The season is only two games deep, but both games for the Chargers were decided by field goals in the waning seconds of the contest. The positive is San Diego was on the winning side this week.
The team had some glaring weaknesses in the home and season opener against Houston, but it looked like some aspects of the team (offensive line) responded well and improved while other aspects (secondary) remain a concern.
Philip Rivers was fantastic Sunday, raising the Chargers’ all-time record against Philadelphia to 7-4.
He was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 16 of his 18 pass attempts for 216 yards and one touchdown. The two incompletions still hit the receivers in the hands.
The first was to running back Danny Woodhead in the flats. The throw was a little high, but it still hit Woodhead in the hands. The second was a deep ball to Vincent Brown. Brown made a great adjustment to get one hand on the ball, and it would have been an unbelievable catch, but Rivers still put the ball within reach of Brown.
Rivers completed 36 of 47 pass attempts for 419 yards and three touchdowns.
He hit receivers in stride, looked off defenders to get receivers open, did not panic when faced with a blitz and threw the ball away when needed. He even scrambled for a first down.
Most importantly, Rivers did not throw an interception.
It is hard to think what else he could have done to help the team win.
Malcom Floyd had five catches for 102 yards. Not bad for one half of work.
He was taken to the hospital after what looked like a nasty injury on the first offensive play of the second half, but U-T San Diego’s Michael Gehlken reported Floyd is doing well:
Good news for Malcom Floyd: Will not be hospitalized overnight in Philadelphia, per source. He's flying back to San Diego with team.
— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) September 15, 2013
Eddie Royal had 90 yards and led wide receivers with seven catches. He also had three touchdowns. It is becoming apparent Royal is a target in the red zone.
The former Bronco did a nice job following blockers on the quick screen for his third and final touchdown, but his first score was all effort as he ran past a defender and jumped into the end zone from about three yards out.
Vincent Brown had four receptions for 26 yards. As mentioned before, it was an amazing effort to get one hand on a deep ball by Rivers late in the second quarter.
It seemed like the former San Diego State standout failed to come back to the ball on some passes.
Rookie Keenan Allen had two catches for 34 yards.
Ryan Mathews had a better—and worse—game than in the Monday night opener. Mathews had 16 carries for 73 yards, an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Last week he had 13 carries for 33 yards, 2.5 yards per carry.
But Mathews also had a costly fumble in the second quarter. The Eagles were able to drive the ball into field-goal distance, but the attempt was wide right, so the turnover (luckily) did not result in points.
Mathews has 12 (now 13) fumbles in his four years with San Diego. He needs to hold on to the ball or else he can not be trusted.
Woodhead had 27 yards rushing on nine carries. He had 37 receiving yards and tied for the team lead with eight receptions.
Woodhead looked fantastic running the ball. He followed blockers nicely, whereas the other running backs seemed to bounce the play outside when the pulling guard or the lead blocker went inside. What was surprising was Woodhead’s strength in picking up a blitzing linebacker.
His diminutive size (5’8” and 200 pounds) was evident when defenders were able to tackle him using one arm, but the former Chadron State star delivered devastating blows as a blocker, allowing Rivers to find receivers open versus man-to-man coverage.
Woodhead is turning into one of the better offseason additions in all of the NFL.
Ronnie Brown had three carries for 15 yards and added one reception for three yards. Mathews also had one catch for three yards.
Antonio Gates continues to be the go-to receiver for Rivers.
The future Hall of Famer was the main target in the fourth quarter, hauling in three catches on four targets in the final frame of the game. He finished with a team-leading eight receptions for 124 yards. Rivers targeted Gates a team-high 10 times.
He did fumble the ball at the goal line and did not learn from the miscue because he continued to hold the ball away from his body. Even though it was his first fumble in five years, Gates has always held the ball away from his body.
He also dropped a potential touchdown to start the fourth quarter.
Backup tight end John Phillips was not targeted in the passing game, but he did a fine job sealing off defenders and opening holes in the running game.
The offensive line last week was atrocious. The Texans pushed the O-line around all night.
Sunday, the big guys up front opened holes and gave protection.
Rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker probably had the worst game of the unit. He got thrown to the turf to allow the only sack by the Eagles on the day. On the opening drive of the second half, the former first-round pick failed to get a push on his defender, which caused the pulling left guard Chad Rinehart to miss his block, which led to a loss of yards on the run by Woodhead. Also, he looked slow trying to attack linebackers in the running game.
Former Philly lineman and current San Diego left tackle King Dunlap had a false start penalty, one of only four team penalties. He was also beaten badly by Trent Cole, who nailed Rivers in the back. It was lucky the play resulted in an incompletion instead of a fumble or interception. He did provide the lead block on Eddie Royal’s screen for a touchdown.
Left guard Rinehart pulled nicely on runs to the right and attacked linebackers aggressively. He and Dunlap also picked up stunts by the linemen nicely.
Center Nick Hardwick was fine, calling out the blocking assignments. For the most part, he did a fine job in the run game.
As surprising as it might sound to anyone who has followed the Chargers the past few years, Jeromey Clary had probably the best game of all of the offensive linemen. The former right tackle-turned-right guard performed well in the running game, getting a good push on double-teams, releasing to linebackers aggressively and finding the defender when pulling.
