Film Study: What Went Right and What Went Wrong Against the Dolphins

As you know by now, the Chargers lost in devastating fashion to the Dolphins in week 2. As I did with week 1,  I went back and looked at the film to break down what went right and what went wrong during the game. I won't be pointing out the obvious about what was good or bad (looking at you Younghoe), but instead will be focusing on stuff that might not have been apparent at first glance. Since last week I started with the positive, today I'll start with the negative.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

1. The Interior Offensive Line:

The interior of the Chargers O-line: C Spencer Pulley, RG Kenny Wiggins, and LG Matt Slauson all had decent moments and all 3 were horrific at other times. The inconsistency was maddening as each of them made plays that set the team back significantly. It's especially disappointing to see Pulley regress from his very solid week one, although he was facing an extremely tough matchup with Ndamukong Suh for much of the game.

On this play Slauson, #68 lined up at left guard, pulls out to the right and fails to even get a hand on his man, letting the linebacker land a big hit on Philip Rivers and force an inaccurate throw. Rivers had Antonio Gates breaking wide open down the field to the left right at this time, so if Slauson had even gotten a single hand on his man or delayed him for a half a second, it likely would've led to a big play instead of an incompletion.

On this play Pulley, the center, is slow getting off the line and barely gets a hand on Suh who blows up the play in the backfield and tackles Gordon immediately for a loss. It once again should be noted that it's a tough matchup for anyone to try and block Suh, but you simply can't be that slow off the snap getting to your block against any NFL defender, not just Suh. It looks like the plan in this clip was for Wiggins, the right guard, and Pulley to initially double team Suh to slow him down before Wiggins is supposed to release and head into the second level. Instead Wiggins falls down right after the snap due to a simple one arm shove from Suh, removing himself from the play completely.


On this play near the endzone, it looks like the same situation. Pulley and Wiggins are supposed to each slow him down and double team him initially, and once again they both barely get a hand on him. Suh gets a great jump and goes right around Pulley, who probably should've been called for holding before getting tossed to the ground. Suh is in Rivers' face practically right after the ball is snapped, forcing him to throw it early and out the back of the end zone. If they had succeeded in slowing down Suh for even a second, Rivers would've found Gates open for the touchdown.


2. Run Defense
Jay Ajayi rushed for 122 yards on 28 carries as the Chargers run defense continued to look soft. There were missed tackles all over the field and nearly every time a defender had the opportunity to bring down Ajayi one on one, they failed to do so. The bigger names like Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were good as usual, and even Corey Liguet had a few very good plays but the more under the radar guys all failed to step up. Even Casey Hayward misses a few tackles he should've made. Brandon Mebane failed to win any battles in the trenches and was routinely pushed off the line. On one crucial play with less than 3 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Mebane was blown 5 yards off the line of scrimmage by Dolphins center Mike Pouncey. I'll highlight a couple of the worst moments which embody the type of day the run defense had as a whole.

On Ajayi's second carry of the game Tenny Palepoi (#95), the lineman lined up closest to the top of your screen, is blown off the line of scrimmage on the outside run and pancaked straight to the ground. If Palepoi even manages just to stay on his feet here even if he's being blocked, it would've made the gap for Ajayi significantly smaller and it probably wouldn't have gone for a first down.


On this play linebacker Korey Toomer (#56) actually does a pretty good job shedding his block and gets a clean look at Ajayi near the line of scrimmage. With defenders on either side of him, Ajayi has nowhere to go but right at Toomer, so it's not like it was that difficult of an open field tackle, since there was no threat of Ajayi moving horizontally. It's about as straightforward of a tackle as you'll get in the NFL and Toomer is easily bounced off, turning a 1 yard gain into an 8 yard gain.


So things don't get too doom-and-gloomy, here's a look at a fantastic play by Ingram and Bosa. Ingram blows by the left tackle inside to land the initial hit, and Bosa does a quick swim move to get by the right tackle and finish the play, coming from the other side. Unfortunately for the Chargers, these two can't do everything by themselves.


Overall, it was a second consecutive poor showing for the Chargers run defense. Granted, Ajayi is a tough back to bring down, but you can't allow *anybody* to consistently run through tackles the way Ajayi did and expect to win games. Opposing offenses are likely going to run the ball right at the Chargers until Gus Bradley proves he can clean it up.

3. Mental Errors/Miscommunications

For the second straight week, mental errors plagued the Chargers. While still unacceptable, things like false starts are at least more understandable when coming on the road in a primetime game like last week in Denver. At home they simply can't happen, yet the mental errors were plentiful.

Bosa picked up a personal foul just 6 minutes into the game and 4 minutes later, Tyrell Williams flinched and got a false start turning a 3rd and 7 into a 3rd and 12. A little later on a 4th down and 1, the offensive linemen were apparently unfamiliar with Rivers' terminology as he was screaming "goose" which as as the hot mic picked up Rivers explaining, apparently meant QB sneak. Due to the miscommunication, the Chargers instead picked up a delay of game penalty.

On one of the first plays of the second half, Tre Boston picked up a personal foul, costing the Chargers another 15 yards. These type of things are the difference in close games, and while the Chargers and many fans continue to wonder why they lose so many one possession games, its because of things like this.

