AFC West: San Diego Chargers

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Around the Denver Broncos’ complex, last December’s game against the San Diego Chargers is referred to by many people, Broncos coach John Fox included, simply as “Round 2." The 27-20 Chargers win was the second of three meetings between the two teams in the 2013 season -- playoffs included -- and it was also the Broncos' only home loss last season.

So Thursday night’s affair is a sequel of sorts given last year’s regular-season meeting in Denver was also on a Thursday night. This time, however, the Broncos (5-1) and Chargers (5-2) have powered to the early lead in the AFC West race with both Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers in the early conversation for league MVP.

ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold preview the game:

Legwold: Eric, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have more combined sacks (15) than 14 teams in the league right now. How would you expect Rivers and the Chargers offense to handle that?

Williams: Fair question. Rivers has done a nice job of getting the ball out quickly. The Chargers are predominantly in shotgun most of the time, so that helps Rivers get set to throw the football quickly, along with San Diego’s reliance on the short passing game. Rivers has been sacked just 11 times through seven games. The one thing the Chargers will do more of in an attempt to slow down Denver’s talented pass-rushers is give them a steady diet of cat-quick Branden Oliver in the run game.

Jeff, a lot of the conversation nationally has been about Manning and Denver’s prolific offense, but staying with Denver’s defense, it has held opponents to just 20 points a contest and an average of 74 yards a game on the ground. How have Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib made that defense better?

Legwold: When the Broncos picked through the rubble that was a 35-point loss in the Super Bowl, they went into the offseason intent on revamping a defense not only with more athleticism but also with what Ward called “that nastiness." The Broncos had confidence that Ware would rebound when they gave him a three-year, $30 million deal. He has also been a mentor to Miller. Talib, with his length and aggressiveness, has given the Broncos the press corner they wanted, and Ward has played all but three snaps on defense thus far. So the new arrivals have helped plenty, but the Broncos have also seen the starters who finished 2013 on injured reserve rebound to their previous form, most of all Miller. Chris Harris Jr. may be playing as well as any cornerback in the league despite having ACL surgery in February, as is defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. Put it all together and the Broncos play with far more versatility and athleticism in the formation than the last time these two teams played.

San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano, a Colorado native, often takes risks with the Chargers defense, even against a quarterback like Manning. Will the injuries on defense change that philosophy, or do you think Pagano will come after Manning a bit?

Williams: Despite the lack of healthy bodies, Pagano will take his chances when he sees an opportunity. In San Diego’s win at Denver last year, the Chargers started Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright at cornerback and Thomas Keiser and Reggie Walker at outside linebacker. With San Diego’s top two cornerbacks in Brandon Flowers (concussion) and Jason Verrett (shoulder) nursing injuries, along with rookie pass-rusher Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring), the Chargers' projected starting cornerbacks are Wright and Marshall. And the team’s projected starting outside linebackers are Jarret Johnson and Walker. The bottom line is Pagano trusts his backup players to know and understand his complex scheme. Those fill-in guys proved they can execute his game plan to try to confuse Manning last year.

The Broncos revamped the offensive line during the offseason. So far Manning has been sacked just eight times. What are the reasons for Denver’s success up front this season?

Legwold: The offense is built to keep Manning out of harm’s way, with lots of crossing routes, screens and quick-hit plays to get the ball out of his hands. And Manning may be one of the best to have ever played the position when it comes to limiting the punishment he takes by how he conducts his business in the pocket. He usually sees where the pressure is coming from before the snap, adjusts quickly and rarely holds the ball if he believes a sack is imminent. Overall, the offensive line’s play has caused a bit of consternation for the Broncos. They made a switch at right tackle for last Sunday’s game, putting Paul Cornick in place of Chris Clark. Some teams have created some room in the middle of the field, both in the run game and pass rush, and it will bear watching in this one.

In the Chargers’ win in Denver last December, Keenan Allen scored twice. Allen doesn’t have a touchdown yet this year. Where does he fit in the Chargers’ offense, and is Antonio Gates the go-to guy for Rivers?

