AFC West: San Diego Chargers

SAN DIEGO – With two games left in the season and fighting for their playoff lives, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has not been an active participant in the early portion of practice available to reporters this week.

Rivers
Rivers was in uniform, but did not do any individual drill work on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Rivers was not on the field during the early portion of practice available to reporters.

No reason was given for Rivers’ absence from practice by the team on Wednesday. However, Rivers was listed as having a chest and back injury on the team’s injury report last week. Rivers has started 142 straight games, the NFL’s second-longest active streak behind Eli Manning (166).

Along with Rivers, running back Ryan Mathews (ankle), receiver Keenan Allen (shoulder), defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle), tight end Ladarius Green (concussion, ankle) and punter Mike Scifres (shoulder) were not on the field for the early portion of practice on Wednesday.

Chargers need to get off to a fast start vs. 49ers

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
10:00
AM ET
video
ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams talks about the team getting off to a fast start offensively to dictate tempo against 49ers.
video
SAN DIEGO -- On his second and final interception of the afternoon, another ill-advised pass intended for Antonio Gates picked off by safety Rahim Moore, quarterback Philip Rivers could barely run in pursuit.

Rivers has been listed on the San Diego Chargers' injury report with a chest issue since Gates mistakenly revealed his quarterback had been dealing with a rib injury in mid-November. A back ailment was added to the injury report in addition to the chest injury this week.

But Rivers refuses to use the nagging injuries as an excuse for his recent poor play.

"It's not limiting," he said. "The opposing defenses in the last two weeks have been the biggest reason."

Facing an AFC Super Bowl contender for a second straight week in a 22-10 loss to the Denver Broncos, Rivers and San Diego's offense predictably struggled. San Diego also had to deal with the absence of the team's top running back, Ryan Mathews, who had to sit out due to an ankle injury.

Rivers finished 24-of-41 for 232 yards, one touchdown pass to Gates and two interceptions. Rivers was not sacked, so he had good protection most of the game. But even with enough time to find receivers down the field, he posted a 62.2 passer rating.

San Diego's offense scored just two touchdowns in the last eight quarters of work. Put together by offensive coordinator turned head coach Mike McCoy, the Chargers were built from an offensive mindset.

But lately the defense has been shouldering the load. San Diego's defense held two of the highest scoring offense in the league to an average of 22 points a game. But the Chargers still lost.

Rivers acknowledged what most NFL observers already knew: The Chargers cannot compete with the AFC's elite.

"We're not in their company yet," Rivers said. "We're just not. That doesn't mean I don't believe we can be, or don't believe we can beat them. I believe we can. But those are the two teams that beat us in the last two weeks.

"They're first and second in the AFC, so it's not like we've lost to the bottom of the barrel."

McCoy, former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and current offensive coordinator Frank Reich have been rightly praised for getting Rivers back to playing like an elite quarterback.

However, at times Rivers appears to have regressed back to some of bad habits that got him in trouble in the past.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers was 15-of-24 (62.5 percent) on throws 5 yards downfield or shorter, tied for his lowest completion percentage on short throws in a game this season. He was 9-of-17 with two interceptions on throws deeper than 5 yards downfield, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt -- almost 4 yards shy of his season average (10.1).

Rivers did not complete a pass in the first quarter (0-for-3) -- the first time since Weeks 15 and 16 of 2006.

McCoy said the Rivers is not injured or broken – it's just a matter of the entire offense doing a better job of executing.

"It's everybody," McCoy said. "Everyone's got to look at the film. We'll evaluate it. There's pluses and minuses for every player, every game. As an offense, you always want to look at the quarterback when you win and give him credit.

"When you lose, you take the blame. That's part of the business, and we've got to play better as an offense, not just one player."

The Chargers have to get things turned around quick. San Diego takes to the road for contests against the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. And the offense has to play better for the Chargers to have a chance to make the postseason for a second straight season.

