San Diego Chargers Positional Grades at Season's Midpoint

Rick DevereuxContributor IIOctober 28, 2013

San Diego Chargers Positional Grades at Season's Midpoint

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    While it is not mathematically the half-way point in the San Diego Chargers’ season, the Bye Week is a great time to assess where the Bolts stand after seven games in the 2013 season.

    New head coach Mike McCoy has the team playing with confidence and believing in the system he and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have installed. The game plan seems to include long, sustained drives that take what the opposing defense gives them, with safe, sure short passes that reduce the chance of turnovers.

    Through seven games, the Chargers average time of possession per game is 33:18. Only three teams in the NFL average more.

    Each unit has had good games, and each unit has had bad games.                                    

    Through seven weeks, the grade for each unit is an average of each game grade so far.

Quarterback

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    Philip Rivers has been mentioned as a dark horse MVP candidate behind Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

    No full time quarterback has completed a higher percentage of passes than Rivers’ 73.9 percent. He trails only Manning in passing yards (2,132) and completions (184). He is tied with Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford for second-most TD passes in the NFL with 15.

    Rivers best game was arguably against the Eagles when he completed 36 passes on 47 attempts for 419 yards and three touchdowns.

    On the flip side his worst game was against Oakland when he tossed three interceptions and forced the ball downfield. A case could be made the first game of the season was his worst game when he completed a season-low 48.3 percent of his passes against Houston and committed a crucial turnover at the end of the game. But he did throw four touchdowns against the Texans, so it is kind of a toss-up.

    For the most part, though, Rivers has been brilliant and moved the offense on long drives. He has created a relationship with young receivers and has executed the no-huddle superbly by recognizing what the defense is doing and calling audibles to attack the weakness.

    He has four 400-yard passing games this season. He had three total in his previous nine seasons.

    Rivers also surpassed 30,000 career passing yards and passed John Hadl to move into second on the Chargers all-time passing list behind only Dan Fouts.

    Grade: A-

Running Backs

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    Possibly the best free agent move in all of the NFL last offseason was San Diego adding Danny Woodhead to the roster.

    The former New England Patriot has been a Swiss Army knife for the Chargers running the ball, catching passes and returning kickoffs.

    Woodhead leads all running backs with 40 receptions on the year. He looks like the best running back on the roster in terms of following blockers. His four total touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing) are second on the team.

    His best game was against Dallas when he abused linebacker Bruce Carter for two receiving touchdowns.

    Ryan Mathews had a slow start to the season gaining 234 rushing yards in the first five games, but he has 212 rushing yards in the last two games. It was the first time he surpassed 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games since going three straight games over the century mark in 2011.

    Ronnie Brown is probably the pass blocker of the running backs, but he has been in on 98 of the team’s 499 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus Premium. Brown allows the Chargers an option at tailback if/when Mathews and Woodhead are both tired, or they want to put Woodhead split wide as a receiver, but still have a running threat and/or someone to pick up the blitz in the backfield.

    Fullback Le’Ron McClain is decent as a lead blocker and picking up the blitz. He only has eight carries on the year, but according to NFL.com four of those have resulted in first downs.

    Grade: B

Wide Receiver

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    The receiving corps has suffered season-ending injuries, but the entire unit rose to the challenge and has become a strength of the team.

    Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander are out for the year, but their absence allowed younger players to gain valuable playing time.

    Rookie Keenan Allen has come on strong in the last three games, hauling in 18 catches for 289 yards and two touchdowns. He was named Rookie of Week for his performance against the Colts when he caught nine passes for 107 yards and one touchdown.

    Vincent Brown has 26 receptions, tied with Allen for the most by a San Diego wide receiver. Allen, Floyd and Eddie Royal each have one dropped pass, but Brown is the only Charger receiver without a dropped pass according to Pro Football Focus.

    Royal has had a resurgent year. He opened up the year with an eye-popping five touchdowns in the first two games. He cooled down after that hot start, but he had a good game against Jacksonville right before the bye.

    Floyd, Allen, Brown and Royal are the only receivers on the roster to register receptions this season.

    Grade: B-            

Tight Ends

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    The tight ends as a group have been steady throughout the season.