Williams: Rivers and Gates hold the NFL record for touchdown receptions between a quarterback and tight end at 67, so it’s fair to say that the 34-year-old Gates is Rivers’ go-to guy, especially in the red zone. However, Allen leads the Chargers in targets (50) and receptions (34). But for whatever reason, the Cal product has not gotten into the end zone. One thing Rivers said is that he doesn’t want to force feed a receiver if he’s not open. And San Diego has so many other weapons, such as Eddie Royal, Malcom Floyd and Ladarius Green, that Rivers has a lot of matchups he can get to in the red zone. Allen’s turn to score will come, but Rivers won’t force it to him in coverage.

Broncos rookie cornerback Bradley Roby was a consideration for San Diego in the first round, but the Chargers selected Verrett instead. How has Roby played this year?

Legwold: The Broncos knew they would need Roby on defense, so they gave him plenty of tough love early in training camp; offensive coordinator Adam Gase and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas have both said the offense went out of its way to go after Roby in team drills early. While it was a tough go to open camp for Roby, he responded. He has earned plenty of confidence, so much so that the Broncos have matched him up with the likes of Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree already this season. Roby has played both in the slot and on the outside and is a willing tackler in the run game. While there were some pre-draft concerns circulating in the league that Roby had some maturity issues, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said he has had no such issues with Roby. “I told him on the first day he was going to have to earn his way and that he shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t play," Del Rio said. “But he’s put in the work and earned his spot."

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The Film Don't Lie: Chargers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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A weekly look at what the San Diego Chargers must fix:

Solving the team’s poor tackling will be an issue the San Diego Chargers have to resolve sooner rather than later since they face an explosive Denver Broncos offense on Thursday night.

The Chargers allowed the Chiefs to rush for 154 total yards in a 23-20 loss over the weekend. Kansas City finished with eight plays of 16-plus yards from scrimmage.

“We had too many missed tackles,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “That’s something we work on every week. It’s a basic fundamental of the game. And we gave up too many yards where we should have stopped them, and they made some plays.”

For the most part, San Diego has been a good tackling team leading up to the Kansas City game, limiting big gains. The Chargers have to solve the team’s tackling issues quickly because they face a Denver offense averaging 8.52 yards per play in the passing game, No. 2 in the NFL behind San Diego (8.53).

In order to fix the poor tackling, San Diego’s defense has to do a better job of playing with leverage and playing "to your help" on the field, according to defensive co-captain and linebacker Jarret Johnson.

“The reason we missed tackles was them creating plays that put us in space, and us not playing to our leverage,” Johnson said. “You don’t know where your leverage is, and you might be overrunning it or taking bad angles on your tackles.

“We have to be more aware of where our help is. These running backs -- especially a running back like Jamaal Charles -- it’s going to be really tough to get him down in the open field by yourself, so you have to play to your help.”
SAN DIEGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the San Diego Chargers' 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

Rivers
-- After five straight games with at least a 120 passer rating, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers played solid, but not spectacular against the Chiefs.

Rivers finished 17-of-31 (54.8 percent) for 205 yards, two touchdowns and an interception late in the game. He was sacked twice, and finished with an 83.4 passer rating.

"To expect that we're going to go up and down the field and never punt, and just win all the time is unrealistic," Rivers said. "I thought this was an NFL game that we didn't play our very best."

Rivers threw a touchdown pass in his 27th straight game, extending his franchise record. He also connected on a touchdown pass with tight end Antonio Gates for a 67th time, extending the NFL record for a quarterback-tight end tandem.

-- Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was not making excuses for his team's issues on third down defensively. San Diego's defense struggled to get off of the field on third down, finishing 3-of-10 against Kansas City's offense. "We didn't make enough plays," McCoy said. "We didn't have 11 guys making plays. We didn't stop them. No excuses at all. They made plays, we didn't."

-- Defensive lineman Corey Liuget was called for a questionable face mask penalty on Kansas City's drive that set up the winning field goal. Alex Smith moved to escape the pocket, and at first blush Liuget appeared to grab his face mask.

However, replays showed Liuget actually grabbed Smith's shoulder pads before he escaped for a 9-yard gain.

