None of those four players practiced this week for San Diego.
Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) is listed as doubtful for Thursday's game. Attaochu was a limited participant on Wednesday.
Cornerbacks Jason Verrett (shoulder) and Steve Williams (groin) are listed as questionable. Both players also were limited participants at San Diego's hour-long practice on Wednesday.
D.J. Fluker (ankle), Dwight Freeney (non-injury related), Rich Ohrnberger (back) and Kavell Conner (ankle) are all listed as probable for the Denver game.
If Verrett does not play on Thursday, Richard Marshall likely would get his second start this season at cornerback opposite Shareece Wright.
Verrett, who missed last week's game against Kansas City with a shoulder issue, said he's working to get back on the field.
“Right now I just need to talk to the trainers about everything,” Verrett said. “It's just the mental part of the game. Dealing with injuries is going to come with the game. Part of getting through injuries is making sure you're keeping your body up and dealing with things mentally. So that's my main focus right now.”
With Mathews and Brown unavailable, rookie Branden Oliver will get his fourth straight start at running back.
And by churning first downs on offense, quarterback Philip Rivers essentially played keep-away from Manning.
Mathews ran for 127 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. The Chargers held the ball for more than 38 minutes. And Denver’s offense finished 2-of-9 on third down, helping San Diego earn a 27-20 victory.
Can San Diego put on a repeat performance on Thursday night?
“We want to be on the field as much as we can,” Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “We want to play our game. And that is our game. Our game is convert on third down, mix it with the run and pass, be efficient and score touchdowns in the red zone.”
Reich went on to say that undrafted rookie free-agent running back Branden Oliver will get his opportunities on Thursday. Oliver has rushed for over 100 yards in two of San Diego’s past three games.
“Against this defense you want to stay out of third-and-longs against those pass-rushers that they’ve got over there,” Reich said. “So we want to have positive plays, stay in phase and try to keep doing what we want to do. And Branden has been running the ball great, so we’re going to try to get him more touches than he had last week.”
Oliver rushed 16 times for 69 yards in a loss against Kansas City last week.
Rivers said whether or not his team runs the ball effectively or controls the clock, there’s one thing the Chargers have to do -- score early and often. Denver is averaging a league-best 31.5 points per game.
“I don’t think we go into the game playing keep-away,” Rivers said. “We go into the game playing to score. And if we score fast, great -- but we’ve got to score. You can’t go three to four possessions without scoring. We did that in the playoff game, and when you look up it was 21-0, 17-0 or whatever it was, just like that. And that’s not a team you want to be playing catch-up with all day long.”
As the NFL's trading deadline -- Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 4 p.m. ET -- approaches, we explore four explosive, albeit unlikely, possible deals.
Proposed trade No. 4:
Actually, the Chargers desperately need a center -- they've started four players at the position and placed two of them on injured reserve. Problem is, their best external options are probably Jeff Saturday and Matt Birk, who are retired and woefully undersized after drastic weight loss.
Let's send them the next best thing: a ferocious veteran running back who can put them over the top. Don't laugh. Through seven weeks, San Diego has the third-best point differential (plus-70) in the NFL. The Chargers think this is their year, and Lynch would thrust them into the frothy Super Bowl discussion.
At 28, he's not quite the beast he once was, but Lynch can still bring it. He's the Seahawks' leading rusher with 420 yards, and quarterback Russell Wilson (327 yards) is the only teammate close in that category.
Chargers: 9th (26.3)
Broncos: 1st (31.5)
Chiefs: 13th (23.7)
Raiders: 31st (15.3)
Quick-hit thought: The Chargers were held to their lowest point total (20) against the Chiefs since the team's opening-season, 18-17 loss at Arizona.
Chargers: 3rd (16.3)
Broncos: tied-6th (20.2)
Chiefs: tied-6th (20.2)
Raiders: 25nd (26.3)
Quick-hit thought: The Chargers have given up a total of 14 points through seven games in the first quarter.
Chargers: 2nd (53-of-103, 51.5 percent)
Broncos: 8th (35-of-79, 44.3 percent)
Chiefs: 3rd (41-of-81, 50.6 percent)
Raiders: 22nd (28-of-73, 38.4 percent)
Quick-hit thought: The Chargers finished 3-of-10 last week against Kansas City on third down, the worst they've done all year through seven games.
