That was clearly the best game this team has played all year. I’m not going to belittle it. Any time you beat the Raiders, especially like that, it’s a good thing. It was nice to see Rivers not force things in the beginning when there wasn’t much available from the Oakland defense. There is no question that Ken Wisenhunt has been more inventive of late. I know Bruce Arians was raving about him all game, but that might also be a bit from their history. However, the screen game this year has been outstanding. Rivers has been able to get the ball to Gordon and Ekler in space for some big plays. I know we all look at clips of Gordon hesitating, tripping, or running into his own man. I saw that Ricky Henne even referred to the “turf monster” on the Bolts’ official Twitter feed. But Gordon has been great and deserves some praise. It helps that the playcalling hasn’t been stagnant and we’re not running him up the gut in obvious situations.
Can they play the same game against Cleveland on the road Sunday? No. There are some things that can’t happen. It was great to see Jon Gruden go full Pete Carroll on the goal line. Melvin Ingram won’t get an easier pick and he needs to take the touchback. With his one offensive play, is he a little too psyched to make a splashy play? Maybe. Is he running to the opposite end zone to get a group pic? Possibly, although it was nice to see Rivers in one of those shots. Ingram played well, even if Oakland had two rookie tackles.
Addae got a fumble, although he and Emmanuel shouldn’t be covering anybody. The kicking game looked good at first, as it did against KC opening day. Lynn claims all these kickers can’t be bad. I think Sturgis has proven he’s not the answer. Lynn was on Sirius for his weekly spot talking about how he likes Sturgis. If it’s a quad injury, I don’t care, the kid from Miami can’t be much worse. Four missed extra points are not acceptable. I don’t know how committed the Chargers are to Lynn, but is this really a hill he wants to die on? No team knows how crucial a kicker can be than this one.
Back to the positives. I loved how Wisenhunt used the passing game to finish the Raiders off. How many times have we seen that? Not many. The lack of a killer instinct has been a sticking point since Cam Cameron was calling the plays. It seems obvious, but Rivers was in a groove and the team went with it. I was also happy to see the repeated runs on the goal line. I don’t know if our Pro Football Focus grade on the ground is good or not, but they punched it in when they so often get cute down there.
Speaking of PFF grades, the Browns have a top ranked running game and highly ranked defense. The Charger defense did a great job of wrapping up and tackling the receivers immediately. Of course, it helped that Gruden really dialed it in once they got down. Trent Green was right to suggest that the Raiders showed zero urgency in the fourth quarter.
On to Sunday. I don’t think the Chargers will take Cleveland lightly. But at the same time, I think playing in front of “visiting” fans each week might help. I thought the same think going into Kansas City last December but they imploded. They haven’t beaten a good team since Lynn got there. I don’t know if the Browns are a good team, but this is a big game. If the Bolts couldn’t keep CJ Beathard from lighting them up, how will they fare against Mayfield? The hope is that these last two games will be the last without Bosa. I don’t know if that’s realistic, but he was riding a bike this week without the walking boot.
I just hope the defense plays smart. Lynn mentioned before the week that they don’t win enough one on one battles. I would agree and Corey Liuget didn’t exactly fix that. Yes, he’s a body in y the middle but that’s about it. He got pancaked more than once on Sunday. The Chargers need to play like a team that expects to win but not one that thinks it will be handed to them. Cleveland has no Lebron or Chief Wahoo and will be loud. That shouldn’t upset the Chargers if the adversity of the last two years has made them as resilient as they claim. But they still haven’t shown they can win a “statement game.” Last week might qualify since I always enjoy beating the Raiders. But this would be a step up in significance to this season. We will see all the stats how the Chargers have lost the last two games in Cleveland. There was the Hurricane Sandy game that I was supposed to attend which had that awful Meachem drop. Then there was the Christmas Lambo game that rid us of McCoy.
I was in Cleveland for the ’92 and ’04 games and I have no doubt that the crowd will be fired up. But this team needs to have bigger things in its sights. It might be a stretch to say that these next two are must wins before the bye. But somehow I feel like if they lose Sunday that it will carry over to the game in London. Let’s not test my theory.