Stillers 35, Chargers 24���. Jan. 11, 2009 ����AFC Div. Playoff
Stillers-Chargers Postgame Analysis and Grades
The Stillers were carved up early and in the hole, 7-0, and sputtered early and often. But Holes returned a punt for a TD to breath some life, and BenRoth engineered a TD drive late in the 2Q to take the lead into halftime. The Stillers then dominated the 3Q en route to a 35-24 win over the Bolts to advance to the AFCC.
QB: Ben returned from the concussion in the season finale and had a solid game, going 17 for 26, and most importantly -- after a weekend of hideous turnovers in the other 3 playoff games -- zero INTs. He had some poor misfires early on, throwing too high to Holmes on 3d & 8 and then way over Miller, who was wide open, on a 2d & 1 in the 2Q. He also poorly threw far too high & long to a wide open Holmes down the seam near the SD 10-yard line late in the 2Q. But he quickly responded with a good pass to Ward for 41 yards. Aside from the 65 yards on that last drive of the 1H, Benji had thrown for a whopping 24 yards.
Roth caught fire in the 3Q, though. He actually overthrew an open Holmes on a bomb that should have been 6, but then responded with stellar passes on 3rd & 7, 3rd & 11, and 3rd & 8, getting conversions all 3 times. He had a good bullet slant to Ward on 3d & 4 midway thru the 4Q that helped keep the drive alive and chew up clock.
Ben also chipped in with other tasks as well. He deftly placed a pooch punt to the 9-yard line in the 1Q, and he threw a good cut block on Holmes� 3rd-down run in the 3Q that got the 1st down.
Leftwich relieved in garbage time late in the game. He threw a perfect deep strike to Sweed that Sweed dropped.
All in all, Ben was far less tentative than he�s been in ages, and he didn�t commit the foolish blunders that torpedoed the Titans, Panthers, and Giants. A-
RB: Parker began the game with a 12 yard slash, and he kept churning from there, en route to a 27 carry, 146 yard game. He ran with authority, power, and speed. The 27-yarder around right end was something we�ve not seen in months, and the 2 TD runs were also quite good.
Moore, who apparently worked his way into the doghouse, was fairly neglected most of the 1H, with 1 carry and 1 catch. He played more in the 2H, and if nothing else, came up big in pass pro. His blitz pickup on 3rd & 7 enabled Ben to complete the pass to Holmes for 10 yards, and his blitz pickup on 3rd & 8 allowed the completion to Miller for 18.
Gary Russell chipped in nicely on short yardage situations. He had a terrific power run on 3d & 1 late in the 2Q, good for 3 yards. He had a good plunge for a TD in the 4Q.
All of these RBs will need to play just as well, if not better, to beat the Ravens next week. A+
FB: Carey Davis, who seldom was involved in the offense all season, suddenly became the modern-day version of Roger Craig. He caught 2 dumpoffs on 3rd downs and was stopped short each time. On the critical 4th & inches on the 1st play of the 4Q,
WR: Hines led the way with 4 grabs for 70 yards. His 41-yarder set up the go-ahead TD late in the 2Q. He also had a good RAC in the 3Q and drew a flag on a late hit OOB.
Holmes had a nice pluck for 15 yards late in the 2Q, and a very good grab of a low pass on 3rd & 7 in the 3Q. He had a good crack on Parker�s 1st TD. He was flagged for a blatant hold on Ward�s 5-yard gain on a bubble screen.
Nate had a good route and grab of a deep 3rd down curl, good for 18 yards. He drew a PI in the EZ when he beat the CB and safety on a deep ball in the 4Q. He nearly had a Swann-esque catch on a deep ball over the CB in the 4Q along the sidelines, but the ball slithered out as he hit the ground.
Sweed was open deep on a perfect strike by Lefty, but dropped the pass.
