ReFo: Panthers @ Chargers, Week 15
Another week and another ‘what might have been’ for the Panthers. A week after beating the team with the best record in the NFL, the Panthers put together as complete a game as they’ve played all year. Running, passing, stopping the run, stopping the pass, Carolina did it all and this game was decided well before the final whistle. Their performance on Sunday is just a peek at how good this team can be. If the Panthers can finish off the regular season with convincing wins against Oakland and at New Orleans, expectations for 2013 will be on the rise as they were this time 12 months ago.
While Carolina is trending up, San Diego is back to trending woefully down. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Chargers may finally cost Norv Turner his job at season’s end. Sunday’s game showed how stagnant this offense can be at times, as it was the third time they have put up a touchdown or less in a game this season. Philip Rivers is on pace for less than 4,000 yards for the first time since 2007. The running game is averaging its worst yards per carry since 2009, and they are now guaranteed to finish below .500 for the first time since 2003. For the Chargers, free agency, the draft, and the 2013 season can’t come soon enough.
Here are the performances that caught our eye.
Carolina — Three Performances of Note
The One that Got Away
Mike Tolbert must have had payback on his mind returning to face his former team, because he ran as hard as he had all year. Rob Chudzinski dialed up Tolbert’s number nine times, the most he had all season, and the 245 pounder did not disappoint. His 45 snaps, 40 yards and two touchdowns were all season highs, and his 24 receiving yards gave him his season high for total yards as well. Since Jonathan Stewart went down, Tolbert has amassed a total grade of +5.8 in 3 weeks as the fifth-year back is warranting his increased playing time.
Ready to Blow
If you asked the average football fan which defensive line has two of the top four 4-3 defensive ends in terms of pass rushing productivity, it might take them a while to come up with the correct answer. Even if you gave them that it was the Panthers it would probably take them even longer to come up with both players’ names. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy rank second and fourth in pass rushing productivity despite little to none of the fanfare that surrounds the likes of Julius Peppers and Mario Williams. If you read PFF you already know how good Johnson is, but what Hardy is doing is starting to rival his line mate. On Sunday he rushed from an end position 19 times and a tackle position 19 times to total three sacks, four stops and a hurry. Hardy’s versatility and ability to rush the passer as well as stop the run from any of the four down-lineman spots is amazing. He made multiple highlight reel plays on the day, and he really seems to be putting everything together in his third year as a pro.
Yards When They Need Them
Going up against one of the best run defenses in the NFL, one may have thought this game was going to come down to Cam Newton’s arm. When Brad Nortman finally punted the ball away after an 8-plus-minute drive in the fourth quarter, it was clear that the Carolina offensive line won their matchup. The unit combined for a +8.8 run blocking grade, and all starting lineman graded positively except for Byron Bell. The last drive summed up their excellence as they gained three first downs when everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run. On the day, the offense ran the ball 39 times for 155 yards in a stellar performance.
San Diego — Three Performances of Note
The Chargers’ offensive line didn’t play as bad as the six sacks might lead you to believe. At least one sack was on Rivers, and there were only six other pressures the whole game. That being said, the sacks that were allowed came at inopportune times. Those sacks led to four forced fumbles on Rivers, and had him far off his game. The biggest offenders on the line were tackles Kevin Haslem (-1.2) and Reggie Wells (-0.6). Haslem gave up a sack and hurry, and Wells gave up two sacks and a hurry. Haslem was beaten so badly by Hardy in the third quarter that he didn’t come out the next series and was replaced by Michael Harris, who fared little better himself, surrendering a pair of sacks. Now that the Chargers are out of it, the long-term health of Rivers needs to be paramount and a six-sack performance is unacceptable in the last two games.
One of the weakest links all year for the Chargers has been their corners. This did not change on Sunday. Quentin Jammer (-2.3), Antoine Cason (-0.5), and Marcus Gilchrist (-0.8) combined to give up 10 of 14 passing for 104 yards and missed two tackles. Gilchrist, who was already giving up the highest completion percentage against in the league, gave up three of three passing to bring his completion percentage against to 83%. In a day and age where passing rules all, it is tough to win games with three corners that have played the way San Diego’s have this season.
The Chargers had absolutely nothing going on down the field the whole game. Who to blame for this is hard to categorize, but certainly more than one person is at fault. The offensive line allowed Rivers to be pressured on 14 of his 31 drop-backs. The wide receivers weren’t beating coverage consistently, and check downs were the only routes consistently open. Rivers attempted only five passes over 10 yards down the field. All of these factors created a perfect storm where only one play all day went for longer than 15 yards. The Chargers were a far cry from their offense of the past few years.
— In his Chargers’ debut, his first NFL action for a full year, Gary Guyton recorded 23 snaps and missed a tackle, while adding a solitary defensive stop.
— For the second straight week, rookie free agent Nate Chandler set a career high with 23 snaps, just a week after notching 22 against the Falcons.
— Free agent signing Robert Meachem continues to be marginalized in San Diego. This week he recorded only one snap and, since playing 46 snaps against the Browns in Week 8, he has recorded only 33 snaps in five appearances.
Greg Hardy gets this one. His three sacks and two forced fumbles were hard to ignore. The Chargers gained only 164 total yards and Hardy and the defensive line were a big reason why.
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