The Chiefs got an additional 15 yards tacked on Smith's run, with the ball first-and-10 at their own 32-yard line with 1:39 left. Kansas City moved into field goal position for Cairo Santos' 48-yard field goal.

"I don't believe I did, but the referee called it, so it is a face mask if he called it," Liuget said.

-- Cornerbacks Brandon Flowers (concussion) and Steve Williams (groin) left the game and did not return. With Jason Verrett (shoulder) already inactive, the Chargers finished the game with just three healthy corners.
SAN DIEGO -- Qualcomm Stadium serves as familiar surroundings for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith
He grew up watching and attending San Diego Chargers games. And with the help of high school teammate Reggie Bush, the San Diego native led Helix High School to two San Diego California Interscholastic Federation section championships played at Qualcomm Stadium.

Smith also led Utah to a win over San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium in his final year in college.

But as a pro, Smith is 0-2 at Qualcomm, losing in 2006 and 2010 to the Chargers as the quarterback and No. 1 overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 draft.

Smith will play in Qualcomm Stadium as a member of the Chiefs for the first time Sunday. He did not play last year's final regular-season game because Andy Reid chose to rest his starters in preparation for the playoffs, a game in which San Diego escaped with a 27-24 victory to advance to the postseason.

Smith, 30, said he’s looking forward to playing at Qualcomm again.

“Of course, growing up there in your hometown and going back,” Smith said. “But I haven’t thought a lot about that. To be honest, I kind of got my hands full with this film, and obviously getting ready to play a pretty good team.”

Last year, the Chiefs made a trade with the 49ers to obtain Smith and serve as the team’s franchise quarterback. And prior to this season, he signed a four-year, $68 million contract extension in the hopes of becoming the long-term solution at quarterback.

So far, he’s lived up to the lofty expectations, leading the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2013 and making the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 10-year NFL career.

After a slow start this season, in which he struggled in losses against Tennessee and Denver, Smith has led Kansas City to two wins in its past three games.

“He’s the perfect guy for that scheme,” former Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “He’s a guy who’s not going to turn the ball over. He’s going to make all of the smart throws. He gets the ball out of his hands quick. He’s not going to take sacks.

“He’s the type of quarterback a lot of offensive coordinators would love to have in their system.”

Growing up in San Diego, Smith said that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was someone he studied.

“It’s always fun to go against Philip,” Smith said. “He’s such a competitor, having gotten to know him. He’s a good guy. I’ve always watched him. In the NFL you watch a lot of offense and opponents’ film. And certainly, he’s a guy who I appreciate how he goes about his game, and I think [he's] one of the best there is from inside the pocket.”

Facing Smith breaks a streak of four straight weeks in which San Diego’s defense played against first or second-year quarterbacks. The Chargers won all four of those games, but defensive coordinator John Pagano will face a different challenge in game-planning for an experienced and mobile quarterback in Smith.

“It’s about us going out and executing,” Pagano said. “It's about us doing what we have to do as a defensive unit. They are explosive, and Alex is playing at a high level. He’s confident in his throws.

“You hear all the things about him managing the game, and then you put the tape on, and you see how his completion percentage is up there, not a lot of interceptions, and he’s putting it where they need to catch it. From an experience standpoint, I think this is one of the most explosive offenses. The weapons they have across the board it is a tremendous challenge.”

With the San Diego Chargers (5-1) riding high on a five-game winning streak, the Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) will attempt to knock down their AFC West division rival a peg or two when they travel to Qualcomm Stadium for a Sunday afternoon contest.

Kansas City has struggled of late against the Chargers, losing four straight and 11 of their past 14 meetings.

But the Chiefs should benefit from coming off a bye week. Andy Reid-led teams are 13-2 in games after the bye week in his career as an NFL head coach.

However, Kansas City lost after the bye week last season, 27-17 at Denver.

“It’s constant work because we lost the last one,” Reid said, when asked about his team’s success after the bye week. “So we’re always evaluating what we can do to be better in that area. Last year we weren’t very good, so we’ve got to get better.”