"We just have to continue to fight," receiver Eddie Royal said. "It's not always going to be pretty. Playing against a good defense -- good on good -- there's going to be some tough matchups, some tough catches and physical runs.

"We just have to keep fighting."

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
10:30
AM ET
SAN DIEGO -- In the team’s final regular-season home game, the San Diego Chargers (8-5) host the Denver Broncos (10-3) at 4:05 p.m. ET at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos will clinch their fourth straight AFC West title with a win.

Here are three things we’ll be watching for with the Chargers on Sunday.

1. Improved O-line execution: Whether Ryan Mathews can return from an injured ankle or the Chargers go with a combination of Donald Brown and Branden Oliver, San Diego’s offensive line has to play better than it performed last week. That means rookie center Chris Watt has to do a better job of communicating the line calls up front and the Chargers have to get a consistent push in the run game and protect quarterback Philip Rivers. San Diego will not consistently move the ball against a talented Denver defense if the Chargers do not get better line play up front.

2. Win on third down: Defensively, the Chargers are playing well on the money down. Keeping Peyton Manning from moving the sticks will be important, so that means bottling up running back C.J. Anderson on early downs and finding a way to get stops on third down in order to get the offense back on the field. San Diego also has been playing well in the red zone defensively, holding teams to 37.5 percent inside the 20-yard line since Week 10, which is No. 7 in the NFL.

3. Create explosive plays: Either through the air or on the ground, the Chargers have to find a way to dial up some explosive plays to make it easier to score. San Diego managed just seven points on offense against the Patriots and the Chargers totaled just three plays of 20-plus yards against New England’s defense. San Diego has just five running plays of 20-plus yards this season, tied for No. 25 in the NFL.
SAN DIEGO -- Two impact players for the San Diego Chargers on offense and defense missed practice for the second day in a row Thursday.

Running back Ryan Mathews did not practice for a second straight day due to a right ankle injury, while defensive lineman Corey Liuget also did not practice because of an ankle issue. Liuget was seen at the end of practice wearing a walking boot to protect his left ankle.

Others not working with the team on the field Thursday included tight end Ladarius Green (concussion/ankle) and punter Mike Scifres (shoulder). Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (rest) returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow) was a full participant for a second straight day, while Philip Rivers (chest) was also a full participant for a second straight day.
SAN DIEGO – Even though he limped off of the field at the end of the first half against the New England Patriots on Sunday and only carried the ball twice for minus-8 yards in the second half, San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy indicated to reporters that running back Ryan Mathews was held out the rest of the game because his team chose to use other options, not because of injury.

Mathews
However, Mathews did not practice on Wednesday because of an ankle injury, an ominous sign for the Chargers with the defending AFC West champion Denver Broncos coming to town with a chance to clinch a fourth straight division title.

“He was a little sore this morning, so we decided to hold him out,” McCoy told reporters after practice.

Asked if he hopes to see Mathews on the practice field later this week, this is what McCoy had to say:

“Yeah, like any player,” he said. “We’re going to take it day by day and see how he’s feeling, and go from there. I’m sure [Denver head coach] John Fox and all of them would love to know how he’s feeling.”

Mathews missed seven games earlier this season with an MCL sprain, including the first game San Diego lost at Denver earlier this year, 35-21 in Week 8.

The last time the Chargers defeated the Broncos was a Thursday night contest almost a year ago. Mathews finished with 29 carries for 127 yards a touchdown in a 27-20 victory at Denver.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he is aware of the impact Mathews provides when he’s in the lineup. The Chargers are 4-2 this season with Mathews in the starting lineup.

“There’s no doubt that we’re better when he’s out there,” Rivers said. “At the same time, we have confidence in Donald [Brown], Branden [Oliver] and Ronnie [Brown] when we’re in there as well. But when he’s rolling and we’re balanced, that’s when we’re at our best.”

Denver outside linebacker Von Miller agrees.