    Antonio Gates continues to add to his Hall of Fame resume.

    He leads the team with 42 receptions and 497 receiving yards, but he only has two touchdowns.

    Even when he does not get the ball, his presence frees up teammates to make plays. In the Jacksonville game, defenders cheated to the tight end allowing Eddie Royal to slip into the end zone, and against the Cowboys a cornerback switched to defend Gates leaving a linebacker on Danny Woodhead, who ended up getting a touchdown.

    Gates does have five dropped passes, and he had a costly fumble against the Eagles, but he has looked more like his old self rather than just looking old.

    Ladarius Green has shown he is a legitimate option to take over the tight end receiving duties once Gates decides to hang up his cleats. Green has five receptions with zero drops for 113 yards.

    John Phillips is the best blocking tight end on the roster, but he also has two receptions for 12 yards.

    Grade: B+

Offensive Line

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    One of main reasons the Chargers struggled in 2012 was the offensive line. The unit allowed 49 sacks last year, which was fourth-most in the NFL.

    One of the reasons San Diego has a winning record and Rivers is playing so well is the offensive line. Rivers has been hit a league-low 18 times in 2013.

    Rookie tackle D.J. Fluker struggled early, but eventually adjusted to the NFL and has played exceptionally well. Against Jacksonville Fluker was asked to move from right tackle to left tackle, a move far more difficult than moving from left to right tackle, as the top two draft picks (Eric Fisher in Kansas City and Luke Joeckle in Jacksonville) had to do. Fluker played so well he was named Rookie of the Week.

    Jeromey Clary moved from right tackle to right guard. When he and Fluker double team a defender, there is a massive hole. His history at tackle has proved invaluable as linemates get injured and he is asked to go back to his old position.

    Chad Rinehart was brought in to man the left guard spot, but he has an injured toe and has not played since Week 3.

    King Dunlap was signed in free agency to be the starting left tackle. He played fantastic when he was in, but has missed two-and-a-half games with concussions.

    The steady presence of Nick Hardwick at center has helped this unit through shuffling lineups due to injuries. Hardwick is quietly having one of the best seasons in his 10-year career. He is the only person on the team to play every offensive snap.

    Rich Ohrnberger is a reserve guard who had to start a game at left guard when Rinehart went down.

    Johnnie Troutman started four games at left guard. He showed aggression pulling on run plays and good awareness on pass plays. He did have a sloppy game against the Colts, but this is basically his rookie season as he sat out all of 2012 with a pectoral injury.

    Steve Schilling made an appearance in the Dallas game and was average. He is a useful reserve who can play multiple spots.

    Undrafted free agent Nick Becton was inserted in the Raider game, and despite a penalty on his first professional play, he did a decent job.

    Mike Remmers was on the field for four plays in Jacksonville before he injured his ankle.

    The offense is fourth in the NFL, averaging 402.9 yards per game. While Rivers, Woodhead, Gates and the receivers deserve credit, none of it is possible without the guys up front handling business.

    Grade: B-

Defensive Line

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    The defensive line was supposed to be a strength of the team as almost every “expert” gushed over ends Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget.

    Instead, the two have struggled to make an impact.

    Liuget has been more visible the past three games (two sacks and eight QB hurries), but fairly quiet all season (two sacks and eight QB hurries all season).

    Cam Thomas is still tied for the team lead in interceptions after he picked off the first play of the season. He, like the rest of the defensive line, has far too often been pushed back into the linebackers on run plays.

    Reserve Sean Lissemore has been adequate.

    Jarius Wynn had a sack against the Eagles, but was released after Week 5 and was picked up by the Cowboys.

    Lawrence Guy was signed before Week 7 and had a QB hurry against the Jaguars in his lone appearance for San Diego.

    Undrafted free agent Kwame Geathers has seen action in five games, but has had a limited impact.

    The expectations were high, maybe too high, for this unit. Losing various linebacker help seems to have cost this group in terms of a pass rush, but there is no excuse for the poor performance against the run.

    All stats were courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

    Grade: C-                                             

Linebackers

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    This unit has been racked by injuries much like the wide receivers and offensive line.

