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08 Oct 2013

Any Given Sunday: Raiders Over Chargers

by Mike Ridley

Just three weeks ago, Philip Rivers was being lauded in this column for his turnover-free performance as he meticulously picked apart a troubled Eagles secondary in route to an upset of Philadelphia. Time has revealed that the Eagles defense isn’t exactly the best measuring stick, but in the two weeks following, evidence continued to suggest that Philip Rivers might have righted his ship.

Coming into Sunday night (or Monday morning for our East Coast readers), Rivers had a DYAR of 575, trailing only Peyton Manning. On the season, he had 1,299 yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions, including two consecutive games completing over 83 percent of his passes. By almost any statistical measure, it was Rivers’ best start to a season since becoming the starter in 2006.

Cue the music for the dramatic twist.

Just as he was starting to lure fans and fantasy owners back into his corner, Rivers busted out a performance that came to define his last two seasons. Despite throwing for over 400 yards for the third time this season (and just the sixth time of his career), Rivers tallied three interceptions to offset his two touchdown passes. The backbreaker came when Rivers was picked off in the end zone by D.J. Hayden as the Chargers were trying to close the gap to three late in the fourth quarter.

To put all the blame on Rivers, however, would be inaccurate. The Chargers troubled run game and special teams gaffes helped the Raiders to jump out to an early lead. Rivers' two late interceptions may have sealed the game, but the other Chargers miscues were a large reason they found themselves in such a hole to begin with.

By the VOA

VOA is Victorious
Team Off. VOA Def. VOA Special Teams VOA Total VOA
OAK 14.9% 1.7% 13.3% 26.5%
SD -0.7% 11.8% -8.8% -21.3%

VOA confirms what was easily deciphered during the game; Oakland played efficiently, albeit unspectacularly, while San Diego was plagued with mistakes in all three phases of the game. Had San Diego pulled this out, they would’ve became just the 12th team (out of 280) to win a game that featured five turnovers and zero takeaways.

Play of the Game

With 10:04 left in the second quarter and the Chargers trailing by 14, Mike McCoy kept his offense on the field for a 4th-and-goal attempt from the 1-yard line. San Diego went four-wide, trying to stretch out the Oakland defense. Despite the Raiders being spread out, the Chargers’ offensive line failed to create push and Oakland stuffed Danny Woodhead for no gain, forcing a turnover on downs.

Although the Raiders would go on to punt nine plays later (which Eddie Royal would muff), the stop helped keep the Chargers off the scoreboard in the first half and allow the Raiders to amass 17-point lead to start the second half.

Pryor’s Progression

Terrelle Pryor famously mentioned this offseason that he had just recently learned to throw a football correctly. He spent time working with former major-league pitcher Tom House, offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo on learning the fundamentals and finer points of being a passer. The improvements he worked on this offseason were evident on Pryor’s first pass of the game, a 44-yard bomb to Rod Streater for a touchdown. Pryor continued to impress throughout the game, going 18-for-23 while showing off improved footwork, mechanics, and readings of the defense.

His improved mechanics paid huge dividends in deep passes. Against San Diego, Pryor went 4-for-5 on passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, amassing 82 DYAR in the process. This comes as a stark contrast from Week 1, which saw Pryor go 2-for-8 with two interceptions and a DYAR of -40. Pryor still tends to slightly underthrow his deep balls, but since Week 1, he is showing a much more fluid release and his improved footwork has greatly helped his accuracy.

Another thing that sticks out on tape is that even when Pryor is scrambling in the backfield, he’s doing a fantastic job of keeping his eyes downfield. Instead of looking to pick up the first down with his feet, Pryor keeps his focus on what’s happening downfield, even while doing Houdini impressions in the pocket. It’s this focus that allowed arguably the biggest play of the second half to happen. On third-and-14 from the Oakland 41, Pryor juked one defender, sprinted towards the sideline and shot a laser to Brice Butler for a 20-yard gain just before being hit. This conversion extended a drive that would result in a field goal that give the Raiders a 10-point cushion.

With the recent release of Matt Flynn, the Raiders have shown that they are all-in on Pryor for the 2013 season. If he can continue to improve his fundamentals and pair them with his natural-born talent, the 2014 season may be his, as well.

San Diego's Struggling Secondary

At 2-3, the Chargers are already three games behind both Denver and Kansas City, but sit just one game back of the sixth wild card spot. If the Chargers have any hope of making the playoffs this season, not only will Philip Rivers have to limit his turnovers, but the defensive secondary will also have to improve.

Following Sunday’s game, San Diego defense against the pass was among the worst in the NFL. Their 1,444 yards allowed is fourth worst in the league. They also feature the NFL’s second-worst catch percentage allowed (71 percent) and DVOA against wide receivers (22.3%). They have not even faced Peyton Manning.

Newcomer Derek Cox has repeatedly been beaten this year and was again on Streater’s touchdown. Streater was able to gain a couple steps on him, and had Streater not slowed down to catch the ball, he would have gone into the end zone untouched. This was a recurring theme for Cox, who didn’t appear to stop any passes thrown at him. If San Diego wants to improve their 28th ranked DVOA against number-two receivers, Cox must play much better.

