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Week 4 Game Recap: New Orleans Saints 35, San Diego Chargers 34


What you need to know

New Orleans Saints

Brees was as sharp as ever early on, and once again, it was clear his passing attack would need to supply plenty of points to keep the game close. A pair of poor decisions led to two interceptions which allowed the Chargers to pull away with a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, but a pair of fumbles allowed the Saints back into the game. The offense executed near the goal-line by turning the keys over to John Kuhn, who executed with 100% efficiency in tight quarters to score three touchdowns. New Orleans spread the ball around to its receivers in this game, limiting the production of any one of its receivers. They did not abandon the run game as they have in previous weeks with a deficit, but could not establish consistent lanes for Mark Ingram to run through, who did well to fall forward for two and three yards on numerous occasions. New Orleans lucked into a win in a contest in which they were outplayed, moving them to 1-3 as they head into their Week 5 bye.

San Diego Chargers

Quarterback Philip Rivers didn't light up the stat sheet, but he was a tough luck loser in the game. He went over 300 yards and threw a pair of touchdowns to build up a 13-point fourth quarter lead. But two very untimely turnovers ultimately ended any chance San Diego had to win, and resulted in Rivers throwing a desperation pass that resulted in his first interception of the season.

Running back Melvin Gordon continues to struggle to accrue much yardage. His six touchdowns have sort of hidden the fact that he's averaging just over three yards per carry. He failed even get two yards per carry in this game against one of the league's worst defenses.

This week was Dontrelle Inman's turn to be the team's go-to receiver. At various times, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, and even rookie Hunter Henry have seemed to be the favorite targets of Philip Rivers. At this point, it might be safe to assume that there isn't any one player who is going to take over Keenan Allen's number one target role.

New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 73 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 36 - 207 - 2 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 4 - -4 - 0
It wasn’t the best day for Brees, who vacillated between peak performance and concerning inaccuracy to surrender a seemingly insurmountable lead. Turnovers let the Saints back in the game however, and the veteran QB delivered from there. Brees and the Saints started off the game strong, as the QB relied on a successful rushing attack and short passing game to put a touchdown on the board. Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Brandon Coleman got involved early in what promised to be a high-scoring affair. The second drive was not nearly as flawless, as one first down was picked up before a pair of runs were stuffed and Brees was swiftly dropped on third-and-long, setting up a punt. Brees resumed an efficient passing attack on the third drive, converting third downs to Cooks and Willie Snead to move the ball into the red zone before using play-action to find a wide open John Kuhn for a 14-7 lead with 9:20 to play in the first half. Brees forced the ball to a well-covered Brandon Coleman on the first play of the following drive, resulting a tipped pass which fell into the hands of a Charger to provide them with good field position. New Orleans was dealt very poor field position on their final drive before half. A holding penalty got things off to a poor start before a third-down sack pushed the ball back to NO’s own two-yard line. This forced a punt, and a first-half deficit of 24-14. Brees efficiently moved the ball to begin the third quarter, consistently throwing short passes to narrowly move the chains. A particularly accurate throw came on a wheel route to Mark Ingram for 20 yards; John Kuhn pounded the rock into paydirt to make the score 24-21 with nine to play in the third. The offense had two passing plays to pick up six yards on the following drive, but both fell incomplete due to tight coverage, a rare sight in this offensive shootout that led to a punt. Significant pressure marred New Orleans’ third and final drive of the third period, as Brees did well to throw the ball away on second and third downs in order to salvage a punt. The rut continued to open the final quarter, as Brees floated an interception up the left sideline. His receiver fell down on the play, but by no means was this a well-thrown pass. With the game in balance on the following drive, Brees’ Saints failed to pick up six yards near midfield. The QB threw two straight incompletions on a bouncing ball well short of his target followed by a forced pass to a receiver well-short of the sticks. New Orleans decided to punt the ball away with less than seven minutes on the clock, down 34-21. A fumble gave the Saints the ball back with great field position just seconds later, and New Orleans responded with a touchdown from 13 yards out. A trio of running plays strangely began the drive, but Brees found Michael Thomas on a back-shoulder route to shrink the deficit to 34-28 with 4:50 to play. Good fortune came New Orleans’ way again, as San Diego fumbled a second time on their first play from scrimmage, setting up New Orleans only 31 yards away from somehow taking a lead. Turning back to their running game with time seemingly in their favor, Brees contributed with a pair of third-down conversions before once again giving way to John Kuhn to secure an improbable 35-34 lead. San Diego was unable to move the ball in desperation mode, and Brees was able to take three kneeldowns to give the Saints their first victory of the year.