“When he’s on the field, he definitely changes the dynamic of the Chargers’ offense,” Miller said. “He’s a hard runner.”

Along with Mathews, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (rest), tight end Ladarius Green (concussion, ankle), defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle) and punter Mike Scifres (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.

Rivers (chest) was a full participant in practice. And after missing three games, defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow) returned to practice as a limited participant.

Melvin Ingram has best game vs. Patriots

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
10:00
AM ET


ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams talks about Melvin Ingram’s performance and how he can impact the team going forward.

QB snapshot: Philip Rivers

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Philip Rivers and how he played in the San Diego Chargers' 23-14 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 14:

Rivers
With inconsistent pass protection, along with playing against one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL, Rivers had trouble pushing the ball downfield against New England.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers was 2-of-10 on passes traveling more than 5 yards downfield. Rivers’ two completions on such throws are the fewest he has had in a game since he became a full-time starter in 2006.

The Chargers finished with just three passing plays of 20-plus yards.

Rivers was sacked four times and pressured another seven by New England’s defensive front, so he never got comfortable enough in the pocket in order to have time to connect on those deep throws.

Darrelle Revis also did a good job of taking away Rivers’ favorite target, Keenan Allen. The second-year receiver was targeted just three times, finishing with two catches for 3 yards.

The Chargers will face another aggressive defensive front and talented secondary when the Denver Broncos travel to Qualcomm Stadium this coming weekend. It will be important for the offensive line to do a better job in pass protection and for the Chargers to have a better plan in attacking Denver down the field for explosive plays.
SAN DIEGO -- It’s no surprise the San Diego Chargers were most effective offensively Sunday against the New England Patriots when Ryan Mathews churned out yards running the football.

In the first half, Mathews carried the ball nine times for 52 yards, averaging a robust 5.8 yards per carry.

Mathews
However, with a little more than two minutes left in the opening half, Mathews appeared to suffer a right leg injury on the same leg that kept him out seven games this season with an MCL knee sprain.

On second-and-29 from San Diego’s 9-yard line, Mathews broke through the line cleanly and bounced outside. But as he sprinted toward the sideline, New England cornerback Kyle Arrington reached out and tripped Mathews with his leg.

Arrington was flagged for tripping on the play, resulting in an automatic first down for the Chargers. However, Mathews limped off the field and was late coming out for the second half.

Mathews carried the ball only two times for minus-8 yards the rest of the game. He’s still wearing a bulky brace to protect the injured knee, a sign that his stability returning from the injury is not 100 percent. The brace also appears to limit his mobility.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy indicated Monday that Mathews is healthy.

“He came back in the game and played,” McCoy said. “You saw him do some good things in protection, things like that. He was back in the game.”

However, Philip Rivers acknowledged the Chargers had trouble running the football in the second half. In order to run the ball effectively these last three games of the season against the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers need Mathews at his best down the stretch.

“He was going pretty good early,” Rivers said. “It’s always easy after losses to go back and try and pick what we should’ve called, should’ve ran, where I should’ve thrown it. When you’re in the heat of it, it’s not that easy. It was just an overall below-average day for us on the offense side.”

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 23-14 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

What it means: At 8-5, the Chargers fell two games behind the Denver Broncos (10-3) in the AFC West but remain alone in second place, as the Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) lost at Arizona. At 10-3, the Patriots remain the top seed in the AFC, while the Chargers are in the final wild-card spot.

No time for Rivers: San Diego's young offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Philip Rivers from a savvy New England defensive front. The Patriots harassed Rivers most of the evening and finished with four sacks. Rivers finished 20-of-33 passing for just 189 yards, his second lowest output this season. The Chargers were shut out in the second half.