Chargers: 22nd (40-of-88, 45.5 percent)
Broncos: 8th (33-of-89, 37.1 percent)
Chiefs: 3rd (25-of-74, 33.8 percent)
Raiders: 32nd (45-of-85, 52.9 percent)
Quick-hit thought: Teams with good pass rush are generally good on third down, and the Chargers face another talented pass rush unit in the Broncos on Thursday.
Chargers: 4th (plus-6, 9 takeaways, 3 giveaways)
Broncos: tied-9th (plus-2, 6 takeaways, 4 giveaways)
Chiefs: tied-23rd (minus-2, 4 takeaways, 6 giveaways)
Raiders: 27th (minus-4, 6 takeaways, 10 giveaways)
Quick-hit thought: The Chargers have three giveaways, second to Seattle's two.
RED ZONE OFFENSE (based on TD percentage)
Chargers: 17th (14-of-25, 56.0 percent)
Broncos: 1st (15-of-19, 78.9 percent)
Chiefs: tied-4th (14-of-20, 70.0 percent)
Raiders: tied-4st (7-of-10, 70.0 percent)
Quick-hit thought: The Chargers have just three rushing touchdowns this season.
RED ZONE DEFENSE (based on TD percentage)
Chargers: 32nd (11-of-15, 73.3 percent)
Broncos: tied-6th (10-of-20, 50.0 percent)
Chiefs: 12th (9-of-17, 52.9 percent)
Raiders: 9th (14-of-27, 51.9 percent)
Quick-hit thought: DC John Pagano might be running out of ways to keep teams out of the end zone inside the 20-yard line.
TIME OF POSSESSION (OFFENSE)
Chargers: 5th (32:37)
Broncos: 15th (30:07)
Chiefs: 7th (31:55)
Raiders: 32nd (25:01)
Quick-hit thought: Chargers held the ball for a season-low 21 minutes in loss to Kansas City.
The San Diego Chargers dropped five spots to No. 7 in the latest ESPN NFL power rankings after the team’s 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
And the Chargers face the No. 1 team in this week’s poll, the Denver Broncos, on Thursday.
However, the Chargers have a little bit of history working in their favor. Quarterback Philip Rivers is 10-6 all-time as a starter during the regular season against the Broncos, winning four of his last five contests at Sports Authority Field.
In this ESPN Insider piece, NFL Insider Mike Sando gives the Chargers a 35 percent chance to win the AFC West. Sando: “Like Denver, San Diego has a defense with improved talent and a quarterback playing at an MVP level. The Chargers know how to play the Broncos. They have held Denver to 24 or fewer points twice since the start of last season. Seattle and Kansas City are the only other teams to do so.”
Bill Barnwell of Grantland speculates that Chargers running back Donald Brown could be the next Percy Harvin – shipped by San Diego to another team before the Oct. 28 trading deadline due to lack of production. Brown has yet to return to the field after suffering a concussion against the Jets on Oct. 5. Brown is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry. Barnwell: “Brown is still struggling to overcome his concussion, so a trade would be unlikely, but even when he comes back, he would be a third option behind Oliver and Ryan Mathews.”
In this ESPN Insider piece, ESPN NFL handicapper Dave Tuley has the Chargers tied at No. 5 in his Vegas NFL power rankings.
Former NFL sports agent Joel Corry, writing for CBS Sports.com, believes Rivers is on his way to joining the $20 million a year NFL quarterbacks club. Rivers’ contract is up at the end of the 2015 season.
Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego provides a breakdown of a survey e-mailed to Los Angeles-area residents on behalf of the NFL in order to gauge fan interest in an NFL team returning to that area.
Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes that Keenan Allen’s impact is more than his stats.
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com says the Dwight Freeney relishes the opportunity to unload on former teammate Peyton Manning.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated offers a good story on D.J. Fluker battling through homelessness as a teen to make it to the NFL.
Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus writes that no NFL running back has more attempts on draw plays than Branden Oliver. According to Jahnke, Oliver has 61 yards and a touchdown on 12 draw plays this season.
Along with Flowers, inside linebacker Manti Te'o (foot), outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, center Rich Ohrnberger and running backs Donald Brown (concussion) and Ryan Mathews (knee) did not practice on Tuesday.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy indicated that Freeney and Ohrnberger did not practice in order to take a rest day for this week.