With the rugged Raven defense likely to bottle the ground game, the WRs will have to be absolutely huge next week. Sweed: D- All others: A-
TE: Miller had 3 grabs for 37. In the prior game vs. San Diego, Speath had 6 catches for 55 yards, but now that Miller is back in the lineup, Spaeth is not allowed or permitted to have any involvement in the passing game whatsoever. Miller was flagged for a hold that negated Parker�s 13-yard run in the 3Q. For once, neither Miller nor Spaeth were getting thrown around like rag dolls on their blocking assignments. Hell, now that I write this, I�d better go back and re-watch the tape one more time�.. B
OL: The line played its best game in ages, opening creases for the ground game and giving Ben good room and time in the pocket. What really struck me as almost bizarre, was that the line allowed very little of the leakage and backfield penetration that had blown up most ground plays in the past several weeks.
Hartwig did a fine job of controlling the middle. Starks allowed the lone sack when he foolishly provided inside help to Kemo and allowed the outside rush a clean shot at the QB, but then rebounded with some solid pass pro. Kemo had some decent pulls, but again struggled in short-area brawling. Darnell Simpleton was called for 2 false start flags; one on a 3rd & 3, no less. Willie The
The line will have its hands full with the rugged, run-blitzing Ravens next week. They�ll need to play as well as, if not better than, today. A-
DL: Due to the TOP and the score, the D-line wasn�t worked all that hard, but did a solid job of limiting Sproles and not giving Rivers much room to scramble. Surely the biggest stunner today was the sudden effectiveness of �Mr. October�, Brett Keisel, who hadn�t done much of anything since the 7th grade picnic. In the 2Q, Keisel sliced in and dropped Sproles for a 5-yard loss. In the 3Q, he batted Buzz Lightyear�s pass, which was then INT�d. He also had a swim move on a botched blocking assignment and dropped Creeks for a sack in the 4Q.
The D-line better have its helmets strapped on well next week, as the Ravens will pound the ball incessantly with McClain and McGayboy. A-
LB: Emerging into his own bit of stardom today was LaMarr Woodley, who had a simply superb all-around game. He had good coverage on Sproles in a mismatch on 3d & 5 in the 2nd series of the game. He had a superb, Jack Ham-like string-out of a wide run by Bennett (despite being facemasked, which was flagged), which was stopped for no gain. He had a good bullrush vs. the TE for a sack in the 1Q. He had a big hit on Sproles after a dumpoff in the flats late in the 2Q. Woodie had a hilarious whip-down sack of Buzz in the 4Q. There was the Gates reception for 15 yards on 3rd & 11 late in the 2Q, in which Gates, in plenty of open space in the middle of the field, beat Woodley. This blame goes to the idiot DC who put Woodley in such a poor mismatch, not Woodley himself.
Taunto Farrior had a half-decent game, finishing with a team high 7 solos although still replete with a host of blunders and gaffes. He was far too soft and caught in no man�s land on 3d & 7 in the 1Q, which Gates easily caught for 9 yards. On the next play, he feebly whiffed on Sproles on a valve dump, which turned a no-gain in to a 3-yard gain. Late in the 1Q, who over-pursued a Sproles run to the right, which was cut up for 8 yards. Early in the 2Q, he whiffed on Gates after a short curl. He had a good stop of Sproles on the next play (3rd & 2) to force a punt. He had man coverage on Sproles, but hopelessly clod-hopped behind Sproles, who caught the seamer and then took it to the house for a 62-yard TD in the 4Q. This was about as sorry as LB coverage can be. Remember, of course, that Taunto is going to the Pro Bowl, so you know he must be great.
Larry Foote chipped in on some run stuffs, but had some problems as well. He weakly flailed at Sproles on the 8-yard run in the 1Q, Sproles� longest run of the day. On the next play, he flailed in the backfield and Sproles gained 4 yards. He teamed with
Timmons showed some nice flashes. He slashed into the backfield and blew up a 3rd down draw in the 1Q, which gained 1. He showed outstanding speed and hustle on the crosser to Sproles in the 4Q, in which he chased down Sproles in bounds, keeping the clock running. He is THE only LB on the team who could have made such a play against a speed merchant like Sproles. He was toppled like a pinwheel on a blitz in the 2Q, which was artistically pretty but not quite what the defense needs on most occasions.