Chargers tame Tom Brady: San Diego's defense held New England to a season-low 12 yards in the third quarter and forced the Patriots to punt four straight times. San Diego finished with nine tackles for loss. Safety Darrell Stuckey returned a fumble by Brandon LaFell 53 yards for a score. The Chargers also held New England to 1-for-4 in the red zone. New England entered the game scoring a touchdown 66 percent of the time in the red zone, third best in the NFL. However, up 16-14 with 8:41 left to play, the Patriots broke the game open when Brady connected with receiver Julian Edelman on a slant route he took 69 yards for a touchdown.

Stock watch: Up. Malcom Floyd continued his bounce-back year and finished with three catches for 54 yards, including a 15-yard reception for a score. Floyd now has five touchdowns this season.

A first for Te'o: Second-year linebacker Manti Te'o hauled in his first career interception on an underthrown ball by Brady intended for Rob Gronkowski. Te'o had a chance for another pick earlier in the game but bobbled the pass and couldn't hold on.

Game ball: Pass-rusher Melvin Ingram was an impact player for San Diego. He finished with six tackles, including three tackles for a loss, and a sack.

What’s next: The Chargers host the Broncos in the team's final home game of the regular season at 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday.

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
8:45
AM ET
Riding a three-game winning streak, the San Diego Chargers (8-4) can make a statement with a victory in a nationally televised contest against the New England Patriots (9-3) at 8:30 p.m. ET at Qualcomm Stadium.

Here are three things we’ll be watching for Sunday night with the Chargers.

1. Can Ryan Mathews rush for 100 yards? I expect the Patriots to load up the box defensively and make the Chargers one-dimensional by stopping the run. So it will be important for the Chargers to get Mathews involved in the offense to keep New England’s defensive front honest. The Patriots are 2-3 this season in games in which opponents have rushed for at least 130 yards. Controlling the line of scrimmage on offense will be important for San Diego.

2. Win the turnover battle: Like Dwight Freeney said earlier this week, the Patriots are a team that minimizes mistakes and capitalizes when opponents make errors. Taking care of the football and forcing a few turnovers on defense will be another critical aspect of the game for the Chargers. The Chargers had a plus-7 turnover differential after a Week 6 win over the Oakland Raiders. Since then, San Diego has had a minus-8 turnover differential. The Patriots are 1-1 this season when they lose the turnover battle.

3. Stop the Gronk: Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are good receivers who can make explosive plays in the passing game for the Patriots. However, tight end Rob Gronkowski really makes things go on offense for New England. The Chargers need to have an effective strategy for limiting Gronkowski’s touches on Sunday, and that likely will include safety Eric Weddle in some aspect of coverage. The Patriots are 2-2 this season in games in which Gronkowski has been held to 50 receiving yards or less.
When: 8:30 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego TV: NBC

SAN DIEGO -- December has arrived for the San Diego Chargers, which means it’s time for Philip Rivers to work his magic.

Rivers has a 30-6 record in the final month of the regular season, the most wins among NFL starting quarterbacks since 2006. The Chargers need Rivers playing at his best, as they face the toughest closing schedule in the NFL, facing teams with a combined record of 32-16.

“The quarterback and the head coach get a record attached to them, but that’s our record in December and that’s the Chargers' record in December over the last [several] years,” Rivers said. “I just think that it shows a lot about what I’ve always said, which is about the character of our team, the toughness of our team, and we’ve finished strong in years where we were 13-3 or 11-5 those years.

“We’ve finished strong in years when we were 7-9 or 8-8 and I think that just shows whatever situation it is we are going to fight like crazy at the end and have that mentality to finish it off the right way.”

The Chargers face a team with an equally impressive December record in the New England Patriots. Tom Brady is 45-7 in December, the best record in December among quarterbacks with at least 20 starts. And head-to-head, Brady holds a 5-0 record over Rivers.

ESPN NFL Nation Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:

Williams: Mike, how have the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback changed New England’s approach defensively? Or has it?

