The San Diego Chargers lost their second matchup with the Denver Broncos yesterday 27-19. I’m sure you’re already aware of this fact. As usual, I’m not here to just tell you what happened, but to break down some things and talk about what they mean going forward.
I have been one of the ringleaders of the #FireMikeMcCoy bandwagon. So let’s get into further evidence from this week.
The NFL changed a rule this past offseason that makes all kickoff touchbacks be brought out to the 25 yard line. This rule was supposed to encourage teams to not run the ball out of the end zone. The Chargers, with continued gaffes like last week against the Falcons when Griff Whalen bungled a short kickoff and knocked it out of bounds at the 8, have been one team content with taking the extra five yards. And whenever the ball is kicked into the end zone the kick returner takes the knee. It seems obvious that the team is under instructions to do just that. And when the Chargers are kicking off, they kick EVERY kickoff deep into, or even through, the end zone.
The Broncos yesterday decided to force the Chargers’ hand and routinely kicked it high and short, forcing a team that has lacked special teams success to handle the ball. And it worked. The Chargers frequently started behind the 20 yard line. Denver’s coaching staff had confidence in their players’ ability to make plays. And they did. The Broncos attacked. The Chargers played scared.
Next: during the telecast the CBS crew commented that every team’s defense does “tip” drills. They practice catching the ball once it has been tipped. Turnovers are so key. The team that wins the turnover statistic overwhelmingly also wins the game. So practicing “tip” drills is a fundamental way to practice something that will lead directly to wins. The Chargers yesterday had 2 easy interceptions that they failed to convert. One hit linebacker Korey Toomer right in the chest, and the other went in and out of Casey Hayward’s hands. Combine those 2 would-be turnovers with the 2 forced fumbles and the interception Hayward did make and the Chargers would have won the turnover battle 5-3. Instead it was tied 3-3. That would have made a HUGE difference.
This was the obvious one, and it has been, and will continue to get the most publicity: play-calling. I am not pro-running game or pro-pass heavy. I’m pro-success. And yesterday Philip Rivers was 20 for 47. At the end of a drive in which Melvin Gordon touched the ball 3 times for 50 yards (1 30-yard reception, and 2 runs for 20 combined yards), the Chargers went away from Gordon with 4 pass attempts. After the Chargers first game I was critical of the Chargers running in a predictable manner because it wasn’t working. But in this case it was. Gordon averaged 4.8 yards per carry yesterday. Rivers, conversely, had more incompletions than completions (granted many of those came late) and was sacked 4 times (and hit 13 more times).
At the beginning of the 2015 season I told a friend of mine that the Chargers could win 10 games if the OL stayed healthy… As we all know the OL did not stay healthy. In fact, the starting 5 did not finish a single game intact. And the Chargers limped to a 4-win season. This year the OL has stayed healthy almost the entire season, but only C Matt Slauson and LT King Dunlap have been at least solid/average. Both guards and RT Joe Barksdale have played poorly; particularly in pass-blocking. I can’t help but wonder how many of the Chargers’ 2017 starting O-linemen are on the current roster.
Let’s talk about the good. The Chargers held Denver to 57 yards on 25 carries for a 2.3 average. They forced 3 turnovers. They held the entire offense to 324 yards. They held the Denver offense to 20 points (remember, the Denver defense scored one TD).
Rookie defense stalwarts Joey Bosa and Jatavis Brown continued to be excellent. Bosa, as the 3rd overall pick, gets more attention, and he’s playing even above my high expectations for him. Yesterday he made 2 tackles, including a tackle-for-loss, and 3 QB hits. Brown’s performance went a little under-the-radar but he made 10 tackles (7 solo), combined with another player for a TFL, had a pass-defended, and recovered a fumble. The Chargers still need to upgrade safety, and it would be nice if Jason Verrett was more consistently healthy, but this defense is quickly becoming quite stout.
Also, and while I already mentioned it above, it’s worth bringing it up again, especially here, Melvin Gordon is becoming a very good RB. I have never disliked Gordon. I did not think GM Tom Telesco should have traded up to get him but I am excited to have him on the roster.
Thanks for reading.