San Diego Chargers Report Card: Grading Each Unit vs. the Green Bay Packers
San Diego turned in their best performance of the season in what was a losing effort against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Despite putting up nearly 400 yards through the air and four touchdowns, Philip Rivers' three interceptions were the difference in the game in what turned out to be a first-class, shootout in the pouring rain.
Aaron Rodgers more than lived up to the hype and his receivers came up big, scoring 34 points on one of the NFL's better defensive units in San Diego. The Chargers held their own, though, against what is clearly the best team in the league as it stands. Norv Turner opened up the playbook as he does each and every season around this time of the year and showed the league how potent this offense can be when unleashed.
The typically passive coach even showed a rare moment of aggressiveness, going for the onside kick, down by 14 with seven minutes still left to play in the fourth quarter. Predictably, though, Turner waited too long to give the Chargers, who fall to 4-4 on the season, a fighting chance.
Rivers did his best impression of Jekyll and Hyde, against the Packers in a rare, rain-soaked afternoon at Qualcomm stadium. His three interceptions—two of which returned for touchdowns—put him at 14 on the season which leads all NFL quarterbacks and is perhaps the biggest reason that the Chargers failed to come out with the win today. And while, in one respect, he continued his struggles against Green Bay, we also saw the kind of numbers No. 17 can put up when given the chance.
But River's slow starts each season have more to do with the offense Turner runs through the first 6-8 games of each season than it does anything else which was clearly demonstrated today. Gone was the max-protect formation that the Chargers have run 95 percent of the time since the beginning of the 2011 NFL season.
In it's place were a parade of spread and bunch formations that clearly confused the defense. The result was an endless stream of breakdowns in coverage that left Chargers' ball carriers standing alone, time and again. For this reason, fantasy owners should expect Rivers' numbers to continue to improve dramatically as the season progresses.
With Mathews inactive for the game, Mike Tolbert took the bulk of the carries for the Chargers on Sunday, reminding every one who watched what an asset he is. He ran with power, burst and vision racking up 142 all-purpose yards and one touchdown on the day.
Tolbert was effectively taken out of the contest, though, when the Chargers fell behind by three scores late in the third quarter.
His relief, fullback Jacob Hester, didn't look nearly as impressive. The usually sure-handed converted tailback had a hard time finding the handle, dropping two rain-soaked footballs that should have been caught.
Once again, the Chargers receivers showed what they can do when when Turner kicks things into fifth gear. Just as it has been for the last four years consecutively, this game marked the point in the season when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Chargers' receivers seem to run almost unchecked at times. But that's what happens when a defense has no chance to prepare for the offense being run against them.
Rivers spread the ball out fairly well too, getting the ball to seven different receivers. Perhaps, the best news on the day was the play of tight end Antonio Gates, who seems as though he may finally be recovering from a plantar fasciitis injury that has plagued him for the better part of the last two years.
Vincent Jackson had a big day, as well, recording seven catches for a gaudy 141 yards and three touchdowns on the day, with a long of 38. Rookie receiver Vincent Brown was also impressive filling in for the injured Malcom Floyd, pulling down four receptions for nearly 80-yards.
The Chargers' offensive line did an impressive job against Green Bay, even if Rivers did get a little more heat than he would have preferred. The unit played well though, overall, against what is a very good defensive football team.
A warm, wet field typically favors the offense when it becomes difficult to gain traction an maintain footing, and today was no different.
Perhaps, the best news of the day for this unit was that they managed to keep the penalties down and Rivers upright through the majority of the contest.
Defensive Front Seven
The Chargers defensive line managed to put plenty of pressure on Rodgers, sacking him no less than four times. They also did a terrific job of containing the Packers' running backs, holding them to only 82 yards rushing. Rodgers, though, did what Rodgers does, which is make great defenses look average and average defenses terrible.
As counter intuitive as it may seem, the Chargers may have wished they had put a spy on Rodgers early who ran circles around San Diego's defensive lineman, at times, racking up over 52 yards rushing on a series of broken plays.
Overall, it was a solid performance, though, against a Green Bay team that has established itself as the undisputed class of the NFL with it's eighth win of the year.
The Chargers' secondary got ruined by Rodgers, giving up 256 yards and four touchdowns through the air as the Packers put on an offensive clinic in San Diego. Still, in nearly each and every case, the coverage was there.
The truth was that there was simply very little the Chargers' defenders could do against Rodgers' accuracy and his receiver's collective ability to make the tough catches.
It's not as if Green Bay receivers were running wide open all over the field. In fact there are no plays one can point to in which there was any type of breakdown in coverage by the Charger's defensive backs.
The unit played very well overall and just got victimized by one of the most prolific passing offenses the league has ever seen. They're neither the first nor will they be the last quality secondary unit that the Packers will embarrass this year as they continue forward in their quest for a repeat.
Nick Novak kicked a 52-yard field goal to go 14-of-15 on the year, and Richard Goodman had a return of 42 yards—his longest return of the season.
If anything really stood out about the Chargers' special teams unit, it was the play of Mike Scifres and the punt coverage units who managed to pin the Packers deep in there own territory twice late in the second half, giving the Chargers a chance to get back in it.
Nick Novak's successful onside kick with seven minutes to play also kept the game alive for San Diego.
What can you say about Norv “too little, too late” Turner who doesn't see 18 seconds as to get into field goal range but rather, sees it as a risk of making a mistake and falling further behind.
In contrast to Turner, Mike McCarthy, up by two touchdowns, calls a 60-yard pass play to the tight end which, ultimately, put the Chargers away. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Turner's chicken-little approach to football has cost the team a lot more than a possible upset of the Super Bowl champs.
Those that have been studying Turner's play selections through the first half of the season now know without a single shred of doubt that Game 7 was the point during the 2011 season that Turner, in his infinite wisdom, decided to break out his playbook.
The difference in the plays called against the Packers was too obvious to deny in comparison to the rest of the season and left no doubt as to why the Chargers' record is so good in the second half during Turner's tenure.
But Turner's sandbagging is not only a rip-off for the fans who pay full price to watch half of the Chargers offense through the first seven or eight weeks, there seems to be no discernible benefit to Turner's unorthodox strategy.
This offense has shown time and again that it can score at will against any opponent. The only problem is that Turner inevitably waits until the game (or the season) is too far out of reach to crank things up.