aren’t going to be paying Melvin Gordon, because they’re going to need all of it and more to keep Keenan Allen around. And he deserves it. KA is slaying everyone this season and is still one of the most under appreciated WR1’s in the league. His route running is 100, his release off the line is elite, and his connection with Rivers is something special. Through the first 3 weeks of the season KA is leading the league in receptions (29) and yards (404). And it’s not close. The next closest receiver is Sammy Watkins at 311, 93 yards behind Keenan. He’s just a monster.
I’m listing this one again because it was the only sustain from last week they actually managed to...well, sustain. After holding the Detroit Lions rushing attack to 94 yards rushing and a 3.4 ypc average, the Chargers defense shut down the Texans rushing attack. Hard. The Texans only managed 39 yards rushing with a 2.1 ypc average. If you take out QB Deshaun Watson’s 7 carries for 18 yards, the Chargers defense held Houston RBs to 21 yards on 12 carries. It was a good performance and if the Chargers defense wants something positive to hold on to, this is it.
Dez is a weapon. He’s fantastic covering the slot, he’s aggressive in run support and borderline unblockable by wide receivers or pulling linemen, and he’s an effective pass rusher. He’s too good in the slot to move him elsewhere when the Chargers have 3 CBs on the field, but I think the Chargers should seriously be considering finding ways to rotate him in as a safety in base defense. At least until someone comes back from injury or they finally start putting Nasir Adderley in the game on defense.
There was no improvement from week 2 to week 3 here. Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin both had awful drops again this week. Benjamin’s performance was especially painful as he dropped the potentially game winning pass after it hit him in the hands. Mike Williams is more frustrating than concerning. He comes down with some pretty spectacular catches, especially in traffic, but he needs to figure out these drops. It’s hard to tell if it’s just loss of concentration or inconsistent technique but whatever it is, he needs to figure it out, and fast. Philip Rivers targeted 8 different players and only 3 of them caught more than 50% of their targets. Compare that to Houston, where 6 different players were targeted for passes and all of them caught over 50% of their targets. In fact, all 3 of the Chargers’ opponents this year have put the Chargers’ WRs and TEs to shame. The Detroit Lions had 6 of their 8 players with at least 1 target catch over 50% of their passes and the Indianapolis Colts had 7 of their 8 targeted players catch at least 50% of their passes. Week 1 was the only time this season the Chargers had more than half of the players Rivers threw at catch over 50% of their targeted passes.
Mike Williams catching 8 of his 15 targets on the season and Travis Benjamin catching 4 of his 10 targets is unacceptable. Yes not all of those targets were “catchable” but both of these receivers have at least 4 drops already this season, and usually on passes that would be first downs or touchdowns.
Again, the coaching yesterday was bad. Lets start on offense with Ken Whisenhunt. One of the sustains from week 2 was the running backs, both their usage and performance. For the first 2 weeks of the season they’ve been fantastic. Marvin Jones Jr, Christian Kirk, Davante Adams, Julian Edelman, T.Y. Hilton. What do those name’s have in common? They all have less receiving yards than Austin Ekeler so far this season. He leads all RBs in receiving yards, 30 yards ahead of Alvin Kamara and 70 yards ahead of Christian McCaffrey. He’s also averaging a decent 4.2 yards per carry and has 4 touchdowns. Meanwhile Justin Jackson is averaging 7.9 yards per carry and has had 2 TDs called back by penalties. TL:DR - they’re good.
In the 1st half the usage was good, but not great. 7 carries combined and 9 targets. On those 18 touches, the pair had 45 yards on the ground (6.4 ypc) and 42 yards through the air catching all 9 of their targets. The Chargers took a 10 point lead into halftime and were facing a defense who through the first 2 weeks of the season had allowed 187 yards on the ground on 34 carries to running backs (I didn’t count QB rushing yards) for a 5.5 ypc average, and 13 receptions to RBs for 116 yards (8.9 ypr). Common sense here would say that you have the lead so you want to kill the clock, you’re facing a defense that hasn’t performed well against RBs either on the ground or through the air on high percentage passes, and as we just discussed, your 2 RBs are kicking ass this season despite playing behind a below average to bad offensive line.
