ReFo: Chiefs @ Chargers, Wk 9
Many dubbed this Thursday night encounter between the Chiefs and Chargers as the ‘Unemployment Bowl’ with fans of both teams yearning for their respective head coaches and general managers to receive their pink slips. Media reports too were split between everything from job losses on each team to the men in charge receiving the dreaded vote of confidence from the franchise’s owners.
Suffice to say, with all of this focus on the future of coaching staff and front office personnel there wasn’t much focus on the on-field battle entering this game. Both teams were on big slumps coming into the game, with the Chiefs not having led a game for the entire season and the Chargers collapsing after a 3-1 start. Kansas City’s season was already gone and this might have been San Diego’s last chance to arrest their slide and maintain their playoff hopes.
Well, the Chargers did just that, in somewhat unconvincing fashion, and with no job losses yet the focus, at least in the short term, can switch to the fact that in spite of their slide the Chargers could find themselves in a tie for first place in their division at the conclusion of Sunday’s games. Here is a look at some of the key performances that helped the Chargers get back to .500 and, give their fans hope and regain the playoff momentum that was lost in the last month.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
Stuck on Repeat
On Sunday the Chiefs were treated to the sight of the Oakland Raiders going mercilessly after their former employee Stanford Routt to the tune of 130 yards and two scores. With Routt missing on Thursday night, due to a hamstring injury, you would have been excused for thinking that things could only get better, especially with the Chargers left shorthanded at receiver. Well, to an extent they did — they got better to the tune of three fewer yards allowed and one less touchdown allowed. However, the combination of Javier Arenas and Travis Daniels was clearly out of its depth as outside corners in Routt’s absence. Arenas has built a reputation as a solid return man and slot corner, but in combination with Daniels the Chiefs’ right corner spot allowed all nine of their targets to be caught for 127 yards and the back shoulder score by Malcom Floyd at the start of the fourth quarter. That the Chargers never chose to target Brandon Flowers once in this game only serves to highlight the Chiefs’ struggles opposite him.
Winston and Albert Hold the Fort
He may have had another disappointing game as a run blocker, but once again Branden Albert continued to show why he made our Midseason All-Pro team as an honorable mention at left tackle this week. The Chargers’ assortment of outside linebackers saw a healthy rotation, but Albert was untroubled — only hurry allowed to Antwan Barnes in the fourth quarter denied him his third straight game of perfect pass protection. Opposite him Eric Winston was just as good. allowing only a solitary pressure to Shaun Phillips later in the fourth quarter. With how well this duo blocked it is a shame, and could be perceived as misguided play calling, that the Chiefs allowed the key defensive play of the game to come from an edge rusher being blocked by neither of their starting tackles.
Hali Shines Alone
There was little to brag about from the Kansas City defense on a difficult night in San Diego. While they allowed only 17 points to the San Diego offense, they did little to bring any great cheer outside of Eric Berry’s interception and, more consistently, the performance by Tamba Hali. The Chiefs’ premiere pass rusher has been somewhat inconsistent this season, but in San Diego he put in a strong all-around display to earn his highest single game grade (+3.9) of the season. Hali gave Jared Gaither, one of the league’s best pass protecting tackles, fits through the second and third quarters in pass protection, and pressed home the poor night the Chargers’ left tackle had after he false started twice in the first quarter. Hali also recorded a stop in pass coverage, and had another three in run defense in the fourth quarter. If the Chiefs are to get out of their rut then they need to get Hali and Justin Houston firing in the same game.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
Jarrett Johnson – Playmaker?
When the Chargers signed Jarrett Johnson in the offseason the one thing that we didn’t expect them to be getting was a playmaking pass rusher, but in this game he came up with the sort of explosive play that we would have expected to come from fellow former Raven Antwan Barnes. In what has been an inconsistent and disappointing season for Johnson, this play was a high watermark that he will hope can allow him to re-find his old form in his new surroundings. Johnson benefited from a slow get-off and some distinctly suspect footwork by Donald Stephenson to tear to his outside and immediately get into the face of Matt Cassel before forcing the game-defining and game-winning fumble from the Chiefs’ maligned signal-caller. Whether he is struggling with being in and out of the lineup. or simply struggling to fit into a more orthodox 3-4 defense than he played in during his latter years in Baltimore is unclear. What is clear, is that this is a mix that the Chargers need to get right if they are to use this victory to mount a serious challenge to Denver for the AFC West crown in the second half of the season.
Maintaining the Standard… Almost
In what is an extremely short trend, for the second game in a row we have seen the winning quarterback leave the game with a near perfect accuracy percentage. On Monday night Alex Smith left the Cardinals feeling glum after coming one dropped pass short of a 100% completion percentage, while last night Philip Rivers blotted his own copybook to come up one terrible interception short of the same mark. His other incompletion was a throw away, but in spite of his otherwise fine and consistent play it is likely that interception that will generate the greatest discussion among fans and media in southern California today and over the weekend. Quite what Rivers saw on that route is unclear — Eric Berry had a bead on the route the whole way, and drove on the throw to make the interception. Rivers could have made the throw safe by putting the ball just out of bounds and allowing Dante Rosario to go and make a play on it. But he didn’t, raising the question as to whether the problem is really (as many are suggesting) with his arm or whether it’s with how he is reading defenses.
With Vincent Jackson now plying his trade in Tampa Bay, the Chargers have struggled to find a single receiver to take his place, and also to get the chemistry right to fill that void with a group of receivers. In the absence of their two newest signings, however, the Chargers appeared to find that balance against the Chiefs on Thursday night. The man some expected to take over as the leading threat, Floyd, saw only four targets but was back in a more comfortable role as a player targeted in certain situations, rather than being a receiver fed the ball as a No, 1 . For the third time this season, Floyd caught every ball throw his way (in those games he has never been targeted more than five times) and the Chargers got solid contributions from the likes of Seyi Ajirotutu and, in particular, Danario Alexander to ensure that the Chiefs couldn’t lock down on one location or receiver. The Chargers even got their money’s worth from Antonio Gates who contributed almost as much on the first drive (a first down and a touchdown) as he has done in most full games this season.
— On his first defensive snap of the season, Shareece Wright recorded a defensive stop as he tackled Jonathan Baldwin short of the markers on a slant on 3rd-and-18.
— For only the second time in his career, Tony Moeaki was not targeted for a single pass. The first was the Chiefs’ Week 5 loss to the Ravens and leaves Moeaki with only eight targets during the past four games.
— Philip Rivers was perfect on his eight passes aimed 10 or more yards downfield. He was 8/8 for 135 yards and two touchdowns on those passes, with none of those targets coming outside of the right numbers.
PFF Game Ball
This contest was still alive, just, until Jarrett Johnson made the game’s crucial play by getting quickly into the backfield to sack Matt Cassel and exploiting his poor ball security to gift Shaun Phillips the game’s pivotal touchdown.