Like the DL, this crew will need to have its helmets strapped on right next week against what promises to be constant plunging by the Poebirds. Woodley: A Farrior: C+ All others: B
DB: A spotty day for this crew. Ike really took a beating. Although not really beaten by
McFadden played ok on the other side. His main boner was the 3rd & 10 in the 2Q, when he foolishly bit on a double move and gave up a deep pass to
Troy Pola had a very quiet, very ordinary game. He finished with 2 solos and was a total non-factor. He meekly whiffed on Manumaleuna after a short pass on 3rd & 10, allowing a 14-yard gain. Very poor. He didn�t provide much help on the Sproles TD in the 4Q, either, meekly tip-toeing and then watching Sproles dash by. He was flagged for a ticky-tack �blow to the head� on a blitz in the 4Q.
To be sure, Pola wasn�t the worst. That dubious honor would belong to FS Ryan Clark, who was a wretched pile of manure. On the 1ast series of the game, he feebly whiffed on Sproles on a screen pass, which gained 12. On the very next play, on the deep TD to
The Raven passing attack isn�t prolific, but Steeler-killer Derrick Mason awaits, as does Clayton and Heap, and this crew will need to play much better than tonite�s mediocre performance. C+
Spec teams: Mostly decent, but some poorness as well.
Blunt Holmes took a punt return to the house with a superb return in the 1Q, which kept the Stillers in the game despite a moribund offense. None of us can hardly recall the last time a Stiller returned a punt for a TD. Most fans probably weren�t alive. (Tokio actually scored on one back in �06.)
Bitch Berger had a couple good punts, although he boomed one into the EZ for a TB in the 2Q. Gay had an alert recovery on a punt that hit a SD helmet in the 2H, but committed a stupid offsides penalty on an SD onsides KO.
Timmons and Fox had a good combo stop in KO cover to start the game. Russell had a good stop of Cromartie, who had plenty of room, in KO cover late in the 2Q. Russ also recovered the onsides KO late in the game.
Frazier was sealed on the long 63-yard KO return by Sproles, although he had a good stop at 4:00 4Q.
OC: Arians� offense generated all of 8 passing yards in the 1Q and 24 passing yards in the 1H until the late surge. To his credit, the offense came alive in the 3Q. Still, you play fiddle faddle for nearly an entire half, and you keep the opponent�s hopes -- and hustle -- sky high.
We�ll never know why Mewelde Moore was given the leper treatment the entire 1st half, while Carey Davis was treated like the 2nd coming of Roger Craig. Twice in the 1st half, Davis -- not
In the 1st meeting against the Bolts, Spaeth had 6 catches for 55 yards, but now that Miller is back in the lineup, Spaeth is not allowed or permitted to have any involvement in the passing game whatsoever. What�s the sense of running endless 2 TE sets if you�re never gonna throw to the 2nd TE ??
I was pleased with the number of downfield throws. Let�s hope Arians doesn�t puss out next week. I also liked the fake-pitch left with the pass to the right to Miller for the 3Q TD. Based on the pitchout to Parker that scored a TD in the 2Q, this was rare, but nice, use of a prior play to SET UP a play later in the game. Ben even ran a waggle midway thru the 4Q, which produced a 6-yard pass. Holmes ran an end around in the 2Q and a reverse in the 3Q. This was some rare, but nice, variety into what had become an entirely stale, dull, unimaginative offense down the stretch. Let�s see if Arians, the dumbass that he is, goes with chickenshit vanilla next week. B-
DC: It�s not often you see �the #1 defense� come out as flatfooted and bamboozled as Dick�s defense did today. On the 1st play of the game, SD ran a PAP throwback pass to Gates for 21. A screen to Sproles gained 12. A deep post -- against a 4-man rush -- scored a TD to give the Chargers the early lead.