    The difference has been those two groups were able to overcome the injuries, whereas the linebackers have failed to be a major force.

    Melvin Ingram was lost on the first day of offseason practices and Dwight Freeney was brought in as a replacement.

    Freeney looked fantastic to start the season, but he injured his leg against Dallas. He still leads the team with 15 QB hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Fellow outside linebacker Jarret Johnson leads the team with four sacks, even though he has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury.

    Inside linebacker Donald Butler has missed two games with a groin injury, but he did not look great when before the injury. It could have been because the defensive linemen were being pushed into him.

    Rookie Manti Te’o has played 128 defensive snaps in four games. He has been eased into the NFL and he has eased into being a productive member of the defense. According to NFL.com, Te’o has 12 solo tackles in four games.

    Larry English has filled in well. The former first-round draft pick has 12 QB hurries and has been active stopping the run.

    Reggie Walker has shown off his speed when on the field.

    Andrew Gachkar and Bront Bird may not be liabilities on defense, but it is hard to call them play makers either.

    Thomas Keiser had two QB hurries against Indianapolis and then two sacks against the Jaguars, so hopefully the week off does not rob him of his momentum going forward.

    Rookie Tourek Williams has started the last two games, but Keiser has outplayed him in every phase of the game.

    While the linebackers have failed to make big plays you want, the defense is doing something correctly as it has held opponents without a touchdown in 11 straight quarters. While it would be easy to point out two of those opponents were the Raiders and the Jaguars, do not forget Andrew Luck and the Colts were kept out of the end zone, too.

    The Chargers have only allowed two rushing touchdowns all season, and the time of possession battle favoring San Diego also needs to be mentioned as positives for this unit.

    Grade: C

Secondary

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    Andre Johnson.

    DeSean Jackson.

    Nate Washington.

    Mike Brown.

    The San Diego secondary allowed these four receivers to gain a combined 590 yards.

    Matt Schaub.

    Mike Vick.

    Jake Locker.

    Chad Henne.

    These five quarterbacks threw a combined 1,391 yards against the Chargers.

    Every time a team drops back to pass, it seems as if Chargers’ fans are watching the game through their fingers scared to see what the outcome will be. Sometimes it seems as if the defensive backs are doing the same thing.

    The team is last in the NFL with three interceptions, and one was the nose guard on the first play of the season.

    According to NFL.com only the Raiders, Jets and Texans have fewer passes defensed than San Diego’s 29.

    Some of the porous pass defense can be attributed to an inconsistent pass rush, but not all of it.

    The defensive backs have also committed 29 of the team’s 46 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Grade: C-

Special Teams

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    Kicker Nick Novak is 14 of 16 on field goal attempts with two blocked kicks. He drilled a last-second game winning kick against Philadelphia and also connected on a 50-yard attempt against the Colts.

    Novak does not have the strongest leg on kickoffs where eight of his 38 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. That is the worst percentage of touch backs of any kicker in the NFL according to NFL.com.

    Mike Scifres has had 11 of his 24 punts stop inside the 20 yard line and zero have resulted in touch backs.

    The coverage units have allowed an average of 8.3 yards per punt return and 26.0 yards per kickoff return.

    Keenan Allen only has two punt returns on the year, but his 16.0 yards per return average is the most for anyone without taking one to the house.

    The Chargers have averaged 23.8 yards per kickoff return.

    Grade: B-            

Coaching

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    Head coach Mike McCoy has done some amazing things.

    But he has also done some amazingly boneheaded things, too.

    The game plans have been almost flawless. Short passes have kept the defenses away from quarterback Philip Rivers. They have also helped maintain an edge in time of possession.

    The defense has been “bend but don’t break” for three straight games.

    The assistants, especially Joe D’Alessandris and Andrew Dees on the offensive line and Fred Graves with the wide receivers, deserve credit for having the reserves ready to contribute when injuries shuffle the lineups.

    But McCoy has had rookie mistakes, like going for it on fourth-and-goal at the end of the half and not getting any points, throwing a challenge flag on a play that is automatically reviewed and not dropping injured players from the game day roster.

    McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich have helped Philip Rivers return to elite status.

    Grade: B+