As the 3-2 San Diego Chargers look back on this game they’ll think to themselves it could have been so different. The officiating didn’t help them at times, but they (and Melvin Ingram in particular) can’t blame them for the roughing the passer call that changed the game. Instead of it being a three score game the New Orleans Saints would move the ball down the field to move within three points and in the process maybe accepted a truth they’ve been loath to. They’re a much better team when Pierre Thomas and not Mark Ingram, is in the backfield.
With that the momentum changed and Drew Brees started playing like the player we’ve become accustomed to. It was nervy and perhaps a tad fortuitous, but the Saints have a win. How did they do it? Let’s explore.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
A Cruel End
Sometimes a full games worth of top quality play can be undone in two plays. That’s how it must feel for Jared Gaither (+4.1) who put forth one of the best left tackles performance we’ve seen this year until injury hit him hard. Afterwards, nobody seemed to realize the best place for him wasn’t on the field. He effectively took control of Will Smith throughout this game, swallowing him up in pass protection (outside of one hurry) and moving him at will in the running game. It was the kind of 69 snap performance that only an elite left tackle can produce.
Unfortunately, it was a 71 snap game (including pre-snap penalties) and Gaither would give up a big hit and costly sack to Martez Wilson that ended the game. Still, his decision making aside, you shouldn’t forget just how good he was here with his run blocking a big part of the Chargers ground success.
It all seemed to change once Pierre Thomas came into the lineup as he caused the Chargers all sorts of problems as they allowed themselves to be marched on. Were they demoralized by the pick six that had to be called back? Only they themselves know but they couldn’t stop Thomas picking yards after contact. A more disappointing aspect is that nobody, save Corey Liuget, really stepped it up and made some plays, while the secondary allowed their coverage to break down on more than one occasion.
It’s not hard to see why the demotion of Ryan Mathews (+4.3) was such a noteworthy story. His fumbling problem is well documented, but when he keeps the ball secure he is one of the very best runners in the league. He has a knack for finding space quickly, and then making defenses pay if they don’t get to him in short order. The real shame is that he was only afforded 12 carries as he continually punished the Saints, with four forced missed tackles and nearly three yards after contact on each rush.
In the passing game he was responsible for a sack (or at least half of one) but added another 59 yards as he turned on the burners and forced another missed tackle. When all was said and done, he’d managed a 69.4 elusive rating, an indication of just how hard he was to handle.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
While it took Drew Brees (+3.5) some time to get going with his accuracy a bit scattershot at times, one man who could be always relied upon was Marques Colston (+4.1). He only caught 50% of the balls that were thrown his way (one drop) with his quarterback not helping him out on occasion. Colston’s nose for the end zone (three touchdowns) and ability to make catches in tight coverage (all three of his touchdowns came with defenders in close proximity) were much appreciated. You’re still waiting for Brees, who had an adjusted accuracy percentage of 74.4%, to really find his rhythm, but until he does an outlet like Colston is crucial in keeping the chains moving.
The Overrated One
We’ve never been huge fans of Malcolm Jenkins (-6.1). Part of that we figured was down to being put in unfavorable situations with an ultra-aggressive Gregg Williams defense. Perhaps we were giving him more credit than he warranted? Busted coverage discussions aside Jenkins missed four tackles and while his controversial pass break up that led to an interception was crucial, it really shouldn’t make up for his poor performance in the rest of the game. He’s a safety, but he doesn’t make me feel any safer about the back end of the Saints’ defense.
I’ve mentioned him a few times and it’s only right that Pierre Thomas (+2.8) gets his own paragraph. Let’s be clear, the roughing the passer penalty on Melvin Ingram was crucial, but just as important was the Saints following that up by getting Thomas the ball more. Prior to that he’d had four touches of the ball despite being on the field for 18 snaps. Afterwards? Well he had four touches in consecutive plays as he puts the Saints in position to score a touchdown, the momentum firmly changing.
The simple facts are the Saints are a better team running the ball when Thomas has it in his hands than the disappointing Mark Ingram. Now the former first round pick isn’t terrible by any stretch, but he just doesn’t make things happen, nor does he have the kind of versatility that Thomas does. With Thomas you always get the concerns over durability but now is the time for the Saints to really rely upon him to capitalize on the momentum that they found in this game.
– After giving up just one hurry in the first three quarters, Jeromey Clary would surrender a sack, a penalty and two more hurries in the final 6 minutes and 33 seconds of the game as Junior Galette went to work on him.
– The 2.91 yards per route run from Colston was slightly more productive than the 2.3 managed by Malcom Floyd.
– Never afraid to go deep, Brees completed 10 passes that went over 10 yards in the air.
Where would the Saints be without Marques Colston? 0-5 most likely.
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