By Christina Rivers
The San Diego Chargers went into their game against the Cleveland Browns with one goal: to win. After a first half that saw the two teams tied at 13, the Chargers were able to put pressure on Browns quarterback Josh McCown throughout the game. San Diego controlled much of their fate in the second half, regaining the lead after a 61-yard catch and run set up a touchdown throw from Philip Rivers to Ladarius Green. Tight end John Phillips then went vertical in the end zone to move the score to 27-19. With just two seconds on the clock after a Browns score, the Chargers brought in kicker Josh Lambo who missed the field goal but redeemed himself after Cleveland was flagged for being offsides. After the win, the Chargers evened up their win-loss record to move on to their next AFC North opponent: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
How are the Chargers doing on offense?
Rivers was able to finish Sunday’s game with 23 of 38 completions for 358 yards, three touchdowns and a 118.1 passer rating. Like Ben Roethlisberger, Rivers is often overlooked when talk of elite status centers on quarterbacks, but Sunday showed that Rivers has grit. Head coach Mike McCoy said, “Huge win for us. And once again, Philip Rivers with the game on the line goes right down the field. We’re so fortunate that he’s our quarterback. Just what he does and the toughness and the grit. A couple of those touchdowns, you see him back there down on his back. I just love the guy…no panic. Nothing at all.” After the game, Rivers said, “I don’t know that (this) was our best game, but it was enough. It was big.”
The Chargers have 1206 yards of total offense going into week five, and much of their success this season has been due to the key plays by running backs Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead as well as the receiving of Green, Keenan Allen and Steve Johnson. Allen and Johnson lead the team in touchdown receptions with two a piece and a combined 488 receiving yards. Their yards per reception average is 10.9 and 12.4 respectively. Green has a yard-per-reception average of 12.1. Woodhead and Gordon have combined for a total of 280 rushing yards with Woodhead scoring two rushing touchdowns as well as providing Rivers with a valuable option as a receiver out of the backfield.
One area that has been of concern for San Diego is the number of sacks the offensive line has allowed this season. Rivers has been dumped by opponents 12 times in four games, with the Browns adding two in Sunday’s game.
Chargers on defense
In their two losses, the Chargers defense was missing a pass rush. San Diego saw rookie linebacker Kyle Emanuel get to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in week one, but then they entered a drought. That changed when they met the Browns. Between Melvin Ingram and his teammates on defense, the Chargers were able to sack McCown four times and log nine quarterback hits. Ingram finished the night with 1.5 and a quarterback hit, even combining on one play with Eric Weddle to cause McCown to fumble the ball, allowing Ingram to grab it and hand it to his offense. “It was very (satisfying),” Ingram said in his post-game conference. “No matter who’s in there, we’re all going to play together. And we’re going to always go until the clock (runs out) and try to get a win.” Jerry Attaochu recorded two sacks on the night, one that forced the Browns to settle for a field goal and allowed San Diego to set up their game-winning drive. Overall, the Chargers have ten sacks on the season.
Weddle and Manti Te’o lead the Chargers defense in tackles. Weddle has recorded 27 total and Te’o 20. The defense has also recorded three interceptions by three different players on the season.
The one question coming into the 2015 season was whether or not San Diego would field a competitive defense. Their last game didn’t necessarily show that the Chargers are dominant but that they can hang with most teams in the league.
Chargers players to watch
With the Steelers trying to shake off their overtime loss in week four and a smattering of injuries, including Roethlisberger’s knee, they will need to keep their eye on Attaochu who has shown a ton of improvement. He may not have surpassed Weddle as the Chargers most valuable defensive player yet, but Attaochu has a good burst and looks to take advantage of miscues along opposing offensive lines in order to get himself solidly into the offensive backfield and create disruption.
The Steelers may very well see the return of Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates to the Chargers offensive roster. Gates was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances, but is eligible to return in week five. Gates is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. In his absence, Philips and Green served as key elements in the Chargers offensive game plan. Whether Gates gets the start or not, the Steelers will once again be facing a team that can hurt them with two tight end sets.
The Chargers have some injuries of their own and are a team in a similar transitional state as the Steelers. With an up-and-down season so far, San Diego and Pittsburgh look more evenly matched than they may have in week one. If the Steelers can get their offense back on track this week and their defense continues to improve, this game may very well come down to the victor being the ones with the least number of penalties and the highest number of turnovers and takeaways.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on