Eight-year veteran Richard Marshall didn’t fare much better, either. As Aaron Schatz noted in Audibles, Marshall tried to sell a flop on the Denarius Moore touchdown reception, but ended up slipping instead. Marshall’s worst play of the day, however, came on a 33-yard fly route by Moore. Moore had a few steps on Marshall up the sideline, and was allowed to catch up (and ultimately commit pass interference) only because Pryor slightly underthrew the speedster. With Shareece Wright being limited with hamstring issues, Marshall's play is all the more important to the Chargers' defensive success.

Going Forward

The Raiders came into the game with the third-worst team defense DVOA. The yards they were allowing weren't alarmingly high, but the Raiders hadn't forced many turnovers. Their three takeaways were tied for the third-lowest total in the AFC after four weeks.

Sunday night, the silver and black had five takeaways in a game for the first time in two years, including grabbing their first interceptions of the season and converting three first-half turnovers into 17 points. They also blanked an opponent through two quarters for the first time since Week 15 of last season, when they shut out the 2-14 Chiefs. While Oakland deals with the growing pangs of Terrelle Pryor's development, it will be important for the defense to give the offense more short fields to work with if they hope to stay out of the Jacksonville zone.

In San Diego, Mike McCoy's new system continues to drive the AFC's second-best offense. The Chargers are currently averaging over 104 more yards per game than their 2012 mark and can seemingly move the ball on anyone, as long as they limit turnovers. The Chargers main culprit for their losing record has been their inability to stop anybody on the other side of the ball.

Through four weeks, the Chargers' defensive line was ranked dead last in our Adjusted Line Yards metric, which measures how effectively the front four stops the run. The Chargers also ranked 31st in Second Level Yards, which measures yards earned 5-to-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, and were in the bottom third of the league in DVOA against passes to both tight ends and running backs. Putting these puzzle pieces together, it's easy to see how San Diego has the worst DVOA on defense by an 8.2% margin. Maybe Manti Te'o's presence will help steady things, but the Chargers are still a few players away from fielding a competent defense.

Posted by: Mike Ridley on 08 Oct 2013

15 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2013, 3:57am by pelangsing herbal

Comments

1
by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Tue, 10/08/2013 - 3:01pm

Ya, that pretty much sums it up.

Poor secondary play was predictable, but its been especially disappointing that Reyes and Liuget have fared so poorly through five games.

2
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 10/08/2013 - 3:44pm

"Pryor still tends to slightly underthrow his deep balls"

Given how NFL refs officiate games, is that an error or a strategy?

3
by Anonymoussssss (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 12:46am

A fine example of overreacting to one game regarding Pryor. He did well against a bottom three pass defense. Even his first pass of the game was under thrown, but that doesn't fit the narrative so it's conveniently not mentioned. My guess is people will again soon realize Pryor is nothing more than a backup at best and this unsubstantiated praise will be forgotten.

5
by SFC B :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 5:49am

Hi Mrs. Flynn.

Seriously though, given the QB quality that the Raiders have dealt with over the past few seasons, I'd think that "competent back-up QB level" play would be an upgrade for them. Having an offense that can hold its own against the bottom third teams in the NFL is something which might help them identify and focus on other areas that need help.

4
by Anonymoussssss (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 12:50am

He was 18/23 221 YDS 2 TD 0 INT and yet only had 27 DYAR. No mention of that or Pryor's anemic second half. Hmmm.

6
by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 5:58am

He was also making his fifth career start, a week after missing a game with concussion, lacking his primary RB (D-Mac) for the game and the backup (Jennings) for much of the 2nd half. Reece by all accounts hadn't recovered 100% from the prior week either.

His O-line was missing the only two quality players - Veldheer and Wisniewski - and of course Menelik Watson who, whilst yet to play a game was expected to start. G Nix was also banged up, had missed the last 2 games and missed most of practice during the week. Bergstrom was supposed to be a starting guard this year but was lost in preseason- as was David Ausberry who was supposed to be the starting TE.
In other words, just Briesel was playing on the OL/TE Sunday out of the expected starters (and he was the weakest link in the expected lineup) and the RB & primary backup were also out. Only the receiving corps- inexperienced as it is, could be called remotely healthy - which means 3rd yr 5th rounder Moore, 2nd yr undrafted Streater, 7th round rookie Butler and oft-injured 4thyr 4th rounder Ford.

Pryor is playing essentially his rookie season with no O-line, no consistent backfield and an expansion franchise set of receivers. Flynn clearly showed last week how bad this offense can look.

And Pryor's not only providing a spark, but a couple of wins too, and actually looking like a competent passer at times. At times he fired balls into tight coverage for real strikes to convert third downs etc. He's had six games, but I'm actually starting to believe he could be a decent NFL QB. In which case Oakland can spend its $70m salary cap room next year on a half-decent supporting cast, hopefully.

AND I get to see him at Wembley next year!

7
by ourDsux (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 11:12am

Both Cox and Marshal need to be cut. I wouldn't bet money that they could even cover me. and I'm in my 50's and run slower than molasses. Granted, our pass rush isn't getting any pressure. But, any decent QB could complete a pass even under pressure with those two covering receivers. They couldn't cover a bed with a blanket.

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