Sunday’s matchup also highlights the Brandon Flowers-Kansas City grudge match. Released by the Chiefs last June in a cost-cutting move, Flowers didn’t like it. And now he can do something about it twice this season, facing his former team for the first time.

Flowers suffered a groin injury against Oakland, so his availability for Sunday’s game is in question.

“If I’m not ready, I won’t be out there,” Flowers said. “If I’m out there, I’m ready.”

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:

Williams: Adam, after starting out the season 0-2, the Chiefs won two of their next three games heading into the bye week. What have been the reasons for the improved play?

Teicher: They’re a far better team than the way they played in the season opener in Tennessee. They looked lost, like they didn’t know which players to play or how to utilize them. No sense of urgency at all. They started to play better the next week at Denver, where their late rally fell a couple of yards short and they lost by a touchdown. The way the Chiefs have played since the opener is much closer to the real Chiefs than the way they played against Tennessee. They’ve figured out their strengths and weaknesses and try to play to those, particularly on offense.

Eric, the Chargers have the AFC’s best record but three of their wins came against some of the NFL’s weakest teams. Do you feel the Chargers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, or is the fast start more a function of their schedule?

Williams: That’s a fair question. The Chargers have played some of the bottom-feeders of the NFL. However, the win over Seattle was a sign of how good this team can be if everything is working well for it. The Chargers looked dominant in defeating the defending Super Bowl champs. They easily handled teams they were supposed to beat in Jacksonville and the New York Jets. And even though the Chargers did not play their best at Oakland, they did what good teams do in adverse situations -- find a way to win. If the Chargers can keep Philip Rivers upright and healthy, they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Adam, Travis Kelce looks like an emerging talent at tight end. He leads Kansas City in receptions (20), receiving yards (274) and receiving touchdowns (3). What makes him so productive?

Teicher: He’s 260 pounds but is fast -- wide receiver fast. In the preseason, he caught a pass over the middle and then outran a bunch of defensive backs to the end zone for a long touchdown. He runs good routes and catches the ball well, so put everything together and he can be tough to cover. The Chiefs had big plans for him last season, when he was a rookie. But he came down with a knee ailment during the preseason and never played an offensive snap all season. The Chiefs’ passing game would be lost if something similar happened now.

Eric, San Diego’s running game has picked up since Branden Oliver became the featured back. Give me a scouting report on Oliver and tell me why he’s been able to succeed where Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown didn’t.

Williams: Generously listed at 5-foot-8, Oliver is very elusive, which means San Diego’s offensive line does have to block plays perfectly for the undrafted rookie free agent to find a crease in the defense and spring loose. Oliver is hard for defenders to see behind San Diego’s offensive line, which works in his favor. And at 208 pounds, Oliver can run over defenders at the second level, and is hard to bring down because he’s so low to the ground. He’s a hard worker who quickly learned the offense, and adds a different dimension with his jitterbug running style. It will be interesting to see how the Chargers divide the carries when Brown and Mathews are both healthy again.

Adam, what’s your evaluation of how quarterback Alex Smith, a San Diego native, has played after receiving his new contract extension before the season started?

Teicher: Like many of his teammates, Smith has played better since the Tennessee game. He uncharacteristically tried to force a lot of passes that day and wound up throwing three interceptions. He’s thrown just one pick since and that was late in the game against San Francisco when the Chiefs were backed up deep and trying to rally. Where he’s failed this year is that he’s 0-of-2 in late fourth-quarter drives. The Chiefs failed to score a touchdown against the 49ers and the Broncos when each time when it could have won the game. Smith has not led a late-game rally for the Chiefs. He’s 0-for-4 including last season and that’s what needs to change.

Eric, Flowers is a question mark to play on Sunday because of a groin injury, but he’ll be back at some point. How has he fit in with the Chargers and how much credit does he deserve for the Chargers having one of the top pass defenses in the league?

Williams: Flowers has fit in well and exceeded expectations through the first six weeks of this season. He leads the team in interceptions, and according to defensive co-captain Eric Weddle has brought a level of professionalism to the defensive backfield room with his strong work ethic and knowledge of the game. Weddle says those characteristics are rubbing off on the rest of a young cornerback group, which includes first-round selection Jason Verrett. One last thing is Flowers has added a level of toughness, both mentally and physically. He’s a sure tackler in the run game, and as mentally prepared as they come. Flowers also has been willing to play different roles on the field, including special teams and slot defender in passing situations.

