Chargers vs. Chiefs: 8 Things We Learned from San Diego's 23-20 Loss

Michael CallahamContributor IINovember 1, 2011

Chargers vs. Chiefs: 8 Things We Learned from San Diego's 23-20 Loss

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    What can you say about Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers, who's had about as rough a start as a player of his caliber could have to begin the 2011 NFL season.

     

    Granted, Rivers is being asked to play with one hand tied behind his back with the paired-down, college-style playbook that Turner likes to run during the first half of every season. True, he was under tremendous pressure from the Kansas City defense all night. The fact is, though, that Rivers three turnovers, along with the fumble by Mathews was the difference between winning and loosing.

     

    That said, there's no reason to panic as far as No. 17 is concerned. When Turner opens up the playbook, in about two weeks from now, Rivers will look like an MVP candidate again, lighting it up during November and December for the fifth-straight season in a row.

     

    Ultimately, though, Rivers knows as well as any that he failed to come through on his number one responsibility against the Chiefs on Monday night by not protecting the football.

Tight Ends and Wide Receivers

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    One of the bright spots of the evening for the Chargers was the play of Malcom Floyd who had 5 catches for 107 yards and a 21.4 yard average on the night. With the Chiefs doubling up on Gates and Jackson for most of the evening, Floyd saw a lot of single, man coverage and found a lot of open space to catch the football as a result.

    Antonio Gates is struggling against all the attention he's gotten from opposing defenses since returning from a four game leave of absence due to a lingering plantar fasciitis injury. Kansas City took a page out of the Jets playbook last week, throwing Gates off his routes by tying him up at the line of scrimmage as long as possible.

    Expect teams to continue to harass Gates in the same way until the Chargers find creative ways to get him into the pattern untouched, like lining him up out wide, in the slot, or out of the H-back position.

     

    Vincent Jackson is getting a lesson in one of the downsides of success for a wide receiver in the NFL. He's already proven that he can beat single coverage on a regular basis. If he can now demonstrate an ability to beat double coverage, he'll be worth every single penny of the $100 million dollar contract he's hoping to land at the end of this season.

    A fair share of the blame for Rivers' struggles this season falls on San Diego's wide receiving corps, though. They've struggled to get open at times which has lead to Rivers taking too many coverage sacks, check down passes and throwing the ball away far more often than the Chargers would like.

    Minus Floyd's performance, this unit would have looked much worse than it did.

Running Backs

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    The situation looked pretty bleak when Ryan Mathews went down with a pulled groin and Mike Tolbert already standing on the sidelines in street clothes. Then backup running back Curtis Brinkley came in and nearly won the game single-handedly.

     

    Curtis who? Curtis Brinkley, who looks for all the world to be the next in a long line of outstanding running backs developed by the Chargers over the last eight seasons. Add Brinkley to the list which includes LT, Darren Sproles, Mike Turner, Mike Tolbert, and Ryan Mathews.

     

    In his NFL debut, the virtually unknown, undrafted free agent looked absolutely sensational. Brinkley not only demonstrated tremendous lateral agility, a first class cut-back, exceptional burst but also considerable power between the tackles and terrific hands out of the backfield too. Even as well as Tolbert and Mathews have played this season, the Chargers must still find some playing time for Brinkley based on what was an unbelievable performance against the Chiefs on Monday night.

Offensive Line

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    For Marcus McNeil, though, Monday night turned out to be one of those days the Chargers starting left tackle would have been better off staying in bed. Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali got inside McNeil's head early and stayed there all night long.


    The result was what amounts to McNeil's worst performance as a pro and had as much as anything to do with Kansas City's upset of the Chargers. Hali was so disruptive that he forced McNeil into committing multiple false start and holding penalties, not to mention getting two of the three sacks he gave up.


    He wasn't alone either, as right tackle Jeromy Clary had his own share of trouble against the Chiefs pass rush. Clary also was called for a couple of penalties and failing to contain his assignment on more than one occasion. The Chargers offensive line will need to achieve some level of consistency and discipline if San Diego wants to survive what is a very tough second half of their schedule in 2011.

Defensive Front Seven

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    While this unit played admirably for most of the game key breakdowns in key situations were very costly for San Diego.

     

    That's what happens, though, when your offense is struggling to protect the football which inevitably leads to the defense being on the field too long. Because of the turnovers on offense, the Chiefs dominated the time of possession through the first three quarters of play. As a result, the Chargers defense was as soft as a hot knife through warm butter going into the bottom of the fourth quarter and into overtime.

     

    Philip Rivers and the offense will need to do a better job of protecting the football in order to keep the defense from running out of gas late in games as the season wears on.

Secondary

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    I've said it before and I'll say it again. Despite all of the entirely baseless criticisms from the media and the fans over the $50 million dollar contract he signed to stay in San Diego, Eric Weddle is worth every penny.

     

    His two interceptions on the night put him at five picks on the year which leads the NFL and puts Weddle on pace for his first bid to the Pro Bowl. For all those who cried that AJ Smith reached on the pick, and all those again who foolishly exclaimed that the Chargers overpaid, Eric Weddle has just become the most productive player in franchise history from the free safety position.

Special Teams

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    How much do the Chargers miss Darren Sproles? While San Diego still has a talented stable of running backs to tote the rock, Patrick Crayton and Richard Goodman have been far less than spectacular this season. Their collective performance during San Diego's road loss to the the Chiefs on Monday night was no different.

     

    Goodman's best play of the night was taking a knee on the kickoff following the touchdown that tied the game for Kansas City in the fourth quarter. Similarly, Patrick Crayton seems most productive when he calls a fair catch. Of course, he failed to do that much against the Jets last week, getting called for an illegal fair catch penalty during that contest.

     

    In any case, the Chargers should be seriously considering giving someone else a shot at both kick and punt returns. Perhaps this might be a good way to get exciting young prospect Curtis Brinkley a chance to make some plays on special teams.

     

    After kicking 13 field goals in a row for the Chargers, breaking a record that stood for the better part of two decades, replacement kicker Nick Novak shanked it wide right from 52 yards out for his first miss of the season.

     

    Nevertheless, given his accuracy leading up to tonight, and his superior leg strength on kickoffs, Nate Kaeding, has got to be getting real nervous right about now.

Coaching

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    In this day and age, with all of the people out of work how is that Norv Turner still has a job in San Diego? What has Norv Turner done to keep his job other than to architect the steady regression of what remains one of the leagues most talented teams.

     

    Forget the fact that the Chargers will look like a different team in a couple of weeks when Turner, in his infinite wisdom, breaks out his playbook eight weeks behind schedule as he does each and every year. So what if it helps him look good in December as opposing defensive coordinators scramble to get a handle on what the Chargers are doing on offense?

     

    Once again Norv Turner's Chargers demonstrated a startling lack of discipline against the Chiefs, committing penalties in the double-digits for the second straight week. Once again, Norv Turner showed us that he has no concept whatsoever of effective clock management. Once again, Chargers fans were reminded that Norv Turner is too afraid of winning and will always and inevitably provide opposing teams with too many opportunities to stay in games.

     

    If only someone could remind him that the object of the game is to outscore the opponent. Turner though, despite conducting one of the most prolific offenses in the league, is content to keep the score close and try to win it late.