Chargers vs. Dolphins: What Did San Diego Fans Learn?

Will McCaffertyCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2011

Chargers vs. Dolphins: What Did San Diego Fans Learn?

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    In Week 4 of the 2011 NFL season, the San Diego Chargers rose above the Miami Dolphins 26-6.  I wouldn't go so far as to say the Bolts were pretty in pink, but I would say the better team certainly won this matchup.

    This has been an interesting season to watch.  No, it's not because the Chargers have been losing—as they normally do this time of year—but rather the winning seems somewhat unimpressive.  Maybe that is a good thing.  Maybe winning without the flash of years past may be just what the Bolts need to stay grounded and fight through close games and not look past any opponent.

    Maybe Philip Rivers won't throw for 5,000 yards.  That's okay with me because this may be the first year in several that the Chargers have a running back eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.  Ryan Mathews could be just the man for the job.

    Let's take a look at today's game and add it the information we have already learned through the first three weeks of this season.

    Don't look now, Chargers fans, but the Bolts are 3-1!

Special Teams

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    Okay, I'll admit it.  There weren't any special teams photos so I picked the Charger Girls to keep your attention.  I hope you don't mind.

    Anyway, I decided a few weeks ago to always start this recap with the special teams report.  Last year, the Chargers proved just how important the special teams are in a football game.  This is a unit that we can no longer take for granted.

    I am happy to report that this year's special teams are doing much better than last.  Think about it: Last season, a bad day on special teams was allowing a return or two for a touchdown, or getting a punt blocked near the end zone that results in seven points for the other team.

    This season, a bad special teams play is a 22-yard punt return or an unsportsmanlike penalty nullifying a 50-yard punt.  Not that those are good plays, but it is a far cry from last year's futility.

    More and more, I am growing very confident with Chargers kicker Nick Novak.  His last go around in the NFL wasn't that impressive.  This time he is tearing it up as he routinely puts through field goals of 40-plus yards with plenty to spare.  I watch him during warmup and games and the guy is money.  Makes you wonder if Nate Kaeding's job is in danger.  We'll find out if the Bolts make the playoffs.

    Another great day for punter Mike Scifres.  Three punts with an average of 50 yards.  I'll take that every day.

    Kick coverage was pretty good as well.  It appears they are learning and getting better by the game.  Today, the Chargers kick off unit did not give up a single return over 28 yards and stopped the Dolphins inside the 20 on one occasion.

    It's nice to not have to worry too much every time the special teams unit comes on the field.

Pass Defense

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    I know that Donovan McNabb threw for something like 37 yards against the Bolts in Week 1, but I would still say that this game was the best the Chargers pass defense has looked all season.

    Not only did the pass defense keep Miami quarterbacks to less than 200 yards, they also had three sacks and two picks, including one another game-ending interception by safety Eric Weddle.  He may be overpaid, but he has is normally in the right place at the right time.

    The Chargers' ability to pressure paid off in a number ways today.  First of all, during a broken play and an attempt to scramble out of trouble, the Dolphins lost starting quarterback Chad Henne to an injured shoulder.  That play was not considered a sack as Henne gained one yard during his panic attack.

    Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore came in and threw a strike for a 31-yard gain on his first play from scrimmage, but that was pretty much the extent of his magic.  Also, that 31-yard gain was the only pass play of the game that covered more than 20 yards.

    I would be derelict in my duties to not mention that new addition and instant leader Takeo Spikes had a big sack and oft-injured, former first-round pick Larry English showed why the Chargers have been so patient with him as he recorded two sacks of his own.  It was great to see English produce.

Run Defense

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    San Diego's own Reggie Bush got the call to be the No. 1 back for the Dolphins today and he once again proved that he is better suited as a slot receiver than a true tailback.  Not that he did a horrible job, but he just never was able to consistently move the chains and keep his offense off of the field.

    Perhaps having a backup quarterback in the game made it possible for the Chargers to focus on Bush, but all that matters is that he averaged less than four yards per carry and had a long of 18.

    Yes, the Bolts did a nice job on Bush and the other Dolphin running backs.  Gang tackling was most effective in keeping Bush from juking guys out of their jocks and running down field.  While he tried to juke one guy, he was being hit by another.

    The Chargers defense has a ways to go, but I do see that the new players and the new defensive coordinator are starting to mesh.

Passing Attack

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    As with the entire Charges offense, Philip Rivers had a great three quarters.  Now I know what you're thinking: "Hey, that deep pass to Vincent Jackson for a touchdown came in the first quarter!"  Yes, it did, and it was an amazing play.  I give Jackson all the credit in the world for that play.  However, face it: Rivers badly overthrew Jackson.

