Los Angeles Chargers fans saw unlikely contributors and surprising coaching decisions lead their team to a big divisional victory against the Oakland Raiders.
Let’s play a game: I’m going to give you three options, and I want you to tell me which one sounds like the player you would expect to take a receiver screen to the house to ice the game for the Los Angeles Chargers:
- Melvin Gordon, who has 261 receiving yards (9.3 average) and three touchdowns this year.
- Keenan Allen, who has 372 receiving yards and is the No.1 receiver on the team.
- Austin Ekeler, who has 207 receiving yards, a whopping 14.8 yard average, and scored on a 44-yard touchdown on a dump off earlier in the game.
Congratulations, I’m a terrible game host, and you’re all wrong; the answer was Virgil Green, the run-blocking tight end with just eight receptions on the year prior to that touchdown. Wait, what?
That’s what the Oakland Raiders were thinking all game, and even Chargers fans were confused by what they were seeing on the field. Earlier in the game, even I had to do a double take when the screen showed defensive end Melvin Ingram take a goal-line rush. What’s going on with this team?
There’s a philosophy change on offense, defense, and (eh) special teams that demonstrates a sign of good things to come, and a movement towards breaking the traditional mold that the organization is accustomed to.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the offense trying to score with six seconds left in the second quarter, 53 yards away from the end zone and up 17-3. Rivers moved the ball eight yards, drew a roughing the passer penalty on the next play, and put the team in a position to go up three scores.
True to form, though, Caleb Sturgis missed the 49-yard attempt, but it opened my eyes to a different kind of decision from the coaching staff than I’m used to seeing.
On defense, coordinator Gus Bradley allowed rookie Derwin James to line up over the line, fake blitz, and drop into coverage. The restraint shown to have your team leader in sacks drop back on third down to confuse Derek Carr paid off in a big way.
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That half a second delay by Carr now forced to read a new coverage helped the rest of the defense accumulate three quarterback sacks, holding the Raiders to just 289 total yards. That’s smart playcalling, and it led to the best defensive performance by this unit all season.
Even the decision to make Desmond King the punt returner has paid dividends for this team. The team’s No. 3 corner looks sure with the football, averaging 14.6 yards per punt return and 25.5 yards per kick return, both positive numbers that give the team hidden yardage before the offense has stepped onto the field.
Fire the holder, let Mike Williams rush the ball, and let Philip Rivers sneak for first downs.
I’m good for it all, and the Chargers are riding a two-game “winning streak” and sit at second place in the AFC West because of it. The status quo lets revolutionary teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams wipe out cautious ones, and the Chargers dropped both games because of it. This team has talent, and if the coaching staff can continue to take a philosophy that explores every option for the betterment of the franchise, fans are all for it.