Just four days removed from a 31-0 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bolts were in action once again inside the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium against their in-state rivals to the north. Both the San Francisco 49ers and Chargers had critical playoff implications on the line in this contest and a sense of urgency would be necessary from the Bolts to match the intensity level of their opponents.
The Bolts have been forced to deal with the fact that even if they win the remaining games on their schedule they could still find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC playoff picture. That made the fact that neither tight end Antonio Gates nor wide receiver Malcom Floyd could play on Thursday evening even more dramatic for the fate of the team.
Fortunately, even with what could be considered a lack of weapons offensively, Chargers’ signal caller Philip Rivers showed his leadership and gall to just demolish the 49ers. From his three touchdown throws to Vincent Jackson to his brilliant movement in the pocket to buy time and space, Rivers was absolutely on point during the course of the entire game.
As for V Jack, it seems more than apparent that he has shown his worth to this team from even the most under the radar perspective of just how differently teams defend the Chargers when he is on the field. Jackson’s presence gives this team that next level ability to stretch the field and draw two defenders on nearly every single snap. Even when he is not the intended target for Rivers, the fact that two defenders are consumed with him leaves a void for someone else to find giving the Bolts the ability to move the chains on a regular basis.
That is also much more easily achieved when the offense is able to stay balanced and the two-headed monster of Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews in the Bolts’ backfield is making it much easier to do just that. San Diego really put an emphasis on establishing the run early which is going to be a must if they want to win playoff games next month when the weather isn’t always as benign as it tends to be at home. Mathews finally looks one hundred percent healthy with great lateral agility and a quick burst getting downfield while Tolbert showed the heart of a champion continuing on despite losing his helmet on three occasions during the game.
Perhaps the best moment on the NFL Network’s telecast occurred when Matt Millen mentioned Tolbert and my personal Chargers’ icon Natrone Means in the same sentence. The archive footage of Means really illustrated just how similar Means and Tolbert appear to be in terms of size and overall running style. Means may have only had two spectacular seasons as a Bolt, but one of those ended with a trip to the Super Bowl.
On the defensive side of the football, the Chargers are living up to their billing as statistically the best unit in the league. The cog on that defensive unit is nose tackle Antonio Garay who (despite a tough to swallow leverage penalty on a field goal) just controlled the interior of the Niners offensive line. His play allowed room for the linebackers to step up into the hole and make tackles all night long preventing the Niners offense from making any progress.
Much of the success was has also been predicated on the brilliant defensive schemes concocted by defensive coordinator Ron Rivera who just puts guys in positions to make plays. Disguised blitzes and dropping a variety of different players into coverage really allowed the Bolts to pressure 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith into some horrific decisions during the game. Going back to the game against Kansas City and the latter stage of the game with the Raiders the week before that, the Chargers maintained a shutout streak of nearly 120 minutes of game time before San Francisco cracked the goal line in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
The positives of this Chargers team are certainly worthy of being pointed out, but a little constructive criticism never hurt anyone. There were some instances of poor clock management from the Bolts against the Nines burning timeouts with the play clock winding down and waffling on a goal line decision. Ultimately these situations all worked out for the best, but they could break the other way at some point down the line.
Special teams is also still a bit of a concern as the Chargers are on an historic pace allowing 19.4 yards per punt return and they continued that ugly kick coverage again this week allowing Ted Ginn to break one for 23 yards. This seems to be an issue that just won’t go away, but a sizeable gain is much more acceptable than touchdown returns.
It’s tough to end on a bad note with the optimism swelling around the Bolts, but the reality is that this team has to keep winning and complacency is the enemy. Hopefully the few negatives are outweighed by the wealth of positives down the stretch in this sprint to the playoffs.
Now let’s hear from you. In your opinion, what is the biggest area of concern for the Chargers moving forward? Is the Chargers’ running back tandem one of the league’s best or are they just racking up numbers on inferior opponents? Just how big of an impact does Vincent Jackson have on the Chargers’ offense and how much better does he make those around him just by being on the field? Philip Rivers is playing at a ridiculously high level, but can his leadership and poise take the Bolts deep into January this year? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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