SAN DIEGO – For a second straight day, San Diego Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers did not practice because of a groin injury, putting his availability for Sunday’s contest against his old team, the Kansas City Chiefs, in jeopardy.

If Flowers can’t play, Shareece Wright or Richard Marshall would be the likely replacement at left starting cornerback, with rookie Jason Verrett the likely starter at right cornerback.

Along with Flowers, inside linebacker Manti Te'o (foot), outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) and running backs Ryan Mathews (knee) and Donald Brown (concussion) did not practice for a second day in a row.

But for the first time since suffering a broken foot in a Week 3 contest at Buffalo, Te’o did some work on the field during practice.

Center Rich Ohrnberger also did not practice on Thursday after being a full participant on Wednesday. Ohrnberger has been dealing with a lingering back issue and could have been taking a rest day on Thursday.

However, if Ohrnberger is not available for the third time in four weeks, Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the team is pleased with the development of the backup center, rookie Chris Watt.

“I feel real comfortable with Chris at center,” Reich said. “Every week at this stage with a guy that young, you grow and become more confident in making all of the calls and hearing all the calls. We just expect huge upside from him, certainly at guard, but even at center.”

Along with Ohrnberger at center, Watt continues to split time during games at right guard with Johnnie Troutman.

A limited participant on Wednesday, Wright (knee) was a full participant on Thursday. Verrett (shoulder) was a limited participant.
SAN DIEGO -- During a conference call with San Diego-area reporters, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid was asked about releasing veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers in June.

Flowers
At 5-foot-9, Flowers did not fit the profile Kansas City wanted defensively in taller corners. The Chiefs also saved $7.5 million this season against the salary cap and another $7.5 million against their cap next year by letting Flowers go. Kansas City needed the cap room to sign quarterback Alex Smith to a contract extension.

Flowers made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his seven-year career last season.

However, talent and depth at cornerback remain an issue for Kansas City. And Flowers has played well for the San Diego Chargers, leading the team with two interceptions. Pro Football Focus ranks Flowers as the best cornerback in the NFL through Week 6 of the NFL season.

Flowers signed a one-year, $3 million deal with San Diego in part to play against his former team twice this season. However, due to a groin injury suffered against Oakland last week, Flowers’ availability for this Sunday against the Chiefs is in question.

Reid acknowledged that Flowers is playing well right now.

“Brandon’s a good football player,” Reid said. “And he’s doing a nice job this year. I’m happy for him there.”

Asked if Flowers was not a fit schematically, here’s what Reid had to say: “I wouldn’t say that. This is the National Football League, and this is how things work. The important thing is he’s happy and he’s doing well.”

Reid also said talented safety Eric Berry practiced Monday for the Chiefs and will practice again Wednesday. Berry hasn’t played since suffering a high-ankle sprain at Denver Sept. 14. Cornerback Ron Parker moved over to safety with Berry out.

“He’s making progress and feeling better,” Reid said about Berry. “We’ll just see how he does here.”

Malcom Floyd a pleasant surprise for Chargers

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
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ESPN San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams talks about the impact of wide receiver Malcom Floyd on the offense.
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OAKLAND -- Jarret Johnson says you don't get style points for picture-perfect victories.

Well-executed or ragged, they all count the same in the win column. And after back-to-back dominating performances at home in wins over Jacksonville and the New York Jets, the San Diego Chargers found a way to win, 31-28, in a dogfight with AFC West rival Oakland on Sunday at O.co Coliseum.

For Johnson, winning ugly is a mark of a good team that hopes to be great at the end of the season -- when it matters most.

"Games like this happen all the time," the San Diego linebacker said. "I'm not going to sit here and say we're a great team, because we're not a great team yet. But it happens to every team, and the good teams are the ones that figure out a way to win them."