    Jackson had broken free of all defenders and had a clear path to the end zone.  Rivers launched it downfield for what should have been an easy TD, but it was anything but easy.  In fact, from my seat, I didn't think Jackson would even have a chance at the catch.  Then he accelerated, adjusted his route and dove for an incredible circus catch. He was so open that he had time get up, break away from a would-be tackler and trot into the end zone.

    Other than that, the first quarter was honestly quite boring.  The playcalling was predictable.  The passes were not on the mark.  Worst of all, the Chargers once again started the game down by a touchdown.

    Rivers did heat up after the first and actually did a wonderful job leading the Chargers offense down the field.  He wasn't always helped by his teammates as stupid penalties added up and turned touchdown tries into medium length field goals.

    On the day, Rivers was 21-of-31 for 307 yards and one touchdown.  Being the first game this season that Rivers didn't throw any picks (or two for that matter), I must say that there is hope that Rivers is on his way back to the Rivers we all know and love.

    One concern is that Jackson did not play much in the second half.  It was very obvious that the other receivers were more able to get open when Jackson was on the field.  It was also obvious that the Dolphins could not cover Jackson.

    Vincent Brown showed up for work today and played well.  The rookie receiver out of San Diego St. caught both passes thrown his way and converted a big first down.

Ground Attack

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    Are you getting excited about Ryan Mathews?  I am.  This kid can play!  Every game this season he has gained well over 100 all-purpose yards.  Week 4 was no exception.  Mathews was the best back on the field today.  Mike Tolbert scored a touchdown, but Mathews moved the chains.

    Speaking of Tolbert's touchdown, take a look at the picture above. What is wrong with this picture?  Tolbert is flying through the air like a bowling ball that had just stuck on the thumb of a bowler and landed halfway down the alley.  If you're going to go over the top, why not use Mathews? 

    Turns out that the hole was big enough for me to run into the end zone.  However, the play was designed for going over the top, so over the top he went!  The only problem was that without apparently being touched, Tolbert let go of the ball.  Fortunately, he had already crossed the goal line so it was not considered a fumble.

    Fumble issues still remain with both backs.  Both Tolbert and Mathews each fumbled the ball.  Lucky for the Chargers, each ball bounced the right way and the Chargers retained possession.  Recovering fumbles is another area that is much improved over last season.

    As the season has progressed, you can see that Norv Turner is developing a liking for Mathews, too.  For instance, the one-time two-headed monster that shared the ball equally has turned into a cyclops as Mathews carried the ball 16 times and caught five passes, compared to Tolbert's six rushes and five receptions.  If Tolbert continues to leave the ball on the ground and Mathews continues to run, catch and block well, you can count on Tolbert watching much of the game from the sideline.

    Then again, Mathews has a history of getting injured, so Tolbert better be ready.

    By the way, I must compliment Rivers for two very clutch first-down scampers.  It is not often that you see Rivers tuck it away and run for the sticks, but he did it today and did it well.


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    What can I say about Norv Turner that you haven't already read?  No much.  So, I'll just keep saying the same thing.

    I HATE the way Turner starts out every game as if it were Week 1 in the preseason: Run inside, run outside, throw a pass, punt.  That seems to be Turner's favorite early game offense.

    Now, I understand that the more you pound the ball early, the more worn down the defense will be later in the game and big runs can happen.  That has proven to be true and effective.  However, no one ever said you had to be so boring and predictable while you wear down the other team.  Let's act like the offense has been together for a while and try to put early points on the board.

    If you are not going to start out aggressive with the playcalling, please defer the call to the other team if you win the toss!  Today, the Chargers won the toss and elected to receive.  They quickly punted the ball away and fell into an early hole.

    I would greatly prefer that the Chargers deferred to the Fins after winning the toss so that the third quarter would start with the Chargers receiving. 

    This third quarter is where Turner seems to be doing well.  Halftime adjustments have been the savior of the Bolts this season.  I know, let's bring back Marty for the first half of games and keep Norv for the second half!

Next Opponent

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    Looks like it's going to be a long year for the Denver Broncos.  The Chargers go into Denver next week to face the 1-3 Broncos.  Beating the Broncos would be the first game the Chargers have won this year against a team that has a win on its record coming into the game.

    The Broncos will be coming off a much expected, yet still humiliating loss to the world champion, Green Bay Packers, 49-23.

    Aaron Rodgers had his way with the Broncos defense, throwing for over 400 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing for a couple more scores.  Not a bad day.

    Although Rivers ran the ball quite effectively against the Dolphins, don't look for him to do too many QB keepers up the middle for 10-yard touchdowns.

    Although Denver has some weapons and can move the ball, this should be a mismatch in Mile High.


    Chargers 31, Broncos 13