Cornerbacks Jason Verrett (shoulder) and Steve Williams (groin), along with outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) were limited participants. Verrett and Attaochu did not play last week against Kansas City, but could be impact players on defense against a talented Denver offense led by Peyton Manning.
However, defensive coordinator John Pagano said his defense has to be ready no matter what players are healthy on Thursday.
"Whoever is up on Thursday night, it's our job to get them in position to go out there and make plays," Pagano said. "We've played at times this year through this stretch at a high level. But we've got to a better job of getting these guys coached up better, and getting them to go out on the field and execute better."
OFFENSE (Based on 52 offensive snaps)
Quarterback – Philip Rivers 52.
Running back – Branden Oliver 39, Ronnie Brown 13.
Wide receiver – Keenan Allen 51, Malcom Floyd 49, Eddie Royal 32, Seyi Ajirotutu 2.
Tight end – Antonio Gates 32, David Johnson 20, John Phillips 14, Ladarius Green 8.
Offensive line – Chad Rinehart 52, King Dunlap 52, Rich Ohrnberger 52, D.J. Fluker 52, Johnnie Troutman 31, Chris Watt 21.
Offensive analysis – Green’s eight snaps were the fewest he’s played since not playing a single snap against Jacksonville due to a hamstring issue. ... According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs blitzed just 9.1 percent of the time on dropback passes against Rivers, the lowest amount of blitzing he’s face since the start of the 2012 season. ... The Chargers have fumbled six times this year but have lost none, the only team in the NFL to have not lost a fumble. ... Rivers finished 5-of-9 for 47 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions on third down. Rivers was not sacked, posting a 70.1 passer rating on third down.
DEFENSE (Based on 74 defensive snaps)
Line – Kendall Reyes 59, Corey Liuget 57, Sean Lissemore 33, Tenny Palepoi 18, Ryan Carrethers 13.
Linebacker – Donald Butler 74, Dwight Freeney 46, Jarret Johnson 44, Reggie Walker 44, Andrew Gachkar 34, Kavell Conner 29, Tourek Williams 10.
Secondary – Eric Weddle 74, Marcus Gilchrist 73, Shareece Wright 73, Richard Marshall 57, Jahleel Addae 46, Brandon Flowers 20, Chris Davis 6, Steve Williams 3, Darrell Stuckey 2.
Defensive analysis – Carrethers finished with a career-high five solo tackles on just 13 snaps. ... Weddle led the Chargers with eight solo tackles. ... Alex Smith finished 11-of-12 for 72 yards, no touchdowns and interceptions on third down. Smith was sacked once and posted a 74.8 passer rating on third down. ... The Chargers are No. 4 in the NFL with a plus-6 turnover differential. ... Wright leads the Chargers with four penalties for 32 yards.
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.”
Let's take our weekly deep dive into the Sunday performance of five NFL quarterbacks, using data supplied by analyst Jacob Nitzberg via ESPN Stats & Information. After all, the numbers don't always speak for themselves. (For all Inside Slant posts, including the weekly QB Report, follow this link. For a full statistical breakdown of all NFL quarterbacks, see ESPN.com's QBR page.)
Through three quarters of a 27-0 loss to the Colts, Dalton averaged a staggering 1.96 yards per attempt (49 yards on 25 attempts). He converted only one first down via pass (on 11 attempts) and his third-down QBR was 3.9 (out of 100). And the Bengals went three-and-out on each of their first eight drives, the highest consecutive total in a game since 2011, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Why did this happen? It's likely that Dalton missed receiver A.J. Green -- he completed only two passes of at least 10 yards downfield, his lowest total of the season -- but this might be one occasion where we credit the opposing defense. Of Dalton's 20 incompletions, nine were pass breakups by the Colts, tied for second-most in a game this season. The Colts also managed to put Dalton under duress on 29.3 percent of his dropbacks, his most in a game in the past two seasons, even though they blitzed less frequently than usual (33.3 percent versus 39.8 percent). Finally, the Bengals managed a season-low 1.0 yards before contact per rush against the Colts' defense. First contact came at or behind the line of scrimmage on six of their eight first-half rushes. In other words, the Colts beat the Bengals up front.
Surely this game wasn't Dalton's finest moment and he could have played better. But more often than we care to admit, it's not just about what you did. Based on these numbers, the Colts deserve much credit for Dalton's bad day.
