San Diego Chargers Position Grades vs. Kansas City Chiefs
In one of the more exciting games of the 2013 season, the San Diego Chargers scored a game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining to (somehow) remain in playoff contention.
It was not always pretty, but the team known for blowing leads, was able to find a way to win in a hostile environment.
Some units played exceptionally well, while other units made just the right amount of plays at just the right time to help preserve the win in Kansas City.
Philip Rivers surpassed 390 yards passing in a game for the fourth time this year, putting him in elite company according to U-T San Diego’s Kevin Acee:
Philip Rivers' four games this season with at least 390 yards is tied with Joe Montana (1990) and Dan Marino (1984) for most in a season.— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) November 25, 2013
Rivers completed 69 percent of his passes (27-of-39) for 392 yards and three touchdowns.
He did a nice job stepping up in the pocket and avoiding Kansas City’s pass rush, but he was far from perfect.
On the game-winning drive, an ill-advised pass under pressure to Antonio Gates into double coverage almost resulted in an interception after the ball was batted around. He also almost threw an interception on the first drive of the fourth quarter, but the defender dropped the ball.
Still, Rivers threw beautiful touchdown passes to Danny Woodhead to end the first half and to Seyi Ajirotutu at the end of the game.
To the surprise of no one who has followed his career, Ryan Mathews fumbled the ball and did not finish the game due to an injury.
Mathews was running hard and en route to a decent game before a hamstring injury sidelined him for the fourth quarter. He finished with 55 rushing yards on 14 carries and one touchdown. Mathews also had two catches for two yards. He also had one fumble, but the ball fortuitously bounced right back to him. Mathews did have a nice leap into the end zone for a touchdown to start the third quarter.
After Mathews went down, Ronnie Brown stepped in as the main rushing back. The former No. 2 overall draft pick finished with 23 rushing yards on six carries. He also had one reception for (minus one) yard.
Danny Woodhead again proved to be one of the best offseason free-agent signings in the NFL. The diminutive back not only ran hard (six carries for 25 yards and one touchdown) but was a weapon in the passing game as well (four receptions for 45 yards and one touchdown). He had a ridiculous move to juke out Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith to gain 19 yards on the game-winning drive. The next play he gained another crucial 14 yards down the sideline.
Woodhead also had a massive block on an Eddie Royal catch to start the fourth quarter.
Fullback Le’Ron McClain had an average game. He had some very good blocks, but he also failed on some blocks. While Mathews needs to hold onto the ball better, his fumble can also partially be attributed to poor blocking, including McClain.
The running backs, as a group, gained 103 rushing yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns. They also contributed seven receptions for 54 yards and one touchdown.
Keenan Allen had a monster first half, hauling in eight catches for 104 yards. He was only thrown to one time in the second half, which he caught for a gain of 20 yards. It was the fourth game this season that Allen had 100 or more receiving yards, and the fifth game he caught five or more passes.
Eddie Royal had four catches for 87 yards.
Seyi Ajirotutu “only” had one reception, but his 26-yard touchdown catch with 31 seconds left in the game was clutch.
Vincent Brown was thrown to once, and the former San Diego State star slipped on the comeback route leaving him without a catch.
Allen and Royal did fantastic jobs of taking short routes and fighting for extra yards and first downs. The fight they showed carried over to the rest of the team.
The tight ends put up good numbers as a group (six catches for 101 receiving yards and one touchdown) but the unit was targeted 14 times. Not all of the incompletions are the tight ends' fault, but less than 50 percent completion percentage to the tight ends is not a good statistic.
Antonio Gates had three receptions for 21 yards. The Chiefs had two defenders on the future Hall of Famer for most of the game, but Gates was still able to become the fourth tight end in history with more than 700 receptions and 9,000 yards.
Ladarius Green had a breakout game, catching three passes for 80 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown, his first career touchdown.
John Philips was targeted once but failed to catch the ball. Philips also was one of the lead blockers who failed to sustain his block on Mathews’ fumble.
The bruised, battered and beat-up offensive line had a tough task trying to contain a strong Kansas City defensive front seven, but Philip Rivers was not sacked until late in the fourth quarter. Rivers could have been sacked multiple times earlier in the game, but the ball always seemed to get out just in time.
Rookie D.J. Fluker was beaten regularly by outside linebacker Tamba Hali to start the game. In fact, Hali hit Rivers on the first three plays from scrimmage by beating Fluker to the outside twice and the inside once. Once Hali left with an injured ankle, Fluker had a better game.
Left guard Johnnie Troutman had a rough game against Kansas City’s Allen Bailey. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) Bailey had a game-high six quarterback hurries.
The running lanes were congested and quickly shutdown by Chiefs defenders. Kansas City also did a great job of shedding off blocks, which means San Diego did a poor job of sustaining blocks.
The defensive line had a good game despite the fact Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles had his best game of the season rushing for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes hustled after ball carriers and pushed the pocket on pass plays. Reyes sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on the second-to-last play of the game, while Liuget was a factor in Reggie Walker’s sack of the first quarter.
Even though Kansas City averaged an astounding 6.3 yards per carry, the effort along the line was nice to see.
Outside linebackers Thomas Keiser and Reggie Walker ended the first two series with sacks, but were relatively quiet after that.
Inside linebacker Manti Te’o was unable to be a factor against the run or the pass. Te’o made a nice read on a screen pass, but he also blew his coverage on several occasions. While Allen is looking like a steal from the Chargers’ 2013 draft class, Te’o is struggling.
Donald Butler led the team with seven tackles. He also batted a pass at the line of scrimmage on a blitz.
The good thing about the Kansas City game was the Chargers secondary had an interception. It was only the fourth time a San Diego defensive back had an interception this year, and safety Marcus Gilchrist has half of them.
The bad thing about the Kansas City game was the Chargers secondary again was beat deep regularly. Alex Smith threw three touchdowns against San Diego, tying the most he has thrown this season. Smith had the best game of his season totaling 294 passing yards.
The secondary also had three straight pass interference calls in the third quarter.
On the bright side, at least the tackling was better than the Miami Dolphins game.
Nick Novak did not get good depth on his kickoffs, and Kansas City made him pay by amassing 199 kickoff return yards. It is also not a good sign when the kicker is tied with a linebacker for most special teams tackles (3).
Mike Scifres only had one of his five punts end inside the 20-yard line.
Danny Woodhead averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff return and his 37-yard return set up a Chargers’ scoring drive.
Still, the coverage units struggled against one of the best special teams groups in the NFL.
It is hard to tell who is to blame for some of the conservative run plays in the fourth quarter. Was it head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt or quarterback Philip Rivers? Rivers has the ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage, so maybe he saw something in the Kansas City defense to suggest successive run plays would work on the second-to-last drive of the game for the Chargers.
If the calls came from McCoy or Whisenhunt (which seems unlikely when studying the plays), that’s bad coaching.
However, the team was able to go into a rowdy Arrowhead Stadium and upset a divisional foe. Credit must go to the coaches for preparing the team for the win.
Also, the tackling was better than in previous games for the defense. It is hard to blame defensive coordinator John Pagano for horrible cornerbacks. Pagano would love it if he had corners who would not get beat deep, and there is only so much scheming a coach can do to hide a weak spot. The fact that the entire secondary is a weak spot is hard to hide.
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