At 2-3 in October, the San Diego Chargers appeared all but dead in the water. Battling some key injuries early, the Chargers struggled to get in a rhythm and establish an identity. Can they still pound the rock and pick up those tough yards, or are they a pass-heavy team that would live and die by the deep ball? With Jamal Williams on IR, did they have the personnel needed to run a stout 3-4 defense, or would they be better off switching to a four man front? With the division rival Denver Broncos firing out of the blocks to a 6-0 start, the Chargers found themselves in unfamiliar territory, lumped in at the bottom of the AFC West among the Chiefs and Raiders. With their backs against the wall and with jobs on the line, the Chargers had now choice but to fight back; and fight they did.
(Photo Credit: Mike Nowak/San Diego Chargers)
The Chargers' win on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles is their fourth victory in a row, lifting their record to 6-3 and tying them for first place in the AFC West. Thank in part to Denver's annual meltdown, the Chargers are now right back in the mix for a playoff berth.
The Chargers played well in all phases of the game; defensively they held an explosive Eagles offense to 29 total yards rushing and forced the Philly to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. They allowed 450 yard of passing offense, but that stat is misleading if taken out of context.
To compensate for the Eagles speedy receivers, the Chargers played off with lots of deep zone looks, trying to take away the deep ball. But the Eagles were able to complete balls in the intermediate area pretty consistently.
"We gave up too much yardage underneath and it wasn’t by design," explains Coach Norv Turner. "We preached so hard on the seams and the ball is up the field a couple times. We carried them too deep and we gave them too much room underneath."
The Eagles' leading receiver in Sunday's game, Jason Avant, is a guy who essentially is the #3 WR. Coming into Sunday, Avant had only caught six catches in his previous six games. With the Chargers doing a good job defending Brian Westbrook, Desean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, Avant was given opportunities and he capitalized.
The Chargers mainly used Steve Gregory and Antoine Cason to cover Avant, but Gregory lacks deep speed and Cason gets caught freelancing too much. As a result, Avant was able to make plays down the field.
"When we see a team like Philadelphia, we still have some work to do in our coverage stuff," says Coach Turner. "I can’t say enough about what Steve Gregory has done playing in the slot, but it’s still new to him and every time you go out you can learn. There are things you see that you haven’t seen before."
Offensively, the Chargers were surprisingly effective, showing flashes of their 2004 performances. Tomlinson was sprang for nice gains on the regular, with the guards and tight ends doing a great job on pulls and getting out in front of the runner. The Bolts gained 119 yards on 28 carries (4.2 average) with Tomlinson scoring twice out of the backfield.
On more than one occasion, Philip Rivers audibled in a run play, showing faith in his o-line and running backs. Rivers was carving up the Eagles secondary, but realized that the run game was working and that he didn't have to force the ball down field too much. There was balance on offense, and it was refreshing to see.
"I like the mix," says Coach Turner. "I think we were 50-50, run-pass. I like getting the explosive plays and I thought we gave LT a chance to get going. I thought Philip did a good job getting us in and out of the best plays. Again, in a game like that when you get 27 rushes and end up with 120 yards, I thought that was good. I think we’re getting to a level that against another opponent, in a game where they’re not keeping the ball as long and we’re getting them off the field, a game like that can turn into 160, 180-yard rushing game. Obviously each game is different."
When Rivers did need to throw the ball, he was deadly accurate. The Eagles blanketed Vincent Jackson and were adamant about not letting him beat them, but Philip Rivers was more than happy to get the ball to guys like Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates. Gates, with a healthy toe and with added bulk, is dangerously explosive this year with the ball in his hands. He is making guys miss and breaking tackles. In the open field, he is turning on the jets and churning up the yards. Gates has the highest average YAC among tight ends with 35 or more catches. Chalk up another trip to the Pro Bowl for this guy.
Overall, I think the Chargers are gaining momentum at just the right time. They are playing well as units, the young guys are developing quickly, they're getting healthy, and their confidence is high. They need to continue to play at a high level, but sitting at 6-3 I think the Chargers are in good position to make a playoff run. What's your take?
Labels: NFL Season 2009 Week 10
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