QB Philip Rivers (Sam Greenwood/Getty)
The Chargers struggled in all three phases of the game and fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-17. Philip Rivers tossed two interceptions, the defense failed to record a turnover or a sack, and Darren Sproles was held in check. However, it was a fourth phase--coaching--that really did in the Chargers.
The offense scored only three points in the first half but started clicking as the game progressed. Philip Rivers completed 22 of 40 passes for a season-high 309 yards, hitting seven different receivers. His favorite target was LaDainian Tomlinson, who led the team with five receptions for 93 yards.
Tomlinson picked up 62 rushing yards on 16 carries (3.88-yard average), along with a 6-yard touchdown that put him one behind Walter Payton on the all-time list. Tomlinson is now 23 rushing yards shy of 10,000 for his career.
Several receivers authored noteworthy performances. Chris Chambers snagged four balls for 93 yards, his best numbers since joining the Chargers. Craig Davis caught three passes for a season-high 39 yards, and fellow rookie Legedu Naanee caught a career-high three passes.
The defense performed admirably against Jacksonville’s relentless rushing attack, but came up lacking in the big-play department. The Chargers came away with no turnovers and no sacks for the first time all season.
Especially disappointing was the lack of a pass rush, which allowed David Garrard to get comfortable in the pocket and pick his spots downfield. Neither Shawne Merriman nor Shaun Phillips has a sack since week six, something this defense cannot afford.
“They were staying at the line of scrimmage two-gapping, waiting for the ball to come out of my hands and trying to knock it down,” Garrard said. “They were successful a couple of times and they stopped some pretty big plays that were going to develop if the ball got down the field.”
The lack of a pass rush exposed a secondary that appeared disjointed without Antonio Cromartie making highlight-reel plays. Marlon McCree’s limited range is especially problematic, as it leaves the secondary vulnerable up the seams.
Darren Sproles averaged 5 yards per punt return and an anemic 7 yards per kickoff return. None of the special teams delivered any big plays after the Chargers scored five touchdowns on special teams during the five previous games.
The biggest problem remains the incompetence of the coaching staff. The Chargers are regularly out-coached on both sides of the ball and the players are fighting an uphill battle because of it.
Norv Turner’s play calling has become too predictable. The Jaguars stopped the Chargers’ final two drives of the third quarter by sniffing out an inside run to Lorenzo Neal on third-and-one and a run-pass option on fourth-and-two, respectively. Sammy Knight also blew up a misdirection screen pass to Antonio Gates on the final play of the first quarter, a play Turner has gone to one too many times.
On defense, Ted Cottrell’s read-and-react scheme is neutralizing his two biggest playmakers –- Merriman and Phillips –- and exposing a secondary that needs a torrid pass rush to be successful.
The Chargers are by no means a lost cause. Jack Del Rio called them one of the most talented teams in the league before Sunday’s game and he stood by that statement when it was all said and done. He warned his team in the locker room after the game not to take the Chargers lightly, because they may meet again.
“If we don’t win our division, there’s a good chance we’ll play them at their place,” said Del Rio, referring to a possible matchup between the four and five seeds.
The Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Indianapolis Colts today, 13-10, and the Denver Broncos host the Tennessee Titans on Monday night. A win by the Titans means the Chargers would go into week 12 in sole possession of first place in the AFC West, with a home game against the 4-6 Baltimore Ravens on tap. Although the Chargers aren’t satisfied with how they played, they feel fortunate to still be sitting in the driver’s seat.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.