I sat in the rafters at University of Phoenix stadium, better known as the home of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. The Chargers closed week one of the NFL regular season against the Cardinals. From my seat, parallel to the ten yard line three rows from the top of the stadium, I couldn’t be happier to see my guys in lightning bolts take the field.
The electricity filled the stadium long before kickoff and didn’t dissipate until after the stands had cleared over three hours later. Kurt Warner was on hand to initiate the coin flip. He would be inducted into the Cardinals Ring of Honor at halftime. The Chargers won the toss and chose to kick off. The regular season had finally begun for our beloved bolts. This wasn’t my first Chargers game, I started going to games two seasons ago. This was my first Chargers road game and first time at a Monday Night Football game. I could barely sit still as other members of Chargers Nation provided a great turnout for the road team.
The game started. When the Chargers finally took the field on offense I sat ready for fireworks. The whole half passed and I wasn’t getting what I came for. There were some excellent plays made by both teams. The Chargers forced an Andre Ellington turnover and the defensive line got penetration, harassing Carson Palmer most of the half. Rookie Jeremiah Attaochu blocked a punt. A Cardinals cornerback made a great diving interception of Rivers that led to a field goal as halftime descended with a score of 6-3, Cardinals.
I couldn’t help but shake my head. The whole team was out of sync. The running game was going nowhere. Rivers didn’t look as crisp with his passes as he usually does. Receivers dropped ball. Antonio Gates dropped a ball! Rivers overthrew Malcom Floyd who had gotten a good two steps behind the Cardinals defense and there was nothing but green between him and the end zone had that pass hit its target.
Where was this no-huddle offense that was supposed to be unveiled? I understand not showing it during preseason but now it’s game on! Wins and losses count. I watched each play and after each play was a normal huddle. No muddle huddle. No nothing. No one was more excited than yours truly to see Philip Rivers dissect a defense in the no-huddle offense OC Frank Reich spoke of implementing. It never happened. Ironically this would have been the perfect team to unveil it against. The Cardinals had lost the meat of their defense during the offseason. Daryl Washington is lost for the year after his second incident involving banned substances. Karlos Dansby left for Cleveland. Darrell Dockett was injured in camp and will be gone all year. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was not activated for the game. With the instability on the defensive line, it would have been a great idea to blitz all the unproven players with nonstop offense and light up the scoreboard like Times Square on New year’s Eve.
After halftime, it seemed like Warner’s speech fired up the Chargers instead of the Cardinals as the Chargers bolted out of the locker rooms and delivered two touchdowns in the second half as they shut down the Cardinals offense and went ahead to take the lead 17-6 going into the fourth quarter. The reverse happened in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals capitalized on Chargers errors and responded with two field goals and a touchdown to eek out a one point win.
Like the rest of us, I had a lot to cheer about in that game, especially in the third quarter. Similarly, there was a lot that left me scratching my head.
On the positive side, Malcom Floyd looked great on the field. He showed his speed, got behind the defense on a couple occasions and showed he is all the way back. Antonio Gates showed he is still the go-to guy in the clutch. Despite the drops, the Cardinals were forced to rotate coverage to him throughout the game. Jeremiah Attaochu showed he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Attaochu blocked a punt, forced a fumble sacking Carson Palmer and was in on a host of tackles. I heard Mantei Te’o name quite a bit it seemed. Te’o even caught Ellington on an open field tackle which is an achievement in itself. Hopefully this is a sign Te’o is okay and will be a key contributor on defense as well. The defense played great for three quarters, holding the Cardinals to two field goals despite giving up big plays. For a change, they managed to force turnovers and come through on third downs keeping the game close at hand.
Conversely, the defense fell apart when the Chargers needed it most. With a 11-point lead going into the final quarter, a playoff level team should be able to close the show, even on the road. All the key stops ceased in the fourth quarter. Carson Palmer, who would probably tie Rivers in a 40-yard dash, was allowed to leave the pocket and pick up first downs with his legs. The Chargers couldn’t produce anything in the run game against a patchwork Cardinals defensive line. Aside from Mathews’ touchdown run, the Chargers running backs barely advanced past the line of scrimmage on most attempts. On a related note, guess who was the second leading rusher for the Chargers: that’s right, Philip Rivers! Rivers 10-yard first down run put him second behind Mathews 40 yards rushing. Atrocious. The run defense also needs work. They allowed an injured Ellington to rush for 53 yards on 13 carries and the Cardinals as a team ran for over 100 yards including 29 from Palmer. Lastly, there were too many missed sacks. Not tackles, sacks. By my count, at least four times the pocket collapsed on Palmer and it looked like the sack was imminent. Lo and behold, out pops Palmer getting away and picking up positive yardage or at least getting back to the line of scrimmage.
By the way, Mike McCoy, please stop running Eddie Royal on end arounds. Thank you.
The Chargers and Monday Night openers don’t seem to mesh well as of late. Correction, the Chargers and the fourth quarter of Monday Night Football season openers don’t seem to mesh well. For the second straight year, the Chargers gave up a fourth quarter lead in the last three minutes of the game, and took the loss. The good news is last season, after taking that loss on the chin from the Texans, the Chargers faced the Eagles who had unveiled the Chip Kelly offense against the Washington Redskins and their blowout win was the talk of the league. The talking heads got on the bandwagon and some had the nerve to say they would post 50 on the Chargers in week 2.
The Chargers took the challenge, marched into Philadelphia and beat the Eagles at home to the shock of the league. This season the Chargers face a bigger task. The Chargers face the defending champion Seattle Seahawks sunday. David to the Seahawks Goliath, the Chargers will again shock the NFL world with a win. Seattle will be the opening home game for the Chargers. No one is expecting the home team to win, but I for one will not be shocked if they do. The Chargers have no weaknesses that can’t be fixed and there were plenty of missteps to be coached up on before the Seahawks arrive which is a good thing. Expect a better, more focus squad on gameday.
The Greg One