RB Mark Ingram, 48 offensive snaps, Rush: 18 - 56 - 1, Rec: 6 - 49 - 0 (7 targets)
Ingram began the game similarly to last week, taking it off left tackle for a productive ten-yard gain on the first play before following it up the next down off left guard for four yards. Later in the drive, he ripped another steady gain of six off right tackle. He was rewarded at the end of the possession with an easy one-yard carry off right tackle for a walk-in score. Ingram was the recipient of a checkdown early on the following drive for three yards. He began to met more resistance on the ground for this drive, however, gaining three before losing six. He caught a short angle route early in the second quarter, picking up six to set up a third-and-medium. Ingram stayed busy through the entirety of the first half, but holding penalties and poor blocking limited any notable yardage. He ran up the middle for short gains of two and six on New Orleans’ opening drive, a trend of minimal gains on the ground that continued for the rest of the game to notch his dismal YPC of 3.17. Also on the opening drive, was targeted up the right sideline on a perfectly thrown wheel route for 20 yards. Ingram found space in the flat deep in the red zone, breaking through first contact to fall forward for four yards and a new set of downs at the one-yard line. As New Orleans fell behind by two scores in the fourth, Ingram began a primary checkdown option for Drew Brees. He opened a drive with two straight short completions for seven, and eight yards respectively. A notable carry took place late in the fourth, as he showed impressive power to stay upright off left guard for eight yards. New Orleans didn’t abandon the run as they have when trailing the past few weeks, but Ingram’s efficiency was still a major negative down the stretch of Sunday’s contest. His role as a checkdown option helped keep his statline afloat, and the touchdown is certainly nice for the team’s unquestioned feature-back.

RB John Kuhn, 25 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 5 - 2, Rec: 2 - 7 - 1 (2 targets)
Kuhn converted a third-and-short FB dive to end the first quarter. For his first touchdown, he cut across the formation on a QB rollout before embarking on wide open space for an easy one-yard touchdown reception. Kuhn cultured a second touchdown on the Saints’ opening drive of the second half, leaping over the pile on a FB dive for a one-yard score. Kuhn was once again given the reigns deep in San Diego territory late in the game, as he snagged a PA rollout that was intended for Coby Fleener for three yards before powering it back up the middle on the following down for a third one-yard touchdown. New Orleans clearly trusts the veteran FB in tight quarters, and Kuhn was rewarded with a career day. More vultured TDs down the road wouldn’t be surprising.

RB Daniel Lasco, 9 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 12 - 0, Rec: 1 - 7 - 0 (2 targets)
Receiving his first significant offensive role of the season, Lasco entered the game on the team’s third series. He was targeted on the drive’s opening play, settling down in the middle of the field for a seven-yard checkdown. He ran up the middle for two yards on the following down. Lasco converted a third-and-short on an inside handoff later in the drive, picking up three yards. He got the ball on the following play, showing impressive lateral agility to sidestep a tackle before cutting upfield for six yards. He ran into his own player on the following down, however, picking up one yard before exiting the game for good. The rookie figures to step in for a few touches each week going forward.

RB Tim Hightower, 9 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 11 - 0
Hightower entered the game on New Orleans’ second drive, toting up the middle for three. He ran off left tackle for two yards to begin the second quarter. Not receiving a carry again until early in the third period, Hightower ran off left guard for four yards. He got one final carry off left guard in the fourth period for two yards.

WR Michael Thomas, 56 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 44 - 1 (9 targets)
Thomas entered the stat column on the game’s first drive, winning inside leverage on an intermediate slant for 15 yards to move New Orleans into the red-zone. Two plays later, he ran a shallow crosser to the left sideline before diving to the one-yard line. The rookie continued his heavy involvement early in the second quarter, quickly winning inside on a three-step slant for nine yards. Thomas suffered a drop on the opening play of the second half for New Orleans. Another apparent miscue occurred early in the fourth quarter, as Brees targeted Thomas up the left seam but the rookie fell down midway through his route, resulting in an easy interception. He amended himself shortly after, hauling in a crucial back-shoulder throw to the left sideline for a five-yard touchdown. Thomas has clearly earned a role despite the noted miscues, albeit while running a limited route tree. He should be a fixture of WR-heavy sets even with Willie Snead nearing 100%.

