Four Conclusions From Tampa Bay

1. Danario Alexander should be the starting WR2

Source: Team photographer Mike Nowak

Against Tampa Bay Danario Alexander got the start over Robert Meachem, who had just returned from injury.  Alexander played an impressive number of snaps, 59 of 66, more than any offensive player except for Rivers. For good reason, his performance turned out to be equally impressive.

His stat line of 5-for-7 for 134 yards and 1 TD doesn’t even tell the whole story. All of his five catches resulted in a first down and, coincidence or not, were in third down situations. Against Kansas City he caught 3-for-3, of which two were good for a first down. Adding these numbers it means that seven of his eight total catches moved the sticks and kept the Chargers offense going.

The fact that Alexander has proven to be a trustworthy route runner and target for Rivers also means that opposing defenses will have to count for him as well, drawing attention away from top receivers Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. Both of them had a touchdown in the last two games!

The Missouri WR had always shown production and talent in college, but missed the draft due to extensive knee surgery. He was signed by St. Louis in free agency in 2010. In his two years with the Rams lingering knee and hamstring injuries kept him on the sidelines for extensive periods. Obviously though, with his height of 6-5 and clear athleticism, when healthy, he’s too much of a legitimate threat not to let him start.

2. The Chargers run D is legit, also without Aubrayo Franklin

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

The Chargers lost starting nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin late in the second quarter. At 6-1, 315-pound, stuffing the middle of the line, he’s an important reason for the Bolts’ much improved run defense.  They are currently ranked second in the NFL with an average of 82.9 rushing yards allowed per game.

After exploding in the previous two weeks, Tampa Bay’s rookie running back sensation Doug Martin was held to only 68 total rushing yards by the Chargers run defense. In the second half, after Franklin had left the game, he was allowed 36 yards on 13 carries – an average of 2.8!

With 5 solo tackles, 2-for-loss, and 1 assist, Corey Liuget was in beast mode again. He too has become a very important part of the Chargers’ improved run D. He’s holding the line. Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas, sharing snaps, did an admirable job filling in for Franklin.

While there’s no denying that the Chargers run defense suffered a significant loss with Aubrayo Franklin likely to miss multiple games because of his bruised knee bone, the above mentioned second half performance gives reason to remain optimistic.

3. Mike Harris deserves more credit

Source: Team photographer Mike Nowak

When it was announced that Jared Gaither wouldn’t be able to play against Tampa Bay and Mike Harris was going to start in his place, negative comments on social media didn’t take long to emerge. Most of them aren’t justified if you ask me.

I’m not going to claim Harris is as good as a healthy Gaither, but he held up pretty well against the Buccaneers. Immediately from the start Rivers was able to make a number of deep throws to Floyd and Gates. Later he completed a few more to Alexander and Floyd. Hard not to get sarcastic to those critical of Harris, but, even with him at left tackle, Rivers obviously did have enough time for those plays to develop and reach a deep target.

Rivers was sacked twice. The first one was in the middle, away from Harris. On the second sack, in the fourth quarter, Harris got beaten on the inside. So yes, this one was his fault, but for those paying close attention, it’s not like Gaither never gets rushed around.

Some people seem to forget Harris is still a rookie. For what can be expected of him he’s really doing a good job. Is the left side of the O-line better off with a healthy Gaither playing, of course, but to say it’s like Swiss cheese with Mike Harris taking the snaps… just NO!

4. Philip Rivers is still an elite quarterback

Source: Team photographer Mike Nowak

Before you think I’ve gone insane, let me add “in the first half“. Unfortunately, a full NFL game consists of four quarters and two halves.

Against Tampa Bay Rivers’ stat line at halftime was 16 of 18 for 218 yards and no interceptions. On top of that, the Chargers had three scoring drives of 80 yards. Remember, against Kansas City he was almost perfect in the first two quarters, completing 13 passes in a row, before throwing that ugly end zone interception.

Lets take a look at Rivers’ first half stats so far in 2012. He’s 115 of 160, a completion percentage of 71.9, with 12 TDs, 5 interceptions, and a QB rating of 109.1. With these numbers it’s hard not to consider him an elite quarterback.

Now, by comparison, in the second half his stats show quite a different picture. With 89 of 140, a completion rate of 63.6%, just 3 TDs(!), 7 interceptions, and a QB rating of 66.1, he’s an average quarterback at best.

To explain such a big difference in numbers between the first and second half is difficult. It’s hard to imagine it’s on Rivers alone. Why he keeps forcing throws into tight coverage, inevitably leading to interceptions, is anyone’s guess.

Rivers is a pocket passer, if he’s forced to scramble to his right he may always feel rushed. Is that an excuse? No! Another theory is that he feels pressure for Norv Turner, which could be a weight on his shoulders. Or should I say “throwing arm”. Ironically, the result is exactly the opposite.

As fans we’ve become extremely frustrated, but it can’t be as hard for us as it is for Philip Rivers himself. He’s an absolute professional, a fighter, in his mind he must still be an elite quarterback. He’s got first half stats to back that. Now he’s just got to find a way to avoid those stupid mistakes.

[All stats via NFL.com/ESPN]

 

 

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