Total QBR was designed to provide more context and breadth to a quarterback's evaluation than simply passer rating. So it's worth digging into why Luck had a 105.7 passer rating after a 344-yard day but only an average 49.2 QBR. Nearly two-thirds of his yardage total (215 of 344) came after the catch, and 38 of his 42 attempts traveled less than 15 yards downfield. In fact, 28 of Luck's passes traveled 5 yards or less downfield -- one short of his career high. So when you look to dish out credit for those yards, a majority should go to Luck's receivers. QBR also attaches weight to individual plays, and both of Luck's touchdown passes came in the second half -- during which the Colts maintained a double-digit lead thanks to their defense. In the first half, meanwhile, Luck had thrown incomplete on all four of his third-down attempts. He took two sacks on third down as well.
By no means did Luck play poorly Sunday. But not every 344-yard performance is the same. In this case, QBR leads us in different directions than simply the quarterback when digging deeper into the reasons for the Colts' success.
The Chargers turned away noticeably from what has worked best for them in 2014, a contributing factor in their loss to the Chiefs. Rivers threw the fewest number of passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage -- eight -- in any game this season. He completed five of them, also a season low. All told, those passes represented a season-low 25.8 percent of his total attempts, and Rivers averaged 2.5 yards per attempt on them. The latter was his lowest figure in a game in seven years. Meanwhile, Chargers receivers, who have excelled after the catch, were stymied by the Chiefs' defense. They totaled 28 yards after the catch, the second-fewest in a game this season and the second-fewest by a Chargers team since at least the start of the 2006 season. How did the Chiefs accomplish this relative shutdown? They blitzed on only 9.1 percent of Rivers' dropbacks, the smallest percentage he's faced in a game since the start of the 2012 season, and played coverage the rest of the time.
It would be premature to suggest the Chiefs "solved" the Chargers' efficient offense. But their approach made sense and kept Rivers from getting into his usual rhythm.
Rodgers' 19 completions in 22 attempts translated into an 86.4 completion percentage, his career-best mark in a start. And on the strength of a 59-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordy Nelson, Rodgers also averaged 11.6 yards per attempt -- the third-highest mark in his career for a game he threw at least five passes. After the Nelson touchdown, Rodgers didn't throw another pass that traveled at least 15 yards downfield until his final throw of the game. Two throws of 15-plus yards in a start are tied for the second-fewest in his career. Since telling Packers fans to "R-E-L-A-X" prior to Week 4, Rodgers leads the NFL with 13 passing touchdowns and a 93.2 QBR. His completion percentage jumped from 62.7 to 70.6 during the past four weeks, in part because he has cut back on under- and overthrows. He averaged 6.7 inaccurate throws prior to "R-E-L-A-X" and 4.25 since. Rodgers has an NFL-high nine passing touchdowns in the red zone since that point and also has been more successful in targeting receiver Randall Cobb. They connected for a completion on 14 of their first 21 targets this season but have now hit on 20 of their past 25, for 320 yards and five touchdowns.
Rivers and Peyton Manning have received most of the quarterback headlines this season, but for the past month, neither has played as well as Rodgers. Sunday's game capped a remarkable four-week stretch even by his standards.
Much was made of Tannehill opening the game with 14 consecutive completions. He finished the first half with a 93.3 completion percentage, the highest for a quarterback in a game this season. But it's worth pointing out that all but one of those 14 completions traveled less than 15 yards downfield. Overall, Tannehill attempted just three passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield -- his fewest in a game this season. In other words, Tannehill and the Dolphins were on board with an NFL trend that recognizes how easy it can be to complete short passes. Tannehill was accurate in his own right, however; only two of his incompletions were judged in video review to be over- or underthrown. That's the lowest such figure of his career. The Dolphins gained 84 rushing yards on 17 zone-read plays, including a 30-yard run from Tannehill on fourth-and-1. That success helped Tannehill complete 11 of 13 play-action passes. He had entered the game with the eighth-lowest completion percentage (60.8) on play-action throws in the league.
