San Diego Chargers Position Grades vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Coincidentally, it is also the second straight game running back Ryan Mathews has topped 100 yards rushing.
The Chargers (4-3) played ball-control offense, holding onto the ball for 37:30 and limiting Jacksonville (0-7) to just 22:30 time of possession.
It was not always pretty, but there was little doubt in the outcome as San Diego scored on four of its first five drives.
Many units played well, but some aspects of the game were better than others for the Bolts.
Philip Rivers was almost perfect in the first half. He completed his first 14 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown before he threw an incompletion late in the second quarter. He finished with 285 yards passing with one touchdown while completing just less than 85 percent of his passes (22-of-26). He also had two rushes for four yards.
Rivers was in control of the offense the entire game.
The pass protection was very good, but Rivers calmly stepped into the pocket when there was a bit of pressure on the edges.
Rivers also got the offense to hurry up and run a play after Keenan Allen slid to haul in a pass then ran downfield when no whistle blew. It looked like the rookie receiver was down by contact, but because Rivers hurried the offense to the line and ran a play, Jacksonville was unable to call timeout or challenge the play.
Rivers also got in the way of a defender (hard to call it a block) when Eddie Royal reversed field on a quick pass.
About the only knock on Rivers’ game was the attempted touchdown run to end the first half. He was short of the end zone and the Chargers failed to capitalize on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Any points could have put the game out of reach at halftime. Instead of a 21-3 or 17-3 lead, it remained 14-3. Against any other team, that decision resulting in a loss of points could have been disastrous.
Rivers moved past John Hadl into second place in franchise history with 30,023 passing yards. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts has 43,040.
Charlie Whitehurst was magnificent on his three kneel downs to end the game.
Ryan Mathews topped 100 yards on the ground for the second straight game, something he had not done since 2011. He also ended a rushing touchdown drought when he plunged into the end zone from three yards out on San Diego’s second possession of the second half. The last time Mathews had a rushing touchdown was Week 5 in New Orleans last year.
Mathews ran hard, finishing with 110 rushing yards and one touchdown. He could have had a big gain early in the third quarter, but a shoestring tackle kept his run at a five yard gain. If Mathews were able to keep his footing, he could have had a major run as no defenders were in front of him.
Danny Woodhead again was a Swiss Army Knife for the Chargers. He was a good runner, receiver and blocker.
Woodhead picked up 29 rushing yards on nine carries with one touchdown, 47 receiving yards on four catches and picked up blitzes nicely. He finished with 76 total yards on 13 touches.
Woodhead’s biggest play, other than the two-yard leap into the end zone on the first drive, was his 26-yard pickup on a screen pass in the third quarter when San Diego faced a 2nd-and-20. That big pickup kept the drive alive, which ended with a field goal.
Woodhead was late trying to pick up an outside blitzer. Rivers was able to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush, but that was Woodhead’s guy and the defender was able to swipe at Rivers’ feet.
Ronnie Brown ran the ball three times for 14 yards and fullback Le’Ron McClain added four yards on two carries. McClain also did well as the lead blocker.
In all, the running backs gained 207 yards and two touchdowns on 39 touches.
Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown were the only receivers to register catches, but the trio combined for 162 yards and one touchdown on nine catches.
The only glaring drop was from Allen, but he still had a decent game gaining 67 yards on three catches. Allen has elevated his game the past four weeks and does not look like a rookie. Many rookies forget the professional rules and make a sliding catch only to get up and drop the ball, thinking the play is over. But Allen made a great sliding catch, got up and ran downfield. It looked like he was down by contact, but his smart and aggressive play to get up and run until the whistle blew put pressure on Jacksonville and signified to his teammates that Allen would not quit on any play.
Royal had four catches for 69 yards. He also had the lone receiving touchdown when he caught the ball on a simple out route, turned up field and leapt to the end zone in the second quarter.
Royal also made a highlight move to start the fourth quarter. He caught a quick pass to the left, reversed field to the right, eluded multiple defenders, scrambled back toward the middle of the field, leapt for the goal line and lost the ball. A review ruled Royal was down on the 3 yard line and Ryan Mathews scored on the next play, but Royal’s catch and run was exciting.
Brown had two receptions for 26 yards and could be seen blocking downfield on Danny Woodhead’s big screen play in the third quarter.
Antonio Gates led the Chargers with six receptions, but he only gained 31 yards on those grabs. Gates was the safety valve on multiple plays with Rivers checking down to his tight end when the receivers were covered.
Ladarius Green had two receptions for 40 yards, including a beautiful catch and run for 27 yards to start the second half. Green looks good when given the chance. His role could increase as the season progresses.
John Phillips also caught a pass for five yards. He also saw duty in the backfield as the lead blocker and looked good when doing so.
The tight ends as a group caught nine passes for 76 yards.
The offensive line looked very, very solid for most of the game.
The running lanes were apparent. Only once or twice did running backs have to change direction because the hole was plugged.
The line opened holes and created running lanes for the running backs to the tune of 157 rushing yards on 35 carries (4.49 yards per carry).
It would have been nice if the line were able to get a bigger push on the short yardage situations, but the line blocked running plays very well.