Dick�s defense settled down after that, although Norv Turner can be given the hockey version of the first assist. After Chris Johnson had tortured the Stiller defense on stretch plays and widish running plays a few weeks ago, Norv apparently preferred using Sproles like the modern-day version of Bronco Nagurski, plunging Sproles up the gut almost exclusively in his limited 11-carry workload. Sproles ran the stretch once, for 8 yards, which apparently wasn�t productive enough for Norv�s tastes. Norv also had a mismatch with Sproles in the passing game, which he essentially waited until 1 minute remained in the game to exploit for the 62-yard TD.
Dick has in his possession the well noted Winged God of LB Coverage, James Farrior, but today, in much the same way as Arians had a love-fest with Carey Davis, Dick suddenly fell in love with placing hulking 270-pound pass rusher LeMarr Woodley into pass coverage. And I�m not talking about some lame little zone coverage out in the flats�.Dick had Woodley -- his 2nd best pass rusher, mind you -- doing man-on-man coverage on the likes of Sproles and Gates. Woodley had solo coverage on Sproles on a wheel route on 3d & 5 in the 1Q; the coverage was ok and the ball was poorly thrown. Later in the 2Q, on 3rd & 11, Woodie was assigned to Gates -- only THE premier TE in the entire NFL -- and Gates easily grabbed a crosser and gained 15 yards. Terrific idea, taking a superb pass rusher but so-so coverage guy and tasking him to provide man coverage on the best TE in the NFL. That LeBeau -- he�s a clever guy !
Then there was the Polamalu blitz on 2d & 10 in the 4Q. Drawing from the kind of stupidity that would design a screen door for a submarine, Dick had Pola blitz�from a spot 8 yards from the LOS. By the time Pola got into the backfield, Rivers had eaten a sandwich, combed his hair, and thrown the pass to Chambers that gained 25 yards. Pola�s only contribution on this play was a weak blow to the head that earned a 15-yard penalty. Like I said� that LeBeau -- he�s a clever guy !
Ladanian Tomlinson sat out this entire game due to injury, keeping Dick�s incredible sojourn this season of having at least 1 star skill-position player out or hampered (aside from the Titan game). Add in the 3rd quarter, in which the Stiller offense chewed all but 6 seconds of clock while Diego ran 1 play that resulted in a fortuitous bat and Dong interception, and you have a tidy day�s work for Dick. The opening TD and the 2 4Q TDs � 3 TDs in essentiall y3 quarters of defensive work -- take some luster off LeBeau�s supposed genius. C+
HC: Tomlin had the team focused and prepared for a tough contest against a solid foe. His halftime pep talk and adjustments were incredible, as the Stillers went out and utterly dominated the 3Q in unbelievable fashion (SD ran 1 play the entire 3Q) The decision to go for it on 4th & goal at the start of the 4Q was the correct call. On the other hand, the fake punt at 5:00 2Q was a dubious call that gave SD golden FP that they parlayed into 3 points. I applaud the aggressiveness, but in the playoffs, discretion can be the better part of valor. (Witness the 3 prior games this weekend, all won by teams that made the least foolish turnovers, which the fake punt essentially was.) The design of this fake was a botchfuck of epic proportions and, although the offense was sputtering like vomit, there was little need to panic with this foolish stunt. Tomlin appeared to roust his coordinator out of their vanilla doldrums. The key for Tomlin going into the AFCC is to keep his foot on the gas pedal with his coordinators, as overt vanilla is not going to win this upcoming battle. A-
Synopsis: The Stillers� first playoff win since the Sup Bowl in Feb. 2006! Feels good!! The win can only be enjoyed for a few days, as the PoeBirds venture to town for the AFC Title game. Both games this season vs. Balt. were sheer dogfights, and there�s no reason to think this one will be anything different. Get the icepacks ready�this is going to be a ferocious, hard-hitting affair on Sunday. Stay tuned as Stillers.com will provide key pre-game analysis leading up to this tilt.
(Still Mill and Stillers.com -- when it comes to the analysis of the