Reiss: With Revis and Browner, the Patriots are playing a lot more man coverage and have shown the ability to match up in a number of different ways. Revis is playing at an extremely high level. Browner, who was suspended for the first four games of the regular season and didn’t play the next two as he worked to get into football shape, is now a full-time player. He brings a physical style of play at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds that is hard to replicate. With safety Devin McCourty often providing help over the top on the player Browner is covering, and Revis able to effectively eliminate his matchup, it’s as strong of a 1-2-3 punch as the Patriots have had. Last week, the Packers beat their Nos. 4-5-6 options, so I’m curious to see if the Chargers can do that.

Eric, when the top teams in the AFC are mentioned, we often hear New England and Denver, and then it’s sort of everyone else. Yet here are the Chargers at 8-4, just one game back. How deserving do you think they are of inclusion in that top group?

Williams: It’s hard to include the Chargers in that conversation among the top teams in the AFC because they have not done it consistently over the duration of the season. San Diego started 5-1 but then lost three straight, including an embarrassing 37-0 defeat at Miami. The Chargers have won three straight after regrouping during the team’s bye week. Certainly, San Diego has an elite quarterback in Rivers. But the rest of the team has to prove that they can play at the same level of their quarterback on a weekly basis to earn the status as one of the top teams in the AFC alongside Denver and New England.

There’s been a lot of talk about New England flying straight to the West Coast from Green Bay and staying in San Diego this week in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Chargers. What is Bill Belichick’s reasoning for the decision? And how successful has New England been using this approach?

Reiss: There are a few reasons for this approach, Eric. They played at Green Bay on Sunday (26-21 loss) and would have flown back to New England after that game, getting in around midnight, and then turned back around on Friday to come out to San Diego. So this lessens the travel stress on the team. Belichick also sees benefits in acclimating to the time change and weather. They did it twice in 2008 when they had two sets of back-to-back games on the West Coast. One of those games was a 30-10 loss to the Chargers in early October. They won the other three games in that situation, which was the year the Patriots lost Tom Brady to injury.

Eric, a 37-0 loss at Miami on Nov. 2 looked ugly. The Patriots had their stinker Sept. 29 in a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs on "Monday Night Football." Assuming that blowout to the Dolphins was the low point of the season, what happened for the Chargers to overcome it and win their next three games? Was there a key moment or turning point behind the scenes that could be pointed to?

Williams: A couple things occurred to get the Chargers back on track. First, they got back workhorse running back Ryan Mathews, which helped bring balance back to the offense. In three games, Mathews has a 100-yard rushing game to his credit and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry since returning to the lineup after a seven-game absence due to an MCL knee sprain. The second is San Diego’s defense has been better on third down and in the red zone. The return of linebackers Melvin Ingram, Jeremiah Attaochu and Manti Te'o from their respective injuries helped establish more depth, so defensive coordinator John Pagano can keep guys fresh and use more players in different personnel groups. The result has been San Diego holding teams to 39 percent conversions on third down in the last three games since the team’s Week 9 bye and 42 percent in the red zone.

Mike, we all understand the matchup nightmare Rob Gronkowski can be in the passing game, particularly in the red zone. What have opposing teams tried to do to limit his touches?

Reiss: A little bit of everything -- safeties, linebackers, double teams. Maybe the best way to sum it up is to relay what a Packers defensive lineman said on Sunday: "Their tight end is like the Terminator." Gronkowski’s impact on the game is apparent even when he’s not catching the ball, because multiple defenders often are gravitating toward him, opening opportunities for others. It might be hard to beat out Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for MVP consideration after what I saw Sunday, but I could make a strong case for Gronkowski.

Eric, what do you view as the Chargers’ primary areas of weakness on offense and defense?

Williams: On offense, the Chargers still struggle at times to keep Rivers clean in pass protection. Rivers is one of the most efficient quarterbacks against the blitz, but with better protection, he could create more explosive plays down the field. The Chargers could roll out their fifth starting center this season in Trevor Robinson if rookie Chris Watt cannot return from a calf injury. Defensively, San Diego has trouble generating a consistent pass rush. Defensive lineman Corey Liuget leads the team with just 3.5 sacks. The Chargers are 29th in the NFL with 18 sacks.

