The San Diego Chargers (1-1, 0-1 AFC West) easily beat the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) on Sunday afternoon in front of an undersized crowd of 62,691 at Qualcomm Stadium, but what a weird, weird game it was.
The two teams combined for a total of nine turnovers, four of which were interceptions thrown by Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard, and that doesn’t include a blocked punt or the two times the Jaguars turned the ball over on downs.
The Jaguars only scored 13 points – seven of which came from a garbage time touchdown pass with 37 seconds left in the game – yet managed to keep its punt team off the field.
Starting running back Ryan Mathews only carried the ball five times for 26 yards with a fumble before leaving the game for good with an ankle injury, yet the Chargers were effective on the ground, rushing for a total of 151 yards.
Philip Rivers, meanwhile, threw two uncharacteristic picks, both of which tipped off the hands of a San Diego receiver, yet finished with an impressive stat line (22/29, 334 yards, 3 TDs).
While the game itself was odd, the result was exactly what the Chargers needed. The team managed to do what it couldn’t last week: dominate a team that, on paper, it should handle easily.
As I noted last week when discussing the Broncos loss to this Jaguars team, winnable games are not easy to come by in the NFL and must be taken advantage of when they land on your schedule. The Chargers did just that on Sunday.
That being said, the Chargers will move on quickly to prepare for next week’s visit to Seattle and there’s plenty to learn from this week’s performance. So here is what I liked and didn’t like from the Chargers on Sunday:
What I Liked, Besides Mike Tolbert’s Touchdown Dances
In his second true start for the Chargers, the third year cornerback out of Arizona showed why AJ Smith drafted him in the first round and trusted him to replace the traded Antonio Cromartie. Cason picked off David Garrard twice and tallied six tackles, the second highest total on the team (Steve Gregory finished with 13). Cason made a particularly impressive play on the first interception by out-leaping Jaguars receiver Tiquan Underwood for a deep ball early in the first quarter.
RUNNING ON FIRST DOWN
Head coach Norv Turner spent a lot of the offseason talking about being more committed to the run game this year, and he proved it on Sunday. By my tally, the Chargers ran the ball 20 times on first down, with 12 of those coming in the first half before the blowout was in full swing. Don’t underestimate the importance of this stat: running the ball on first down, even for a minimal gain, goes a long way toward setting up play action and allows Rivers to stretch the field vertically with his tall receivers while the opposing defense is forced to respect the Chargers' ground attack. This wasn’t the case last year and should be a difference maker for San Diego moving forward.
SPREADING THE BALL
Philip Rivers completed 22 passes to eight different receivers on Sunday afternoon. While Malcolm Floyd (3 receptions, 95 yards, 1 TD) and Antonio Gates (5 receptions, 57 yards, 2 TDS) were the most notable, you have to like Rivers’ confidence in his entire receiving corps. Five of those receivers finished with 2 or more catches, further emphasizing the faith Rivers has in the players stepping up in Jackson’s absence.
MIKE TOLBERT's TOUCHES
Turner got the 243 pound running back involved early and often, even before Ryan Mathews went down in the second quarter. It wasn’t just that Tolbert finished the day with 82 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns, but it was how he got the ball. Tolbert carried the ball well as a tailback and had an impressive 13 yard gain on a reception when lined up as a fullback. I liked that Turner turned to his biggest back at the goal line on the Chargers’ first possession. After today’s performance, Tolbert figures to be an even larger part of San Diego’s gameplan moving forward.
The 30-year-old defensive lineman didn’t look that old on Sunday, notching two tackles for loss, a sack and another hit on David Garrard. Cesaire was particularly disruptive on a draw play that didn’t fool him for a second. With the current rotation on the defensive line, seeing Cesaire play well was particularly encouraging.
Although this stat goes largely forgotten in the NFL, I can guarantee you that defensive coordinator Ron Rivera loved that the Jaguars started on average on the 21.5 yard line. Kicker Nate Kaeding may not be the touchback machine that you’ll see from other teams in the NFL, but as a unit the kickoff team left Jacksonville looking at a long field.
What I didn’t like, Besides Kassim Osgood in a Jaguars Jersey
If special teams coordinator Steve Crosby was sweating after his punt unit got embarrassed last week against the Chiefs, Sunday’s performance did little to ease that concern. While Mike Scifres only punted twice, neither was pretty. The first was blocked by Jaguars backup running back Rashad Jennings and led to a 48-yard Josh Scobee field goal. Scifres shanked his second punt off the side of his foot for a net of only 34 yards. Ouch. While the CBS team of announcers highlighted the duck thrown back by new long snapper Ryan Neill – a far cry from the tight spirals David Binn has whipped back for the last 17 years – I timed the total operation time (snap to kick) on this NFL.com highlight three times at under two seconds, which should never be blocked with proper protection. While the angle of the video certainly leaves room for timing error, from what I can tell reserve tight end Kris Wilson simply got beat on the play. You can bet, however, that Scifres trying to speed up his time led to the 34-yard shank he had in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers’ three turnovers (one Ryan Mathews fumble, two Philip Rivers Interceptions) were largely overshadowed by the six Jacksonville giveaways, but against better opponents the Chargers will need to do a better job protecting the football. Mathews' fumble is particularly troubling after the rookie coughed the ball up once in last week’s loss at Kansas City, but as Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune noted, a particular former Chargers running back struggled holding onto the football early in his career also.
Around the AFC West
The AFC West managed to post an impressive 4-0 record on Sunday, with the Broncos beating the Seahawks 31-14, the Raiders beating the Rams 16-14 and the Chiefs topping the Browns by the same score. With its victory, Kansas City maintained sole possession of first place in the division. The Raiders and Broncos, like the Chargers, are both 1-1 on the season.
Next week the Broncos face Peyton Manning and the Colts, the Chiefs will host the 49ers, Oakland heads to Arizona to face the Cardinals and the Chargers will play the Seahawks at Qwest Field in Seattle.
GRADE THE CHARGERS
How would you rate the Chargers' performance on Sunday? What did you like about the game, and what issues do you have with the team thus far? Did the Chargers make strides in correcting their week one mistakes? Do you have any concerns with the Bolts through two weeks? Let's start a conversation among fellow Chargers fans, and comment below!
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