The conclusion was not officially reached until Randy Bullock’s 41-yard field goal sailed between the uprights as time expired, but most San Diego Chargers fans knew Monday night’s 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans was determined earlier in the contest.
Even in the first, when it seemed all things were going in favor of the home team (Cam Thomas had an interception?!?!), there were signs San Diego was flawed.
The defensive line was consistently being pushed backward into the linebackers.
The offensive line was not creating lanes for the running backs.
There were a few dropped passes.
And, of course, the defense did not stop third-and-long situations. Houston gained 129 yards on third down, including conversions on third-and-18 and third-and-13. The Texans also gained 12 yards on a third-and-five, 27 on another third-and-five, and 13 on third-and-four.
The Chargers, in contrast, gained 116 yards on third down, but only converted one of the team’s six third downs in the second half.
There are some roster and talent deficiencies for San Diego, but the organization may be able to address those voids in the 2014 NFL Draft.
While the addition of Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey or linebacker Trent Murphy could be useful for the Chargers, watching the Cardinal dominate Army will be a boring waste of time.
Instead, here are five games that should be more competitive and include match-ups between NFL-ready players.
Verrett (2) is one of the best CBs in the country.
Thursday night’s game may not have much of a running attack from either side, but that is OK.
The reason Chargers fans need to watch is TCU’s defensive backfield against the Red Raiders passing game.
Cornerback Jason Verrett is a bona fide first-round talent. CBS Sports has the senior Horned Frog as the No. 2 corner and the No. 16 overall prospect for next year’s draft. He has seven career interceptions and, through two games, has four pass deflections and 14 tackles.
The entire TCU defensive backfield is stacked, with corner Kevin White and safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett returning from last year, but free safety Elisha Olabode is the unit’s leader. Olabode may be small (5’11” and 193 pounds), but he is not afraid to hit. The senior leads the team in total tackles with 16.
Verrett and Olabode, who could both have helped San Diego’s woeful pass defense against the Houston Texans, will be tasked with stopping a potent Texas Tech passing attack.
Even though quarterback Baker Mayfield is a walk-on freshman, he has been lighting up the stat sheets. Mayfield has 780 passing yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is also Texas Tech’s leading rusher with 82 yards on the ground.
But Mayfield is not the one Chargers fans should be interested in (at least not until the 2016 NFL Draft, at the earliest).
Junior Jace Amaro is a big tight end (6’5” and 260 pounds) with soft hands. While the Chargers still have Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green looks like he will fill in nicely as a target this season, Amaro would be an interesting weapon to have as well. Amaro is second on Texas Tech with 11 receptions.
Senior Eric Ward is the top receiver for the Red Raiders. The senior has 16 receptions for 186 yards. Ward (6’0” and 205 pounds) can make defenders miss in open space, taking short passes and turning them into long plays. He was an NFL prospect after last year’s performance of 82 catches for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns, but Ward decided to return for his senior season.
Ward could have helped Rivers and company in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s loss when the Chargers only converted one third down in the second half.
Groy (79) is a versatile and dominating lineman for Wisconsin.
If a potential high-scoring affair on Thursday night is not your cup of tea, wait until Saturday night when two defensive-minded schools battle it out in the desert.
The Sun Devils are second in FBS in total defense, allowing 167 total yards. The Badgers have allowed 162.5 yards per game.
As is the case most season with Wisconsin, the offensive line and running game are what make the team tick. The team has had three 100-yard rushers in both games it has played this year.
Two of the three multiple-100-yard running backs are underclassmen (freshman Corey Clement and sophomore Melvin Gordon), but senior James White will be available in the draft next year.
White (5’10” and 197 pounds) has 33 rushing attempts for 252 yards, but only two touchdowns. Even though Ryan Mathews is still entrenched in San Diego (at least until his contract is up after the 2014 season) and Danny Woodhead and Fozzy Whittaker are both battling for touches, White could be an interesting addition to the Chargers backfield. The running backs looked like they were running hard, but San Diego only gained 80 yards on 20 carries.
The Badgers have long been known as a school that produces quality offensive linemen for the NFL. With three running backs boasting two 100-yard games in a season headed into Week 3, the offensive line continues to be a point of pride in Madison.
Tackles Tyler Marz and Rob Havenstein have not allowed a sack in two games, and right guard Zac Matthias and center Dallas Lewallen make up a powerful duo in the middle, but the star of the line is left guard Ryan Groy.
Groy (6’5”, 320 pounds) has versatility and athleticism. As a freshman, he started two games at fullback for the Badgers.