The Chargers were not at their best on Sunday against an Oakland squad coming off of a bye with a new head coach, desperate to earn its first win of 2014.

San Diego's defense allowed rookie quarterback Derek Carr to throw for 282 yards and four touchdowns. The Chargers didn't sack Carr once.

The Raiders ran for 114 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. San Diego trailed 28-21 with 10 minutes left in the game, but it never felt like it was going to let slip away.

"Obviously getting the win is the biggest thing," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "But when you win games like this, it gives you confidence in other close games."

That feeling of not letting one slip away for San Diego starts with the efficient play of Rivers. He led the Chargers on a nine-play, 68-yard drive that Nick Novak capped with a 30-yard field goal, closing Oakland's lead to 28-24.

"We felt pretty confident because Philip's been playing well all season," Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget said. "The only thing we had to do is get out there and stop them."

They did. On the ensuing possession, San Diego's defense forced a three-and-out. And Keenan Allen gave his offense good field position with a 29-yard punt return.

San Diego's offense took over at Oakland's 39-yard line with 4:43 left, needing a touchdown for the victory.

That's when the rookies took over.

After a 3-yard pass to Allen and a 7-yard scramble for a first down by Rivers, Branden Oliver ran the ball on the final three plays, including a 1-yard dive over a pile of Oakland would-be tacklers at the goal line for the winning score with two minutes left.

On Oakland's final possession, rookie pass-rusher Jeremiah Attaochu appeared to sack and strip Carr of the football. Attaochu recovered the fumble at Oakland's 10-yard line. However, the Georgia Tech product was called for a facemask on the play trying to tackle Carr, giving the Raiders new life.

Carr promptly drove his offense to within easy range of a Sebastian Janikowski game-tying field goal at San Diego's 45-yard line.

However, Carr wanted the win. He threw deep to Brice Butler, and Chargers rookie cornerback Jason Verrett picked the ball off to seal the victory.

It was a great moment for Verrett, who grew up rooting for the Raiders as a native of Fairfield, California.

"It was cool seeing our rookies make big plays," Johnson said. "Even though Jerry got that penalty, that was a hell of a play. He just happened to swipe his face mask when he was going for the ball.

"But then you turn around and our other rookie [Verrett] makes the big play and closes the game out."

Winners of five straight, the Chargers don't care how it gets done. Like their coach, San Diego just cares about results.

"The great thing is we found a way to win at the end," Mike McCoy said. "That's the only thing that matters in this business, is finding a way every Sunday -- or whatever day we're playing -- to win. It's not always going to be perfect."
SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle took the blame for making a fake punt call on fourth-and-35 from Oakland’s 46-yard line in the third quarter.

Weddle said he saw receiver Seyi Ajirotutu uncovered on the perimeter and thought he could get the first down. However, after Weddle audibled, he saw the defender move to cover Ajirotutu. But by that time the fake was on, he couldn’t change things to get back to a regular punt.

Weddle threw the ball downfield to Ajirotutu, but he caught the ball out of bounds. Oakland took over at the 46-yard line, and three plays later Derek Carr hit Brice Butler for a 47-yard touchdown pass, putting Oakland up 21-14.

Weddle said it’s the first time he hasn’t converted on a fake punt. Last year, Weddle converted a key fourth down on a fake punt in overtime against Kansas City in the final game of the regular season that helped set up a Nick Novak game-winning field goal in overtime, allowing the Chargers to advance to the playoffs.

“I lost my train of thought in that situation,” Weddle said. “It’s unacceptable. It’s my call. The coaches trust me with that stuff. It’s unfortunate that I made a decision like that. I tried to get out of it, but it was too late. But we overcame it.”

Chargers coach Mike McCoy had a heated conversation with special-teams coordinator Kevin Spencer after the play. Weddle said he talked to McCoy about it afterward.

“It all starts on me as the head coach, and it didn’t work,” McCoy said.
ESPN NFL reporter Kevin Seifert offers this meaty analysis piece on the increase of completion percentages and passing efficiency in the NFL this season.

And San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is the poster boy for this trend.

