Wed, Sep 16, 2015

Same Ol' Chargers Rally for Wild Victory

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Receiver Stevie Johnson. Photograph by Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports.

Sunday marked the beginning of a brand new season of Chargers football. And there was plenty of "new" in the air, as San Diego took the field with 19 new players on its roster. But after 60 minutes of wild back-and-forth play against the visiting Lions, one thing became abundantly clear: These are the same old Chargers.

This is not intended to put a damper on an incredible 33-28 victory, one that saw the Chargers reel off 30 consecutive points to dig out of an early 21-3 hole. But the reality is many of the problems that have plagued this squad for the last half decade still persist today.

There were the familiar struggles to get the running game going. Melvin Gordon carried 14 times for just 51 yards, averaging a pedestrian 3.64 yards per carry. It was a tough first test for the first-round pick, as Detroit led the league in run defense a season ago, but this is clearly not the same defense without Ndamukong Suh (free agency) and DeAndre Levy (hip).

Then there were the turnovers, as Philip Rivers' gunslinger mentality got the best of him on a couple of occasions. He tried to force a throw to Keenan Allen in heavy traffic, resulting in a pick-six by Glover Quin. Later, just seconds before intermission, he tried to throw to Malcom Floyd despite tight coverage by Darius Slay, resulting in another interception and taking at least three points off the board.

"He's the biggest competitor in the world," said head coach Mike McCoy of Rivers. "We threw the interception at the end of the half, we talked about it, we moved on and we rallied."

On defense, poor tackling continues to be an issue. Safeties Eric Weddle and Jahleel Addae both missed critical open-field tackles on rookie RB Ameer Abdullah, which is a big reason why the Nebraska product finished with 94 yards from scrimmage on just 11 touches.

Adbullah also added a 48-yard kickoff return, showing San Diego's third phase still has some work to do, as well.

Again, this is not intended to take away from a thrilling Week 1 victory. Because the Chargers did a lot of things right, from Rivers throwing for over 400 yards and completing 83 percent of his passes; to Allen tying a franchise record with 15 receptions; to the defense forcing a pair of turnovers and holding the Lions to a 30 percent success rate on third down.

In every game, both teams do a lot of things well and a lot of things poorly. And that's the biggest concern here: the things the Chargers did poorly on Sunday are the same things that have prevented the team from finishing a season with double-digit wins since 2009.

Lightning Quicks

--San Diego's 30-0 run started and ended with touchdown runs by Danny Woodhead. It was an incredible return for player who had not played in a meaningful game since breaking his leg in Week 3 last season.

--Ladarius Green, who was questionable all week with a concussion, started in place of Antonio Gates and finished with five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. It was his first score since San Diego's playoff win over the Bengals following the 2013 season. Incidentally, the Chargers return to Cincinnati next week.

Green heeded some advice from Gates before stepping into the future Hall of Famer's role.

"[Gates] told me just slow the game down. Don't go out there and try to rush everything. Don't go out there and get frustrated if I mess something up. Just be myself," Green said.

--The retooled offensive line was highly productive, especially in pass protection. San Diego allowed just two sacks on 44 pass attempts, despite playing from behind for much of the game.

"The guys up from were awesome," Rivers said. "The two sacks we gave up were both on me, really. One could have been called a coverage sack and the other one I had Keenan wide open and just didn't see him. To have more than 42 pass attempts and no protection issues is pretty remarkable."

Maintaining that production will be challenging after it was learned D.J. Fluker will miss 4-6 weeks due to a high ankle sprain suffered during Sunday's game. He was replaced by Chris Hairston, who played well as a fill-in and will likely start for Fluker next week, but reinforcements are needed. The Chargers will likely call up Michael Ola or Michael Huey from the practice squad to help fortify the interior over the next few weeks. Ola started a dozen games for the Bears last season.

Things will be tight for the next couple weeks, as Johnnie Troutman is still recovering from an arm injury and Craig Watts has one game remaining on his suspension.

--Allen's big day stole some of the shine from newcomer Stevie Johnson, who had quite an afternoon himself. In his first game in lightning bolts, Johnson caught six passes for 82 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown.

"We felt like we had [the Lions] on the ropes and they weren't going to stop us unless we just didn't execute," Rivers said.

--Another newcomer, fifth-round pick Kyle Emanuel, had a big day on the other side of the ball. The North Dakota State product, filling in for Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring), finished with two tackles, a sack and an interception.

"When you get a chance, you have to make the most of it," Emanuel said.

--The secondary deserves plenty of praise, as well. Patrick Robinson intercepted a pass intended for Golden Tate and returned it 27 yards; that gave Robinson more yards than Tate had all afternoon (24). On the opposite side of the field, Calvin Johnson was limited to just two catches and 39 yards.

--Rookie kicker Josh Lambo hit both field goal attempts, chip shots from 32 and 25 yards, but missed one of his four extra-point attempts wide right.

--New kick returner Jacoby Jones returned one kickoff for 24 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury. If he misses extended time, the team will likely call up Javontee Herndon from the practice squad.

What are your thoughts on the Chargers-Lions game? Discuss in our message boards!

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for and has also been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.

Chris Hairston, D.J. Fluker, Danny Woodhead, Eric Weddle, Jacoby Jones, Jahleel Addae, Javontee Herndon, Josh Lambo, Keenan Allen, Kyle Emanuel, Ladarius Green, Melvin Gordon, Michael Huey, Michael Ola, Mike McCoy, Patrick Robinson, Philip Rivers, Stevie Johnson
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