Going into the game on Sunday, there was one thing the Chargers knew they could not let happen. Fall behind. Even with the help of two first half turnovers caused by the Charger’s defense, San Diego saw themselves down 14-0 at half time.
Similar to the previous week in Cincinnati, Philip Rivers barely threw the ball in the first half amassing less than 50 yards in the air. Ken Whisenhunt attempted to stick with the offensive game plan the team had finished the season with. The only problem was Ryan Mathew’s health. The feature back that got the 2013 Chargers to where they are was simply not good to go. Many were optimistic of his chances to play based off of his practicing regiment in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. He had practiced only one day a week the last few weeks of the season in order to nurse his ankle injury. San Diego probably knew Mathews was going to be limited as he only rushed 5 times for 26 yards.
Despite Ryan Mathew’s limitations, Whisenhunt tried to keep with the game plan. Instead of going to the air, in which we all know Rivers has had success in his career, the Chargers offense stuck with a running game in Danny Woodhead. The problem was it was not getting them anywhere.
The Chargers only had 4 offensive drives in the entire first half (excluding the kneel down possession at the end of the first half). Their game plan was to waste the clock and keep Manning off of the ball. The irony is their game plan did the exact opposite. The Chargers were conservative and ran the ball in the first half. On the first drive, Rivers was sacked twice. Maybe this had something to do with the play calling decisions, but Rivers was only sacked 2 times thereafter.
Denver’s first scoring drive was the longest of the season, running 14 plays for over 7 minutes of game clock. It was if the Bronco’s took a page out of Mike McCoy’s playbook and ran the ball against the Chargers. It was not even the running game, but it was the short passing game that kept the clock going too. That is something many will speculate and point out the Chargers should have switched to in order to keep their ball-control game plan. The Chargers defense forced 2 turnovers in the first half, one which seemed to be a sure touchdown drive as Manning was intercepted in the end zone with 30 seconds left in the first half. The fact that the Chargers were only down 14 at halftime was lucky.
Here is a stat for you. Even though the Chargers turned to Danny Woodhead to run the ball, he still only gained 29 yards on 9 rushes. The Chargers only had 15 carries from running backs. That tells us mainly that the Chargers just did not have the ball that much in this game. What is even more peculiar is Ronnie Brown only received one carry in the entire game. Danny Woodhead is a great player but he is nothing more than a role-player 3rd down passing kind of a back. Ronnie Brown is your backup guy and he had a decent game last week. Sure, his stats were aided by a 58-yd touchdown run, but he still came to play. He is a bigger guy and I feel they should have given him more opportunities if they were trying to run the ball.
The Broncos did an excellent job of playing keep away from the Chargers offense, who only hurt themselves by not converting on 3rd down. This season the Chargers led the entire NFL in 3rd down percentage but only went a mere 4/12 (33.3%)on 3rd down in this contest. Meanwhile the Denver Broncos went an excellent 9/13 on 3rd down. Even going down 17-0, the Chargers still had a chance to win this game. All the Chargers needed was stop on 3rd down on the Broncos last drive which would have given San Diego the ball with over 2 minutes left in the game down 7. The first opportunity was a 3rd-and-17 which they predictably blew. Demaryius Thomas was wide open on the sideline. At that moment there was actually over 3 minutes left to play. The second opportunity was barely at midfield where San Diego had a chance on a 3rd-and-6 and could not convert.
This is similar to how the Chargers were in 2012. Their defense recorded the worst 3rd down percentage since any defense in the mid-90s. Although they moved up to 12th worst this season, it still has not cut it.
Sure the Chargers fell behind in this game, but still put themselves in position to win. A great deal of things happened and did not go San Diego’s way, but that could have all been forgotten about with a slim victory. Keenan Allen did an excellent job in the second half where he scored 2 touchdowns and helped lead the comeback for the Chargers. He finished with 6 receptions for 142 yards. Keenan seemed to be the only Chargers player to get open all game. Or maybe it was the the aggressiveness of Rivers to go to Keenan in crunch time. It really makes one think how this game would have gone if they opened up the passing game in the first half instead of trying to be conservative and inevitably having to go to the passing game.
To me this game showed a lot about just who the 2013 San Diego Chargers are. Yes, the defense came alive late in the season, but still overall did not play very well. They got knocked off the ball on many occasions and really struggled against both the pass and run. They cannot get stops when you absolutely need them too in the clutch. This game might have been different since they were on the field a majority of the game, but Championship teams and defense find a way to get off the field on 3rd-and-17 when a Superbowl Run and your season is on the line.