September 23, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) is pressured by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann (71) during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Pressure Points: San Diego Chargers

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We’ll begin this week’s edition of Pressure Points by pointing out that the Chargers, up until being manhandled by the Falcons, were (statistically speaking) regarded by Football Outsiders as among the league’s most the solid, well-rounded teams. As of week 2, FO had them as the 10th most efficient overall, 11th most efficient on offense, 12th most efficient on defense, and 12th most efficient on special teams.  As a result of their performance last Sunday, the Chargers now rank 22nd in overall efficiency, 21st on offense, 20th on defense, and 10th at special teams. I have little doubt that the Chargers are unhappy with how they played against the Falcons and will be seeking to rebound and re-establish themselves as a well-rounded, quality team this Sunday.

Because the overall focus of these articles is to draw attention to potential soft spots of our upcoming opponents, let’s also take a moment to consider the Chargers 2-1 record and how they arrived there. More specifically, how strong was the Chargers start of the season? Well, if you consider the strengths/weaknesses of their first two opponents, I suppose one might reasonably question how much they actually accomplished by beating the Raiders and the Titans. As of week 2, Football Outsiders ranked Tennessee 31st on offense, 28th on defense, and 13th on special teams. The Raiders, as of week 2, were 15th on offense, 25th on defense, and 32nd on special teams.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that the Chargers’ first two wins are entirely attributable to the fact that they faced weak teams only to be exposed in week 3 by what appears to be a very strong team, let’s not overlook the 800 lb gorilla in the room. In spite of a feel-good, rallying win over an 0-3 Saints team, Football Outsiders nevertheless ranks the Chiefs 32nd in overall efficiency, 24th in offensive efficiency, 30th in defensive efficiency, and 28th in special teams efficiency. In other words, as things currently stand, the Chiefs appear to be exactly the kind of team that the Chargers have enjoyed success against. To put it bluntly, in almost every aspect of their game, the Chiefs must either improve immediately or face a season of disappointment, humiliation, well deserved criticism and dashed expectations.

Capiche?

With all that out of way, we’ll begin this by focusing on Phillip Rivers. Three games into the season, FO ranks Rivers 20th in both DYAR and DVOA. Rivers QBR is the 15th best in the league. His TD/INT ratio is 4/3, he owns a  67% completion rate and he’s so far thrown 109 passes for 664 yards.

In this instance, I feel it helps to add a little perspective. As of right now, Matt Cassel is 25th in both DYAR and DVOA, and 16th in QBR. Cassel’s TD/INT ratio is 3/3. He has a 60% completion rate and has thrown 128 passes for 738 yards.

Put simply, 3 weeks in, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that Rivers is putting up somewhat pedestrian numbers and perhaps the Chiefs ought to consider his presence as something  manageable… as long as they step up and do their jobs that is. As we’ve seen in past years, the best way to manage Phillips is to harass him because that’s when he’s most likely to start making mistakes. Whether the Chiefs are up to that task remains to be seen.

Examining the Chargers’ Offensive Line stats, we see that they currently rank 13th most efficient in pass protection; so, if past performance is any indicator, hassling Rivers won’t be particularly easy. As far as the run game goes, the Chargers, while 20th overall, are the 25th at the 2nd level (5 – 10 yards). They do however rank highly in short yardage situations, so keeping them 3rd and long as much as possible should probably be a key objective for the Chiefs. As far as lanes and gaps are concerned, the Chargers have been very effective (6th best) when they run between the guards but, everywhere else, they rank in the bottom half of the league.

Definitely also worth noting here is that the Chargers starting left tackle is a rookie free agent, Michael Harris, who’s filling in for Jared Gaither, who missed nearly all of training camp and the first three games due to a lingering back problem. He did, however, suit up for practice this week so whether or not he is ready to go for Sunday remains to be seen. I’m guessing Gaither will not be 100% and most likely not starting if he suits up.

Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers are below average in a number of areas based on Football Outsiders’ stats. They are 20th against the pass. Their defensive line ranks 27th in beating pass protection. They rank 29th against #1WRs, 24th against passes to RBs, and 18th against “other (e.g., slot) WRs.” If Cassel can be protected and is accurate, there may be opportunities to find success with the likes of Bowe, McCluster, Charles and perhaps even Copper in the passing game.

While 5th overall in defensing the run, the Chargers nevertheless appear to have some exposure against the run. For example, they rank 32nd against power running and are 20th in stuffs. Their weakest spots on the line appear to be the B gaps, where they are 27th on the left side and 21st on the right. Interesting enough, it also appears that their apparent vulnerability on the left side has not been well tested by opposing offenses. The league average attempts to the left B gap is 14% of carries while the Chargers have so far only dealt with their opponents targetting that gap at a 10% rate.

To summarize, on offense, the Chargers main vulnerabilities appear to be: 1) a quarterback with a tendency to make mistakes when pressured, 2) running outside the guards, 3) getting to the second level, and 4) left tackle. On defense, the Chargers appear to be vulnerable against 1) #1 WRs, 2) passes to RBs and “other WRs, ” and 3) runs that target the B gaps, particularly the left B gap.

Those are the Chargers’ pressure points. Addicts, let’s hear your thoughts on what the Chiefs need to do to beat the Chargers.

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