Rivers
Rivers’ 57.6 percent short-pass rate in 2014 is the highest among quarterbacks with at least 150 total throws. However, Seifert says that despite their reliance on dink-and-dunk passes, the Chargers are currently tied for third with 21 pass plays of 20 or more yards.

“His level of accuracy is beyond great,” Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich says. “It’s in that upper one percent with guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. It's a gift.”

The Chargers also are operating from the shotgun more under Mike McCoy. Rivers says being in the shotgun helps get him into throwing position quicker.

During the past two seasons, the Chargers have called shotgun/pistol formations 71.6 percent of the time, fourth-highest in the league.

However, the Chargers still can run the football in the shotgun. Of the 995 snaps San Diego has taken from the shotgun/pistol the past two seasons, nearly 30 percent have resulted in runs. That's up from 11.7 percent in 2010.

Rivers also said being in the shotgun discourages blitzing because if he gets the ball out quickly, the Chargers can create a big play downfield with one missed tackle.

Chargers' troubles at center continue

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams talks about rookie Chris Watt stepping in as the team’s fourth center this season.

The Film Don't Lie: Chargers

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
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SAN DIEGO -- A weekly look at what the San Diego Chargers must fix.

Through five weeks, the San Diego Chargers have had one of the best defenses in the NFL. So we’re probably being a bit nitpicky in identifying a glaring weakness on that side of the ball as the team prepares to face AFC West Division rival Oakland on Sunday.

But even defensive coordinator John Pagano has been frustrated by the way his defense has played in the red zone.

Through Week 5, the Chargers are No. 1 in points allowed per contest (12.6), No. 2 in passing yards allowed per game (195) and No. 3 in overall yards allowed per game (291).

The Chargers also are tied for sixth in the NFL with 12 sacks and have not allowed a point in the fourth quarter in four straight games.

However, the Chargers are tied for 26th in the league in red zone defense, giving up a touchdown 70 percent of the time the opposition is inside the 20-yard line.

Miscommunication has been an issue, as the Chargers have blown assignments in the compact area near the goal line, allowing easy scores.

Tackling also has been a concern, particularly in goal-line situations. The Chargers have to do a better job of rallying to the ball and wrapping up.

Ultimately, San Diego has to play with more urgency and a desire to keep the opposing team from getting touchdowns.
SAN DIEGO -- Dwight Freeney knew Branden Oliver had something special during the first practice in offseason workouts.

The cat-quick running back made several San Diego defenders look silly in helmets and shorts while zig-zagging his way through the defense.

So count Freeney among the not-so-surprised when the undrafted rookie free agent out of Buffalo made the most of his opportunity in an easy, 31-0 victory over the visiting New York Jets on Sunday, finishing with 182 combined rushing and receiving yards.

It was the most combined yards by a San Diego running back since LaDainian Tomlinson finished with 197 yards against Kansas City on Dec. 2, 2007.

[+] EnlargeOliver
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsRookie running back Branden Oliver rushed for 114 yards and also had 68 yards receiving for the Chargers.
That’s pretty good company for Oliver.

“Whenever you can have a coming-out party for somebody, it’s a great thing,” Freeney said. “He’s a rookie, and we see it all the time in practice. It’s crazy. So we kind of expected it.

“You can’t teach that lean, that leverage, that movement and that height. You can’t see him.”

The Chargers entered Sunday’s game averaging a NFL-worst 2.4 yards per carry. But Oliver provided the spark San Diego’s run game needed, finishing with 114 yards on 19 carries, including a 15-yard burst through the middle of the Jets’ defense for a score.

Oliver also totaled four receptions for 68 yards, including a 50-yard reception and a 9-yard catch for a score.

San Diego’s offensive line finally provided room for the running backs to run. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oliver had 84 rushing yards before contact on Sunday, the most by a Charger in a game this season.

Oliver wasn’t hit in the backfield on any of his 19 rushes. Coming into the game, San Diego averaged a league-low 0.98 yards before contact per rush.

Even more impressive was that Oliver’s performance came against the NFL’s best run defense heading into Week 5.

The Jets came into the contest giving up just 63 rushing yards per game. But the Chargers finished with 162 yards on 40 carries, a healthy 4.1 yards per carry.