Tannehill had an accurate day and the Dolphins provided him a smart game plan. The Bears' defense has been atrocious at times this season, and Tannehill's 15-for-18 performance against their standard rush is a strong indicator of the Bears' ineffectiveness. Regardless, this type of quick-hitting passing game should be one Tannehill can sustain against other opponents as well.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland does not like coaches icing the kicker in general and specifically disagreed with San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy’s decision to take a timeout at the end of the game to ice Kansas City kicker Cairo Santos. The rookie went on to make a 48-yard field goal for the winning margin, leaving the Chargers with just two timeouts to get into field goal position.
Barnwell: “By using a timeout there, McCoy either thinks the game is over if Santos makes the kick or thinks that the power of icing is so impossibly strong that it’s worth significantly affecting his chances of tying or winning the game after the kick. If McCoy literally could have pelted Santos with ice as he attempted the kick, it probably still wouldn’t have been worth using that timeout. McCoy has made some curious decisions in the past, including attempting a 50-yard field goal over trying to convert on fourth-and-inches to seal up a game against the Colts last year. His team probably loses this game anyway, but McCoy actively made it harder to win.”
Chargers center Nick Hardwick tells Steve Hartman and Mike Costa of Xtra 1360 Fox Sports San Diego that Denver quarterback Peyton Manning could have vision issues against San Diego’s defense in this audio link. Hardwick: “We’ve got a great record against Peyton Manning. Our defense causes him problems. I don’t think he trusts his vision when he plays us because I don’t think he knows what he’s looking at, which is hard to say for Peyton Manning because he in general knows exactly what he’s looking at. But when you make up your mind to do something, you can get out there and they (Chargers) can make it happen on a short week. I think it’s a great way to just push this loss aside.”
Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times reports that the NFL will send out a comprehensive survey to 2,000 potential customers in the Los Angeles area to better gauge the demand for a team to relocate to Los Angeles.
ESPN NFL Nation Broncos beat reporter Jeff Legwold writes that Denver is ready for a quick turnaround.
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com provides five lessons learned from San Diego’s loss to Kansas City.
Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego writes that Dwight Freeney finally gets a chance to hit former teammate Peyton Manning.
Rick Drummond of Pro Football Focus notes that rookie nose tackle Ryan Carrethers played well for the Chargers in his look back at the San Diego-Kansas City game.
McCoy said after Flowers was evaluated by the team's medical staff, he was cleared to return to the field. But after a few defensive snaps, Flowers left the field again, and was taken to the locker room. Flower came back out with the rest of the team in the second half, but never returned to the field.
"We'll go through the normal protocol in the next couple days," McCoy said about Flowers. "If he's healthy enough to play, he'll play. If not, he won't play."
The Chargers did not practice on Monday. But according to league rules, the Chargers had to release an estimated injury report.
According to that report, Flowers, Donald Brown (concussion), Ryan Mathews (knee), Manti Te'o (foot) and Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) would not have practiced on Monday. Jason Verrett (shoulder) and Steve Williams (groin) would have been limited participants.
McCoy does not know if Verrett, who missed the Kansas City game, will be ready for Thursday.
"He's working extremely hard," McCoy said. "He worked extremely hard last week. And we've got a couple days before we play."
The Chargers will face the Broncos for the fourth time in a year.
“It’s a team we’re not freaked out to see,” Johnson said. “If you’re going to play a really good team that you don’t play much, or that you’re not familiar with, you have to watch more film to become familiar with them.
“We know their guys. We know what type of players they are. We know what type of offense they have. So it absolutely helps.”
And San Diego defeated Denver in a similar Thursday night contest last year, 27-20 on Dec. 12.
“That was probably our best ballgame last year,” Johnson said. “Now that’s not going to help us Thursday night – just because you did it last year doesn’t mean you’re going to do it again. We have to have a good week of preparation. And we have to go out and execute against an extremely good opponent.”
For a second straight season, the Broncos lead the league in scoring, averaging 31.5 points a contest. But the Chargers held Denver to an average of 24 points a contest in three games last season.
While the Broncos have had a couple personnel changes on offense this year, Johnson doesn’t expect to see a whole lot of new looks on Thursday.
“If I was a betting man, I would bet that they haven’t changed a whole lot,” he said. “They still have Peyton Manning as their quarterback. He’s been doing what he’s doing for a long time. He’s thrown in some different wrinkles since he’s been in Denver, compared to when he’s been in Indy. But for the most part they are going to do what they do. And they’re really good at it.”