Honorable Mention: Coach Anthony Lynn

Lynn made some very questionable decisions for the 2nd week in a row. Let me preface this by saying I like Anthony Lynn. He's a great coach Monday-Saturday, great at being a leader and getting the team to buy in. My disappointment with him is his inability to manage a game so far. His mind seems to be stuck in Buffalo, thinking what worked for him there will work for him here, being able to slow down a game and dominate it on the ground.

Unfortunately he doesn't possess last years elite Bills offensive line here in Los Angeles and he's so far shown no signs of being able to adapt. Against the Dolphins, the Chargers averaged 6.8 yards per play, but somehow put up only 17 points. The reason they did is that despite averaging 6.8 yards per play, the Chargers mind bogglingly ran only 54 plays.

When you're offense is having that type of success, almost entirely through the air, you have to push the tempo and run as many plays as possible. Instead the Chargers slowed the game down, routinely running the play clock almost all the way down for no reason instead of maximizing their amount of plays as the situation clearly called for. The Dolphins were having a much less successful day on offense overall, but ran 68 plays and they each ran about one play every 30 seconds. The Dolphins were having almost all of their success on the ground but still managed to play at the same pace as the Chargers who were shredding the Dolphins secondary. Lynn hasn't shown any willingness to play situational football and seems stubborn, and the Chargers offense will continue to put up underwhelming numbers despite having all the talent necessary until Lynn changes his ways.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Unfortunately, it would be easy to talk all day about all the things that went wrong in this game. Instead let's take a look at a few things that went right.

1. Jahleel Addae

It was clear while watching the game initially that Addae was playing well and showing up all over the field, but upon reviewing the tape it became even clearer what a great day Addae had, making plays against the run and in the passing game.

On this play right before halftime, Addae comes flying in to push Devante Parker out of bounds before he lands. Addae times the hit perfectly, arriving not too early so as to draw a pass interference flag but not too late to allow Parker to land in bounds. If Addae doesn't make this play and Parker comes down in bounds, the Dolphins are in field goal range and very likely get points before the half.

With 7 minutes left in the 3rd, Addae comes up with an excellent run stuff. On a day where much bigger linebackers and defensive linemen regularly struggled to bring Ajayi down 1 on 1, Addae charges in from the secondary and easily cuts him down to force one of very few negative plays on the day.



On the very next play, Addae has another great open field one on one tackle, this time cutting down Jarvis Landry. Addae isn't fooled by Landry's attempted juke, keeping a low center of gravity to stay balanced and make the tackle, and prevents what could've been a much bigger play.



2. Melvin Gordon in the Passing Game

For the second straight week, Gordon struggled to get much going on the ground, but stayed involved in the passing game. He racked up 7 catches for 65 yards on a day where gained just 13 yards on 9 carries. He also performed decently in pass protection. He did allow one bad sack, although Rivers arguably should've been able to get away from it.

Here on the last play of the first quarter Gordon executes a perfect cut block, identifying the blitzing linebacker and neutralizing him. If Gordon doesn't completely take his legs out, Rivers wouldn't have the time necessary to set his feet and deliver a tough throw across the field to Hunter Henry for a big gain.


I won't bother showing you tons of Gordon's catches on the day, but on each of them he showed good hands and good ability to turn up field. This one stands out in particular for his ability to make a defender pause and miss out in space. Early in the second half, Gordon catches a pass behind the line of scrimmage and has a linebacker covering him out of the backfield right in front of him. Gordon makes quick work of the linebacker, making him miss with a quick hesitation move but not hesitating too long so as to allow the help defense to get there before cutting in and picking up the first down.

3. Philip Rivers

Rivers was fantastic, picking apart the Dolphins defense in the intermediary range all day long. Overall he was 31/39 for 331 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers. The blame for the Chargers scoring only 17 points lies mostly with coach Anthony Lynn and his refusal to push the pace. Rivers was dealing all day and very accurate, especially when it mattered most, going 4/4 for 49 yards on the final ill-fated drive.

Since Rivers has been the subject of a lot of criticism recently, I went through the tape and charted each one of his throws. Of his 8 incompletions, only two of them were inaccurate balls. The other 6 came from two throwaways due to immediate pressures, two miscommunications with receivers, one 50/50 jump ball that he chucked up on 3rd and 13 from midfield which was essentially an arm punt if it were to be intercepted near the goaline, and one ball which Travis Benjamin caught but was pushed out of bounds before he could get two feet in.

2 out of 39 throws being incomplete due to inaccuracy is ridiculous, and the game proved Rivers has a whole lot left in the tank even with the disaster outing this past week against Kansas City, and that calls to move on are severely premature.

Honorable Mention: Trevor Williams

Williams mostly held his own and didn't get burned, which is exactly what the Chargers asked of him. He did allow one big completion but mostly kept the Dolphins deep passing game in check and won some tough one on one match-ups with the tough-to-cover Parker.

Here in the endzone, Williams does a great job getting his head around and knocking the ball away from the much taller Parker to save a touchdown. Parker has nearly 4 inches on Williams, so its a very impressive play from someone the Chargers will need to step up big time in the wake of Jason Verrett being out for the season.

There you have it. I'd like to apologize again for the delay, just now getting back to full health, and coverage will be back to normal from here on out.

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