Wednesday, 16 October 2013

NFL 2013 Week 6: Chargers 19, Colts 9

I have to admit that this is a hard Chargers team to figure out.  Will the real Chargers please stand up?  Are they the buffoonish squad which was humiliated by the clown-posse from Oakland, or the squad from two weeks ago that traded offensive aerial blows with the Cowboys, or this week's team that ran the Colts out of the game?  For yes, the Colts, who had just last week taken care of the powerhouse Seattle Seahawks, fell to the Chargers 19-9 on Monday Night Football.

It's dawning on me that the secret to our success this year will not only be the offensive line generally, but specifically the presence or absence of 6'10" monster left tackle King Dunlap from the active roster.  I'm not sold on him, not yet, mostly due to being burned by another giant re-tread last season in the form of Jared Gaither, but when King Dunlap reigns, his subjects are happy.  With the line clicking, the disjointed, shameful offensive performance from last week was transmuted into a play-it-safe offensive clinic.  Philip Rivers completed 22 of 33 passes, was (only) sacked twice, did not throw an interception, nobody fumbled, and the ground game racked up 147 yards.

So the good thing is that King Dunlap is actually signed for another season beyond this one.  I thought he was a one-year stopgap, but the Chargers tacked on a second year for little guaranteed money, and it looks like they'll benefit from that.  The urgency to pick up a premier left tackle at the next draft, one who can start right away, has been dulled to a great degree.  The team can possibly choose to go 'best athlete available' in the first round, and pick up a developmental tackle in the lower rounds.

It's amazing what a player can achieve with focus.  Mr. Dunlap apparently lost a lot of weight before Chargers camp, and it has apparently helped his quickness and stamina.  He handled the Colts rushers with relative ease in this game.  His athleticism has never been in question, he used to play basketball also in high school, so with the right combination of coaching and conditioning, he may be reaching his potential for the first time in his pro career.

John Pagano stifled the Colts and Andrew Luck somehow, he had to use smoke and mirrors, with Tourek Williams and Larry English as his outside linebackers, and Donald Butler out, meaning naif Manti Te'o had to make the defensive calls.  With this no-name group, John Pagano dealt all sorts of junk from his bag of tricks, including a couple of plays where the Colts O-line faced no down linemen, but a gaggle of defenders milling around, as if standing around at the bus stop.  This play, and a couple of exotic stunts and blitzes that paid off, were enough to stop an offensive team that was rightly feared before the kickoff.

The D was helped immensely by drops from Coby Fleener, Reggie Wayne and Trent Richardson among others.  One drop by Raiders draft bust Darrius Heyward Bey was spectacular, as he was behind the coverage and would have raced into the endzone unopposed, but to be fair to JaMarcus Russell's former colleague, the ball was a touch overthrown.  My coach used to say: "If you touch it, you catch it."  I'll allow that Mr. Heyward Bey could have reeled it in, since it hit him in his outstretched hands, but also have to admit that it was half a step too far for him.

Another way the D was assisted was the Chargers' ground game, which rolled up yards, ate up the clock, and kept Andrew Luck on the sidelines growing increasingly frustrated.  By the time the Colts would get the ball, they never seemed able to get into a rhythm.  Penalties, drops, something would come up and force them to punt.

Speaking of the ground game, Ryan Mathews racked up a hundred yards, and ran with authority, making the right reads, not side-stepping or hesitating and allowing tacklers to stuff him.  He seemed energized, determined, which hasn't always been the case.  A big blemish on his performance though was the decision to run out of bounds on the final Chargers drive as they were trying to drain the clock.  This allowed the Colts to save a precious timeout, and caused coach Mike McCoy to become visibly agitated on the sidelines.  Ryan is talented, but it's still valid to question whether he has the mental makeup to be a successful running back in the NFL.

Conversely, Keenan Allen is a young player who is meeting and exceeding expectations this season.  The talented Cal receiver whose final college season was marred by injury, was drafted in the third round, and the plan was to ease him into the offence, with Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander doing most of the heavy lifting at WR.  With season-ending injuries to both veterans though, Mr. Allen has been forced into a frontline role, and he is responding well.  On this night he caught 9 balls for 107 yards and a touchdown.  If he can keep up his excellent play, and Vincent Brown can bring it up a notch, it may help decrease the amount of double-teams Antonio Gates is seeing.  For this game, the Colts blanketed him and dared the Chargers to throw to their WR's, and Keenan Allen burned them.

So with a 3-3 record and a game in Jacksonville coming up, my semi-serious pre-season prediction of a 4-12 record for the Bolts is now looking unduly pessimistic.  Again, the offensive line was my big worry, I felt that the team would implode around it, but rather it has kept the team afloat.

All hail the King!

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