“We came in with the mentality to run the ball, even though they had the No. 1 defense,” Oliver said. “So whenever you get the opportunity to run the ball, the offensive line was hungry, and we just had to do what we had to do.”

Generously listed at 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds, Oliver has drawn comparisons to another explosive San Diego running back who wore No. 43 in his past: Darren Sproles. While both are smaller, compact backs with big-play ability, safety Eric Weddle said that comparison should stop there -- for now.

“That’s high praise,” Weddle said. “Sproles has done it for a long time at a high level. I’m sure Bo [Oliver] would say the same thing -- give him a few years before we start putting him in that conversation.

“But he’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever been around. For such a young guy, he just comes to work every day, and you can’t not pull for a guy like that.”

Oliver has things you can’t teach -- an innate ability to make defenders miss in the open field and the ability to accelerate to full speed in a few, quick steps. The Florida native said he developed his elusiveness from playing football against his older brothers in his backyard growing up.

“I’ve been running like that my whole life,” Oliver said. “God gave me the ability to do that in the backyard with my brothers. They’ve always been faster than me, so I’ve had to cut back in different ways and in certain situations.”

But it’s Oliver’s relentless work in the film room and learning the playbook that instilled confidence in veteran players such as Philip Rivers.

How much did the Chargers like Oliver? The organization parted ways with sixth-round draft choice Marion Grice during final roster cuts rather than risk losing Oliver to another team in free agency.

The Chargers placed Grice on the team’s practice squad, but eventually lost the former Arizona State player when the Arizona Cardinals signed him to the team’s active roster a few weeks ago.

“It’s just his preparation,” Rivers said about Oliver. “The way he works day in and day out. Playing running back in this system with what we do in the passing game, with what’s asked of them in protection, with as much as we throw them the ball, it’s a lot on a running back’s shoulders.”

Oliver has shown his broad shoulders are more than up for the task.

“Being an undrafted rookie free agent just makes it sweeter,” Oliver said. “We have guys like Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead -- there’s a lot of guys -- Malcom Floyd. You just got to keep working.”
SAN DIEGO -- A few takeaways from the San Diego Chargers' locker room after the team’s 31-0 victory against the New York Jets:
  • Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers addressed his team’s label of being “soft” nationally. That reputation developed over the years because the Chargers have been known nationally as a pass-happy offensive team that throws the ball around and plays in the Southern California sun. “For whatever reason -- whether it’s Southern California or the vibe that you get out here of just a finesse group of guys that like to throw it around in 75-degree weather,” Rivers said.

    “But I think we’ve shown our toughness. We talk about it all the time, not just being tough, but who’s going to be the toughest the longest -- through four quarters, through 16 games, or through a tough stretch. They aren’t all going to be like this. We might hit a bump in the road going forward, but I think our toughness has been shown the last five weeks.”
  • Rivers confirmed that he hit his throwing hand on right guard Johnnie Troutman’s helmet following through on a pass in the first half. However, after getting his hand examined, he did not come out of the game. Rivers was under duress most of the contest by a talented New York Jets defensive front that came into Sunday’s contest with a league-leading 14 sacks. Rivers was sacked three times, and hit another five times.
  • The injuries continue to pile up for the Chargers. Both center Doug Legursky (knee) and right tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle) left the locker room on crutches. Running back Donald Brown left the game with a concussion. Receiver Malcom Floyd (calf) and safety Darrell Stuckey (quad) also did not return due to injuries. The Chargers potentially could be down to the team’s fourth center and third running back in six weeks. But the team keeps trudging on.

    “We’ve got to put 11 on the field somehow, and we’re going to do it,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. “Give the players credit for executing. We’re just going to keep plugging away, one week at a time, whoever’s healthy, and help the guys to get healthy as quickly as possible, and just keep on going.”
  • Antonio Gates finished with two touchdown catches, his first since hauling in three touchdown catches against Seattle in Week 2. Gates now has 92 career touchdowns, passing Isaac Bruce (91) and moving into sole possession of 10th place on the NFL’s all-time touchdown receptions list.

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