Drew Brees continues to be effective. On third down when everyone knows where the ball is headed he has been still able to thread the ball into Antonio Gates. Now, Brees finds himself with another weapon he can use and seemed to have a nice rapport. While he did not throw any touchdown passes, he did enough to get the team into scoring position and win the game.
The Carolina defense looked really good against LaDainian Tomlinson. Or is it that Tomlinson has been a shell of himself with his groin injury. No disrespect to the Carolina defense, but Tomlinson usually breaks one per game and he doesn't seem to have that extra cut and burst these days. Have you ever tried running with a sore groin? It can't be pleasant. And Tomlinson fumbled for the first time in ages – it wasn't a sight many care to see again soon. Jesse Chatman, meanwhile, continues to defy the odds. He has been excellent and has mimicked Tomlinson in style – breaking off a 52 yard run. His average per carry on the year is 7.75. Not bad for a lowly backup. Considering he got his yards in crunch-time, even more impressive.
Keenan McCardell was everything we imagined. He got open, showed veteran savvy and confidence and made plays. His presence will open up the game for other receivers and the running game. Even Eric Parker had four catches which tells us there is someone else to worry about for opposing defenses and Brees can spread the ball around a little more.
Put in another weapon and Antonio Gates just keeps on trucking. He led the team in receptions and was again the key progression on third down. He made an excellent first half catch and provided another all-around good game. And by the way – that was a catch.
The run blocking didn't provide Tomlinson with much running room and he needed it all being on the mend. The unit buckled down late in the game and provided enough gaps when the Carolina defense knew the run was coming. That is a sign of intestinal fortitude. The pass protection was solid for most of the game as Brees had time to deliver the ball to his supporting cast.
The bigger backs have given the Chargers 3-4 defense fits of late. Brad Hoover looked like an All-Pro on many of his carries and he did it by shedding many of the initial tackles and arm bars. The strategy seems simple – run to the side where Jacques Cesaire and DeQuincy Scott line up. Igor Olshansky showed some progression as he was in on a number of plays. When he made a tackle, the play went no more than four yards and he had three tackles that were either at the line of scrimmage or behind it.
You have to go back to November of 2002 to find a day where Donnie Edwards made hi presence felt less than this past Sunday. He is the same guy who had 15 tackles three Sunday's ago but now other people are elevating their game. Randall Godfrey had a dumb penalty but otherwise played well. He had two key stops inside the ten yard line that prompted Carolina to settle for field goals.
For the first time in recent memory, Quentin Jammer was the one being picked on. Was it because Drayton Florence was on the other side. Tough to say since an injury sidelined Florence. Jammer was good in coverage but was called for two pass interference penalties, as is his M.O. Sammy Davis bounced back and batted away two balls intended for Carolina receivers. Terrence Kiel had his best coverage day, although he did allow a running back to get past him. He had an interception and three passes defensed. The secondary was credited with eight passes defended – historic numbers never seen before by this group.
Nate Kaeding missed a field goal for the first time this year and it was a chip shot. Had it been of a longer variety it could be excused but from inside 30, he has to make them. He came back later in the game to hit a 44 yarder. None of his kickoffs reached the end zone but Carolina did not get to the 30 yard line when returning any of them – kudos to the coverage unit. Three of Mike Scifres' five punts landed inside the twenty and not a one of the five was returned. Solid again. The return team had nothing special about it.
When the rush clearly wasn't working, the staff decided to go to the pass to open it up in the second half. It worked like a charm. The defense didn't exactly stop the run but they did come up big in pass coverage. Schottenheimer surely motivated the secondary by benching his first round draft pick to begin the game. It has been 37 games since the Chargers defense held a team to zero touchdowns.
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