So what does Wiz do with all that information? Apparently he ignored it. The Chargers’ offense only gave 9 touches to the RBs in the 2nd half. On top of that, the 9 touches included 0 targets for Austin Ekeler, who as we identified is the best pass catching RB in the NFL so far this season, and 1 carry for Justin Jackson, who averaged 8 yards per carry, and would have had a TD if not for a Dan Feeney holding penalty, in the 1st half of the game. Opting instead to throw the ball 23 times to WRs with the drops, while facing a pass rush that had already sacked Rivers twice in the first half and been generating a ton of pressure.
On Defense, it’s starting to feel like Gus Bradley cares too much about practice and is letting veteran status/”experience” dictate the lineup. Denzel Perryman got 38 snaps yesterday, and honestly he didn’t look bad. That should probably be about what he gets. Maybe a little less. Those 38 snaps counted for 63% of the defensive snaps, I think he should probably be down closer to 50. Where the bad comes in, is that between those snaps going to Perryman, and again leaving Thomas Davis out there for 100% of the snaps, Kyzir White basically erased from the defensive gameplan only seeing the field for 7 snaps. White is the only one of the 3 who can effectively cover TEs, and with Roderic Teamer filling the Adrian Phillips role, the Chargers D got torched by the Texans TEs for a combined 124 yards and 3 TDs (including a 53 yard catch and run). There’s also the fact that Gus and Anthony Lynn have both said Nasir Adderley isn’t playing because he’s just “so far behind” after missing training camp, but come on...he played out of his mind good in the final preseason game, and the most impressive part of what he did was his ability to read what was happening in front of him, then use his athleticism to be in the right place to make a play on the ball. You can’t teach that in practice. A guy has that or he doesn’t, and he has it. Then there was the worst “prevent” defense call I’ve seen in a while at the end of the first half when with 11 seconds left, they allowed Watson to get off a 37 yard pass to get into FG range. He was bailed out by the Texans missing the kick, but it was embarrassing for the defense as a whole, starting with Gus Bradley.
Then there was Lynn, who wasted a TO by challenging a pass interference that didn’t get called. I can almost agree with the thought to challenge it there, but it was a borderline call, it was on 2nd down anyway, and if I remember correctly, only one of those challenges was successful in preseason league wide. It was the kind of high risk, low reward decisions that makes me wish the Chargers actually believed in analytics. He and his staff went into halftime with a 10 point lead and instead of continuing to do what was working, or making changes to take advantage of what has been working, they actively went away from what was working in the 2nd half.
Is this looking familiar yet? First, there’s still a huge need at OT and CB if this team is actually trying to win in Philip Rivers’ extremely limited remaining window, and the only thing the front office has done to solve this is to sign a CB to play special teams. Sure there’s limited cap room currently, but there’s a lot you can do to free up space starting with cutting some dead weight. Travis Benjamin isn’t playing special teams anymore and his only contribution at this point seems to be dropping passes. Cutting him frees up $1M. Nick Dzubnar plays exclusively on special teams and through 3 games has 1 tackle and a penalty that negated an Isaac Rochelle forced fumble and recovery. Cutting him frees up $1.5M. At some point you have to look at the numbers, decide if you actually want to try to win or you’re just trying to “do well,” then make some tough choices.
It also appears that there is some sort of disconnect in the philosophy of the front office and that of the coaching staff. The front office has made a huge effort the last 2 seasons to get more athletic on Defense. Drafting Drue Tranquill, Emeke Egbule, Nasir Adderley, and Kyzir White. With everyone healthy, exactly 0 of those players are starting. In fact this week those 4 players combined for 7 snaps...all by Kyzir White. Yes the front office also brought in Thomas Davis, who is still a good player and a great leader, but I don’t think Tom Telesco did that thinking “there’s my every down LB who can play 100% of snaps every week at 36 and has never been known for sideline to sideline speed.” Egbule looked good in the preseason and the other 3 all looked fantastic. Why does it seem like the front office has a pretty specific plan in mind and assembles a collection of players that could succeed under that plan, but the Coaching staff is operating like they are working off a different plan? I mentioned it earlier but there seems to be a philosophy on this coaching staff as a whole that veteran status and practice time seem to trump everything else, and they back themselves up by citing tackles as the be all end all stat on defense and “he didn’t miss a snap for us” on offense.
Something needs to change here. Either everyone needs to get on board with the fact that there is a rapidly shrinking window for this very good team to go push for a super bowl, or the decision needs to be made that they aren’t re-signing Rivers and they should put all the young guys in now to see what they’ve got. At least that way they either identify pieces they can build around, or they find out they have all bad pieces and wind up with a draft pick high enough to grab their new QB.