Considering the Chargers offensive line failed to open adequate holes in the running game, adding Groy in the draft is not a bad idea. He adds position versatility (he could play tackle, if needed), something that is valued in the NFL.
Groy and the Wisconsin running attack will face a major challenge in trying to limit Will Sutton’s impact.
Sutton, the returning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, could have been a high draft pick last year, but is sure to be one of the first names called in 2014 if he stays healthy.
Sutton is not the only defensive lineman with NFL potential (defensive ends Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway could be late-round picks), but he is the best. He led the Pac-12 in tackles for loss (23.5) and sacks (13).
Considering the fact that the Chargers defensive line failed to produce a pass rush and was getting pushed on run plays, Sutton could be a target in the draft.
The fact that Sutton will face Groy and try to tackle White makes this game a must-see.
Barr (11) is one of the best OLB in the NCAA.
According to ProFootballFocus, Dwight Freeney registered “a sack, two knockdowns and six further pressures, largely against Duane Brown, one of the league’s best left tackles.”
The outside linebacker was impressive in the loss to Houston, as well as fellow outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson, but the two are a combined 65 years old and not getting any younger. While the two may have a productive year in 2013, there is no guarantee what will happen next year when Freeney is 34 and Johnson is 33.
Melvin Ingram is recovering from a knee injury, but the other outside linebacker spot is still a question mark. For the most part, Larry English has been a disappointment, and San Diego management needs to find another OLB.
UCLA’s Anthony Barr burst onto the scene last year after switching from the offensive side of the ball. In his first season at outside linebacker, Barr, a product of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, produced 13.5 sacks.
Considering the lack of a pass rush Monday night, the Chargers need to think about acquiring someone in the draft to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Barr could be that guy.
The outside is not the only spot where the Bruins can push the pocket. Defensive end Cassius Marsh had eight sacks last year, and defensive tackle Seali’i Epenesa has 30 tackles in three years.
Barr, Marsh and Epenesa will face a tough Nebraska offensive line.
Tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Quale and left guards Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick are all NFL-caliber players, but the jewel of the line is right guard Spencer Long.
Long (6’4” and 315 pounds) is a bruiser in the run game and athletic in the passing game. The battles he has with Epenesa should be exciting, and trying to limit UCLA’s inside linebacker Eric Kendricks' impact will prove if Long is worthy of a draft pick.
OLB Boseko Lokombo (25) is a fast and physical athlete.
Everyone likes to talk about Oregon’s high-octane offense, but the Ducks have a pretty good defense as well.
Corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is one of the best at his position, and while Tennessee is young at QB and WR, the Volunteers have four passing touchdowns in two games.
The Vols will likely try to play ball-control offense in the hopes of limiting Oregon’s offensive opportunities. That means the Ducks defensive front seven will have to step up and make plays. Luckily, Oregon has playmakers they can count on. Defensive end Taylor Hunt is projected as a second-round draft pick. Outside linebacker Boseko Lokombo could be selected in the fourth or fifth round.
The battle between Hunt and Lokombo versus the Volunteers offensive line should be fun to watch.
Antonio “Tiny” Richardson is a notch below the elite left tackles available in the draft, such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews. But Richardson still has the ability to be a quality blindside protector in the NFL.
If the Ducks try to flip defenders to the other side, it is not like it gets much easier. Ja’Wuan James is one of the best right tackles in college football.
Guards Zach Fulton and Alex Bullard are also highly touted, as is center James Stone, so no matter where Oregon tries to bring pressure there will be a test.
Matthews (75) will have tougher defenders to block this week.
Since you are probably going to be watching this game, you might as well keep an eye on players who may end up on the Chargers roster next season.
Everyone wants to talk about Johnny Manziel, but if fans were weary of the circus that came with drafting Manti Te’o, multiply that by about one thousand and you can get close to the zoo that will arrive with “Johnny Football”.
Instead, watch left tackle Jake Matthews and right tackle Cedris Ogbuehi blocking outside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard. Not only will those battles likely help determine the outcome of the game, but those are NFL-type players going against each other.
Also, Alabama boasts two outstanding corners in Deion Belue and John Fulton, as well as a quality safety in Nick Perry. San Diego could use help in the secondary, and all three could improve a lackluster defensive backfield.
Those three DBs will be tasked with holding receivers Derel Walker and Mike Evans in check. Evans is only a sophomore, but Walker, a senior, could be on the radar late in the draft. He has good size (6’2” and 185 pounds) and soft hands (averaged 14.3 yards per catch last week against Sam Houston State).