SAN DIEGO -- Like the team he plays for now, Dwight Freeney has not had a lot of success against Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots.

Freeney
 In 11 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, Freeney’s former team compiled a 5-8 record against the Patriots, including a 1-2 mark in the postseason. Four of Freeney’s 110 career sacks have come against Tom Brady.

The Chargers are 3-6 against Belichick’s Patriots, including back-to-back playoff losses in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Freeney shared some simple advice with reporters this week for the Chargers to have a chance to beat what is considered the top team in the AFC so far this season.

“The big thing is you can’t self-destruct,” Freeney said. “Turnovers and penalties -- we have to try and minimize that. One thing that they do well is that they don’t do that. They don’t turn the ball over too often. They don’t fumble the ball too often, and they don’t hurt themselves.
“It’s going to be huge this week to really take care of that ball offensively. And defensively and offensively we have to cut down on the penalties, because that team is a good team. They do so many things right. And they just kind of sit there and wait for you to mess up. And when you mess up, they jump on you.”

Freeney’s right; the Patriots make you beat them. New England is tied for second in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-11. The Patriots finished in the top 10 in the NFL in turnover differential in eight of the past 10 years.

New England is No. 4 in the league with 99 accepted penalties for 866 yards. But the Seattle Seahawks were the most penalized team last year and won the Super Bowl.

The Chargers had a plus-7 turnover differential after a Week 6 win over the Oakland Raiders. Since then, San Diego has had a minus-8 turnover differential. The Chargers are tied for 20th in the NFL with 95 accepted penalties for 765 yards.

December is Philip Rivers’ time to shine

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
10:00
AM ET


Eric D. Williams of ESPN NFL Nation discusses San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers success in the month of December. Since 2006, Rivers is 30-6 as the starter during the month of December, the most wins by a quarterback during that month over that time frame.
SAN DIEGO -- His quarterback Philip Rivers earned the honor last season, experiencing a rebirth in 2013.

San Diego Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd has gone through a similar transformation in 2014. Considered a long shot to make it back on the field after a serious neck injury forced him to the season-ending injured reserve list after just two games in 2013, Floyd has been a key contributor to San Diego's success on offense this season.

[+] EnlargeMalcom Floyd
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriChargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd scores the first of his four touchdowns (through Week 13) this season, against Arizona on Sept. 8.
For that, Floyd should be a candidate for the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year award, which Rivers won last season.

"That would mean a lot," Floyd said, when asked about the possibility of winning the award. "But I think my main focus is just being there with my teammates and doing whatever I can to help us get further than what we did last year."

Floyd finished with a 59-yard reception, and forced a pass interference call against Baltimore cornerback Anthony Levine that set the Chargers up for the winning touchdown.

Floyd has been the vertical threat in the passing game the Chargers lacked last season. He has five catches of 40-plus yards this season. Floyd's 17.7 yards-per-catch average is second only to DeSean Jackson (20.0) for receivers with at least 39 catches this season.

On the season, Floyd has 39 receptions for 689 yards and four touchdowns.

Floyd, 33, is on track to play all 16 games for just the second time in his nine-year career, and the first time since 2009. He said maintaining a consistent weightlifting regimen during the season has helped keep him out of the training room.

"I'm just listening to my body more and getting in the weight room every day," Floyd said. "That's probably a huge change from the past, just being in the weight room, keeping my legs strong and just keeping my body strong."

Along with working to stay healthy, Chargers coach Mike McCoy said Floyd's relentless effort in practice has an effect on the entire team.

"It's non-stop," McCoy said. "He's one of those players where you've got to tell him to slow down. He's the same guy every game. Even when you have the shorter weeks and the walk-throughs, he still wants to get his timing down for those Thursday nights."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC WEST SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22