San Diego Chargers: Who's Rising and Falling After Week 4?
Yesterday’s 37-20 win exemplified both the progress the Chargers made since last year and the pain they still cause Boltheads. The team caused six turnovers, yet the game was still in doubt until the fourth quarter.
The Chargers are 3-1, with a 2-0 record against the AFC West. However, that’s exactly where they stood a year ago. Are they a better team? This week in New Orleans should serve as a strong test, no matter what the Saints’ record is.
Let’s look at which Chargers are improving and which are sinking.
Rising: Jared Gaither
Up until Sunday morning, Gaither had no reason to be on this list whatsoever. Most fans accepted that he might not suit up at all this year. He hasn't played since a mysterious weight room injury in July, making him the biggest disappointment of this young season.
With what information we received, that was the most accurate and least frustrating conclusion to draw, but Gaither’s impact was felt immediately on Sunday.
In the first half, Philip Rivers had as clean a pocket as he’s had in a long time. It seemed that Gaither’s mere presence was sparking the other guys on the offensive line to step up.
He tired in the second half and it showed. Nonetheless, there was no comparison between the pass protection yesterday and against Atlanta. The run-blocking also seemed to step up a notch. Gaither’s performance reminded us all of why A.J. Smith risked signing him to that big deal to begin with.
Rising, Then Falling: Philip Rivers
I would love to be proved wrong by Rivers’ play. He was patient for the first game-and-a-half, but last week, with no time to throw and no running game to lean on, Rivers appeared to be slipping into his old bad habits.
He had no such excuses yesterday.
On 3rd-and-goal, he threw into tight coverage. On a 3rd-and-1, he threw into the end zone when it looked like he could have run for the yard. He threw a ball backwards to Ryan Mathews that could have been recovered by Kansas City and he threw an awful interception on a pass intended for Robert Meachem on the very next play.
Many of his picks have been meant for Meachem. Rivers also was called for intentional grounding and almost tackled for a safety.
I love Philip Rivers, but I’m tired of seeing the same bonehead plays from him. During the game, Solomon Wilcots shared a conversation he had with Rivers where Phil mentioned that he planned to be cautious with the football on Sunday. When he awoke in Kansas City and heard the band playing, he must have decided against it.
Philip, listen to a different band.
It didn’t cost them the game yesterday, but he needs to learn from his mistakes. If Rivers truly wants to join his 2004 draftmates in the circle of Super Bowl-winning QBs, he has cut out these mental gaffes from his game. Saying he’s mad at himself after another mistake won’t cut it any more.
Rising: Donald Butler
It isn’t just Shawne Merriman’s jersey number this guy inherited. He looked as active as any Charger linebacker since the salad days of “Lights Out.” To say he was active would be an understatement
He was everywhere.
After missing all of his rookie year, Butler showed signs of this type of performance in 2011. This year, he has played like the impact player the Bolts so desperately need at linebacker.
It’s also worth noting that he’s played every snap thus far. Now all that’s missing is some huge plays against elite competition.
Rising: Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin
Liuget and Martin couldn’t be more different in terms of their background and expectations coming into the NFL.
Liuget was last year’s first-round pick. He played well in a preseason game against Dallas but was quiet for the rest of the year. If you Google his name, the word “bust” immediately comes up.
Martin is a Jamaican-born player who went to college in Western Ontario. He’s another one of A.J. Smith’s notorious “projects.” He’s like DT Cam Thomas, except Thomas went to North Carolina.
Both of these guys not only clogged running lanes all day but they were also collapsing the pocket constantly. When Martin forced a fumble and Liuget recovered, it capped off a perfect day for both.
Falling Then Rising: Ryan Mathews
This will be a controversial pick among "The Legion of the Lightning Bolt." Norv Turner claimed that he wasn’t trying to send a message by starting Jackie Battle against his former team, but I’m not buying it.
While the Bolts were desperately in need of some third-quarter offense, Norv kept Battle in. The message was that fumbles overshadow any big runs that precede them. When Mathews finally came in, he looked great and held onto the ball.
Were Mathews’ 61 yards in garbage time? Hardly. Kansas City knew that the Chargers wanted to salt the game away on the ground and Mathews still gained positive yardage on each carry.
No one criticizes Norv Turner as much as I do, but he made a strong decision and actually stuck to it. I can’t knock that.