Rivers was given ample time to pass for most of the game. Jacksonville only had one official sack and what looked like three hurries. Of those four plays (one sack, three hurries) one was because the running back failed to pick up the blitz, but the other three were absolutely because offensive linemen got beat.
The solid play by the line is even more impressive considering the players had to be shuffled around due to injuries.
This is possibly the best outing from the entire group all year.
In possibly the best outing so far by the defensive line this season, Jaguar runners had difficulty finding lanes and quarterback Chad Henne was rarely comfortable in the pocket.
Corey Liuget swallowed up Henne in the first quarter for a sack. It was supposed to be a screen, but Liuget was too quick to the quarterback and absolutely pounced on Henne.
On the first play from scrimmage for Jacksonville, the Jaguars faked a reverse and Henne tried to hit a receiver deep. He may have connected on the pass, but Kendal Reyes was in Henne’s face. That pressure could have changed the entire game. Jacksonville could have moved into scoring position on the first play, but Reyes’ pressure ended that opportunity.
Cam Thomas did a nice job fighting off double-teams and closing running lanes.
Reserve Lawrence Guy pressured Henne in the third quarter and batted down a ball in the fourth quarter.
In all, the defensive linemen finished with four tackles and one sack while containing Jacksonville running backs to 73 rushing yards.
Even though it was the best game so far, most of the pressure came from the linebackers.
The defense as a whole had a solid game. The last team to score a touchdown against the Chargers was Oakland in the first quarter of Week 5.
Everyone should share credit for the 11 quarters of shutout defense, but the linebackers have been improving steadily every game.
Despite injuries keeping Donald Butler and Jarret Johnson on the sidelines, the unit performed well.
Larry English had push on the edge and finished with four tackles.
Andrew Gachkar was steady in the middle with four tackles.
Reggie Walker displayed his speed in pursuit.
Manti Te’o had a big hit when Henne attempted to run with the ball.
But the best linebacker on the day, and possibly the best overall defender in the game, was Thomas Keiser. The third-year pro out of Stanford provided pressure from the edge throughout the game. He finished with two sacks, the first multi-sack game from a San Diego defender this season.
The pressure Keiser and the rest of the defense provided (linebackers accounted for four of the team’s six sacks on the day) forced the Jaguars to employ quick-passing play-calling. Such a strategy helped the defensive backs because it meant they did not have to cover receivers for very long.
The San Diego defensive backs have been the team’s Achilles’ heel, allowing more than 273 passing yards per game, which is seventh-worst in the NFL.
Chad Henne completed 63 percent of his passes (23-of-36) for 318 yards.
Jacksonville receivers caught 19 passes for 258 yards. While Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon were kept in relative check, Mike Brown went off for 120 receiving yards. It marked the fourth time this season a receiver facing the Chargers eclipsed 120 yards receiving.
Corners Derek Cox, Shareece Wright and Johnny Patrick had moments of good coverage, but there were also missed tackles and wide open receivers in their zones.
Safeties Eric Weddle, Jahleel Addae and Marcus Gilchrist rarely had to cover the deep ball due to Jacksonville’s game plan, but all were active in run support.
It could have been the defensive game plan to take away Blackmon and Shorts, leaving Brown to have a career day, but it is not reassuring to fans to see another receiver torch the secondary.
Mike Scifres had three punts, all of them in the fourth quarter and none of them returned. Darrell Stuckey made a fantastic play on the final punt, running down and catching it on the three-yard line.
Nick Novak connected on all three point-after-touchdowns as well as a 20-yard field goal.
Novak had three of his five kickoffs result in touchbacks. The other two were returned 29 and 33 yards.
Keenan Allen returned one punt 11 yards, and Lavelle Hawkins returned one kickoff 18 yards.
Nothing too exciting to report here.
The decision to activate only seven offensive linemen was a risky one and almost hurt head coach Mike McCoy.
Once King Dunlap went down with his concussion this season and his replacement Mike Remmers went down four plays later, the Chargers were dangerously close to serious roster adjustments.
UT-San Diego’s Michael Gehlken reported after the game, nose tackle Kwame Geathers would have had to fill in if another offensive lineman went down. Tight end John Phillips was another candidate to play on the line if a tackle got hurt.
The curious call before the game by suiting up only two reserve linemen was trumped by the curious decision to go for it at the end of the first half with seven seconds left and no timeouts. Instead of getting the automatic three points on the field goal, Rivers was stopped short of the end zone and the half ended with the Chargers getting zero points.
Also, it is time to stop giving McCoy and other first-year head coaches a pass when they fail to know the rules of the game. McCoy threw a red challenge flag when Eddie Royal fumbled the ball near the goal line. All scoring plays and turnovers are automatically reviewed. Philip Rivers knew that. Why doesn’t the head coach?
Luckily all it did was cost the team a timeout, and Ryan Mathews scored on the next play, but it is inexcusable for a head coach to not know the rules.
The game plan to control the ball and time of possession has been very effective for the Chargers and will continue to be the team’s style. The long, sustained drives wear down opposing defenses and keep San Diego’s defenders fresh while also keeping opposing offenses off the field.
John Pagano’s defense has not allowed a touchdown in 11 quarters.
Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and assistant line coach Andrew Dees deserve a ton of credit for having the players ready to switch positions without any difficulty.
GRADE: B+ (McCoy’s blunders drag down the efforts of the other coaches.)