Chargers vs. 49ers: Report Card Grades for Every Chargers Unit
The San Diego Chargers were handed their second straight road loss of the preseason on Sunday as depth prevailed in San Francisco's 21-7 victory at Levi's Stadium.
Unlike last week's lopsided defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, the Chargers showed some improvements defensively and the first-team offense had a strong day as well. In the end, the deeper roster of the 49ers was able to chalk up more points and earn the win.
Let's take a look at how the individual units fared on Sunday.
Playing only three series, Philip Rivers finished 9-of-10 for 85 yards with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates towards the end of the first quarter. As expected, Rivers looked calm and collected in San Diego's uptempo offense and got rid of the ball quickly. Seeing his final throw go to Gates for a touchdown was icing on the cake, as he prepares for the regular-season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
Kellen Clemens, who had two solid performances in the preseason, was limited to just one pass attempt as the reins to the offense were turned over to Brad Sorensen. The second-year QB played the entire second half and struggled against the 49ers defense. He was sacked twice and threw two interceptions, both the result of poor decisions.
Sorensen's bad game may have hurt his chances of staying on the roster as the third quarterback, but watching Rivers pick up where he left off last season is positive news for the Chargers.
San Diego's three-headed monster of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown looked in midseason form on Sunday.
After sitting out last week's game up in Seattle, Mathews looked explosive on his first few carries, totaling 22 yards on four attempts. Woodhead and Brown combined for another 29 yards on the ground and all three played a part in the passing game.
Mathews nearly had himself a receiving touchdown in the first quarter, but it was nullified by an illegal block by Keenan Allen.
The real standout from this group was sixth-round draft pick Marion Grice, who led San Diego with 36 yards on six carries. His longest run of the day came on a 15-yard dash in the fourth quarter. Branden Oliver, who was competing with Grice for a roster spot, had just 12 yards on three carries.
As a group, San Diego's RBs had a much better effort with 98 yards compared to last week's 78.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
With Philip Rivers under center, the Chargers passing game thrived. Keenan Allen caught one ball for 15 yards and Antonio Gates caught three for 28 yards including his touchdown in the first quarter.
When Rivers left the game, however, receivers struggled to have an impact. Brad Sorensen was pressured all day long at the line of scrimmage and struggled to find open targets. As a result, the reserves' production was limited.
Dontrelle Inman, who dazzled in preseason Week 1, was targeted three times but failed to make a catch. Torrence Allen, Javontee Herndon and Tevin Reese had dropped passes and Ladarius Green had only one catch.
Had Kellen Clemens been given more playing time it might have been a different result for this group given the chemistry he developed with the reserve receivers in the last two games.
After allowing five sacks to the Seahawks defense a week ago, the Chargers offensive line limited the damage to three against the 49ers.
Kellen Clemens was sacked once by Corey Lemonier and Brad Sorensen was taken down twice by rookies Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch. Lemonier's sack could have proved more costly because the ball came loose, but San Diego managed to recover the ball.
The starters looked better against a 49ers team that was returning a handful of starters on defense, but it was the second- and third-teamers who had trouble dealing with an aggressive, young defense.
Nick Hardwick came out of the game with a neck injury and was replaced by Rich Ohrnberger, who did a nice job running with the ones. Hardwick's injury is somewhat concerning given last season's neck problems, but Ohrnberger continues to prove he's a worthy replacement, if needed.
Despite the loss, the Chargers have to be pleased with what they saw from Corey Liuget on Sunday.
The fourth-year defensive end finished his big day with four stops, two tackles for loss, a batted pass, two QB hits, a sack and a forced fumble. Liuget was, by far, the most disruptive player on the field Sunday and looks more than fully recovered from the ankle injury he had been dealing with the last couple of weeks.
San Diego's most recent acquisition, Doug Worthington, was another bright spot. The former Washington player had four tackles, a QB hit and teamed up on a sack with undrafted rookie Chris Davis.
The defensive line didn't have the best of luck with injuries, however, as two players had to be carted off. Kwame Geathers, San Diego's second option at defensive tackle, left the game with a knee injury. Undrafted rookie Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe suffered the same setback.
Starting defensive tackle Sean Lissemore sat out Sunday's game with an ankle injury, which left the Chargers particularly thin in the middle of the defensive line. Ryan Carrethers, the team's fifth-round draft pick, did see action but still doesn't look ready for an extended role in John Pagano's defense.
The injury to Geathers is alarming, but Liuget's performance does bring some comfort.
Sunday's game featured a trade-off at the linebacker position as Dwight Freeney made his return to the starting lineup while Manti Te'o was forced to sit out with a foot injury.
Freeney played only a few series but recorded a tackle for loss on LaMichael James in the second quarter.
In Te'o's place, free-agent pickup Kavell Conner wound up leading the team in tackles with seven and had a few bone-jarring hits. Former CFL player Cordarro Law finished second with five tackles, a sack and a pass defensed.
Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu combined for five tackles and two QB hits.
Tourek Williams, who struggled mightily against the run last week, had the same trouble against San Francisco and hasn't shown an ability to stay disciplined.
Jason Verrett's debut in the secondary didn't prove to be a memorable one on Sunday. There were no passes thrown his way, and he didn't record a tackle but it was still uplifting to see San Diego's first-rounder finally take the field five months removed from shoulder surgery.
Brandon Flowers, who worked over the slot on multiple plays, recorded one stop and Shareece Wright added another two. The real star was Eric Weddle with four tackles and a near interception of Kaepernick in the first half.
With Jahleel Addae out, the Chargers experimented with Darrell Stuckey, Marcus Gilchrist and even Richard Marshall at safety. The hope is that Addae can get healthy and provide the secondary with a physical presence.
It was another quiet night for San Diego's special teams. Nick Novak made his only extra point attempt and Mike Scifres booted three punts with a 40.3 yard average.
In the return game, Branden Oliver, Marion Grice and Javontee Herndon each had one kick return. Oliver led the charge with a 26-yard return and Grice had a 24-yarder. Donald Brown didn't play on account of the slippery field conditions.
Chris Davis, Eddie Royal and Brelan Chancellor handled punt returns. Davis had two for 13 yards, and his longest was 11 yards. Nothing out of the ordinary from this group.
A better effort was the goal for Mike McCoy's football team in Week 3 of the preseason, and he got just that against another strong team from the NFC West. Sunday's outing was far from perfect but I think McCoy saw what he wanted from his starters, especially the defense.
Defensive coordinator John Pagano had to have been happy with what he saw from Corey Liuget, but his job just got a lot harder with two of his better defensive tackles now out with injuries.
On the offensive side of the ball, coordinator Frank Reich's uptempo system flourished under Philip Rivers. The offensive line continues to do a good job protecting the veteran QB, and the running back trio of Mathews, Brown and Woodhead has looked impressive thus far.
This team is headed in the right direction despite back-to-back losses in the preseason.
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Sunday's game was a step forward from last week for the Chargers. With the dress rehearsal over, the team can now focus on getting healthy and finalizing the roster. Next week's game against Arizona should garner little to no playing time for the starters and I expect the coaches to play it very close to the vest considering that the following week they'll be opening the season against the same team they close out the preseason against.
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