When the team racks up 539 yards, including 126 on the ground, you know the O-line played well.
Last week, the D-line was pushed around. It hurt the linebackers in the run game and was one of the factors in the breakdown of the pass defense.
Against the Eagles, it was a little better.
Jarius Wynn had a strong showing, getting a sack in the first quarter and hit Michael Vick so hard in the fourth quarter he had to leave the game on a crucial play.
Kendall Reyes finished with three tackles, while fellow defensive end Corey Liuget registered one. Neither one really pressured Vick much, but that could have been by design. Defensive coordinator John Pagano may have wanted to keep Vick in the pocket and instructed the ends to be disciplined and contain rather than rush.
Nose tackle Cam Thomas played OK, even though on the third play from scrimmage he got faked out so hard he fell to the ground. He had a big stop in the second quarter and was a factor in creating some piles. At the very least, he was not pushed into the linebackers’ feet like last game.
Overall, though, there was still a lack of plays from the defensive line unless you count Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson as defensive ends instead of outside linebackers. Considering the pair are listed as outside linebackers on the team’s roster, that is where they should be graded.
Freeney and Johnson are outside linebackers and shall be graded as such.
For the second straight week, the duo looked like the best defensive players on the squad, constantly pushing the pocket as pass-rushers and setting the edge on the run game. Late in the game the Eagles ran a pair of read-option runs, and both times the outside linebackers bit hard to the running back to the inside, leaving Vick free to scamper for positive yardage.
That could have been coaching and strategy, or that could have been both players getting lazy in their assignments to spy the quarterback and keep outside contain. Only the coaches and players know the truth.
Larry English also showed push on the pass rush when he was inserted into the game. It was a nice surprise to see No. 52 around the ball. He only registered one tackle, but he did seem to be disruptive.
Inside linebacker Donald Butler led the team in tackles a week ago with 13 tackles. Sunday against the Eagles, he had two. He had one big stop on 3rd-and-short, but he was relatively invisible for most of the game.
Bront Bird was nowhere to be seen, collecting zero tackles, but reserve inside linebacker Reggie Walker was fairly active. Walker was second on the team with five total tackles.
Take away Johnson and Freeney, and it was a very poor showing from the linebacking corps.
If you have a stuck pickle jar, you can go ahead and give it to the Chargers defensive backs, because everything becomes open around them.
For the second week in a row, wide receivers were consistently wide open.
Shareece Wright could not cover DeSean Jackson at all. Jackson ended the night with nine catches for a game-high 193 yards. It should have been more, but Jackson stepped out of bounds on one play and Vick overthrew him (by about six inches) on another play. The former Long Beach Poly High star would have had long touchdowns on both of those plays.
Derrek Cox got beaten by Philadelphia’s Riley Cooper in the second quarter, but at least Cox was close enough to contest the catch. Most receptions on the day for the Eagles were unchallenged, or so it seemed.
Safeties Michael Gilchrist and Jahleel Addae were a step too slow with over-the-top help, especially on Jackson’s 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Addae did, however, make a nice open-field tackle on LeSean McCoy late in the second quarter. If Addae did not make that tackle, it is not out of the realm of possibility to think McCoy would score, but the drive ended in a missed field goal for Philly.
Eric Weddle was also noticeably quiet in the game. He was sent on blitzes but never produced pressure, and he failed to show up in the coverage. He did make a touchdown-saving tackle on McCoy in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles scored a touchdown on the next play.
In two games, opponents have gained 774 yards through the air against San Diego. Some of that is due to a weak pass rush by the defensive line, but some of that has to be on the secondary players. They had trouble with zone coverages, and they had trouble with man coverages in both games.
Nick Novak hits a game-winner.
Is there anything else to say?
Fozzy Whittaker fumbled a return, which could have been back-breaking, but Darrell Stuckey showed why he is a special teams captain and jumped on the loose ball.
Mike Scifres only had one punt, a 40-yard boot.
But the real story is Novak going 3-of-3 on extra points and 4-of-4 on field goals, including the 46-yard game-winner.
Head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt deserve a ton of credit for the game plan they put together. They had as much to do with slowing down Vick and the Eagles offense as defensive coordinator John Pagano.
San Diego ran 79 offensive plays compared to Philly’s 59. The offense milked the play clock to the waning seconds as often as possible. The Chargers had the ball for 40 minutes and 17 seconds. Philadelphia’s time of possession was 19:43.
The offense moved down the field for scoring drives of 59, 93, 55, 80, 73, 39 and 51 yards. They kept Vick, Jackson and McCoy on the sidelines, where they were no threat to score and get the home fans amped up. It was a near-perfect offensive game plan and executed brilliantly by the players.
Defensively, the team has flaws.
Is it defensive coordinator John Pagano’s fault?
Hard to say considering the players were beat in man and zone coverage and the line failed to create much of a pass rush one-on-one or with a blitz.
Pagano blitzed from various places—corners, safeties, inside and outside linebackers—and the only success was from the outside linebackers.
But as much as the defense will be (and should be) criticized for allowing 774 passing yards in two games, it should also be praised because the Eagles offense did not look like it was in sync for much of the game.