WR Brandin Cooks, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 31 - 0 (6 targets)
Cooks got involved much earlier than last week, running an out route to the right sideline on the game’s opening possession for 11 yards. He ran a very similar route early in the second quarter, taking it a few yards deeper this time to secure 15 yards on a third-and-long. Cooks’ final catch of the day came late in the first half, a rollout to the right sideline in which he picked up five yards. Cooks was targeted twice in a row midway through the third quarter, but a pair of impressive coverage plays kept the ball out of his hands. Brees spread the ball around again on Sunday, as no receiver caught more than four balls. Cooks’ limited production is also due to the consistent coverage from San Diego CB Jason Verrett.

WR Brandon Coleman, 18 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 17 - 0 (3 targets)
Coleman crossed over the middle on New Orleans’ first drive of the game, picking up eleven in a small void in San Diego’s zone. He didn’t receive his next catch until late in the fourth quarter, running a shallow crosser for six yards. Coleman isn’t dynamic in any area of the game.

WR TommyLee Lewis, 7 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (1 targets)
Lewis’ first touch came on a fake sweep pitch, as he followed his blockers to the right sideline for three yards early in the third quarter. Lewis came through in a clutch situation late in the fourth quarter, hauling in a pass that was thrown behind him on third-and-short for nine yards and a first down. His speed is evident, and sure-handed weapons are always valuable in the NFL, making it likely he sticks on the team going forward.

WR Willie Snead, 49 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 23 - 0 (1 targets)
Snead’s first and only catch of the day occurred early in the second quarter, a 23-yard reception on third down in which he sold an out-route before breaking inside to secure inside leverage. Snead played his usual dosage of snaps throughout the contest, but was only targeted once. He figures to ramp back up his involvement as he nears 100% health, but Michael Thomas’ emergence puts a bit of a damper on his early-season WR2 status.

TE Coby Fleener, 47 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 19 - 0 (5 targets)
Fleener’s first target came on the Saints’ second drive, a shallow crossing route against a voided zone for nine yards and a new set of downs. He ran an in-breaking route for a key first down on the team’s opening drive of the third quarter. Later in the period, he ran a very shallow stick route breaking toward the sideline, but was immediately thrown down after a two-yard pickup. New Orleans spent zero effort trying to establish a downfield passing game, limiting Fleener’s production on the seam routes in which he thrived on last week. He’s still ironing out the kinks in his new stomping grounds, but rarely earns much separation.


San Diego Chargers

QB Philip Rivers, 70 offensive snaps, Pass: 28 - 43 - 321 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0
Rivers picked the Saints apart early on, methodically moving the ball downfield with a series of short passes. Just as the Saints tightened up, Rivers picked the right time to go back over the top, connecting with Hunter Henry for a long score. With the offense rolling (and the Saints helping out with busted coverage), Rivers found Dontrelle Inman deep down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown in stride. Inman did the rest after the catch, beating the defense in the open field. There was a lot more short stuff from the Chargers, but it was highly efficient and getting decent yardage since the Saints receivers were constantly trailing the speedier Charger receivers. He was close to a third first half touchdown, another to Henry, but the ball was just out of range as Henry was unable to get a second foot down inbounds. Facing a third and long from inside the red zone late in the first half, Rivers threw one up for grabs into the end zone. It was intercepted, but Rivers was bailed out by an offsides penalty on the Saints. He threw it up there with such reckless abandon that one has to assume there's a decent chance Rivers knew it was a free play. In the second half, Rivers was actually under a good amount of duress which is part the reason he only attempted one deep shot (to Travis Benjamin, which fell incomplete due to very good defensive coverage). Part of that can possibly attributed to the fact that the running game was giving very little help to Rivers, so the Saints were free to target him a bit more. There also seemed to be some miscommunication between Rivers and his receivers on a few occasions. On one play, there were two receivers within a couple of feet of an intended target. On another, he was trying to throw a screen to Travis Benjamin but kind of darted the ball right into the ground. The last time Rivers came close to scoring was on a pass to Tyrell Williams from the goal line. After a pass interference penalty in the end zone, the Chargers lined up from the 1 and faked out everyone by taking to the air. The attempted screen to Williams was completed, but he was unable to beat his man to the end zone before being taken down. Melvin Gordon rumbled in from a yard out on the very next play. To Rivers' credit, he stood tall in the pocket despite the defensive pressure and continued putting his receivers in position to succeed. On one play, he may have stood tall a bit too long as he was hit by a defender and fumbled the ball, but he recovered it himself. Despite leading by 13 with only a few minutes left to play, the Chargers turned the ball over on successive offensive plays, a fumble by Melvin Gordon and another by Travis Benjamin. The Saints capitalized on both, scoring two touchdown to go up a point. Rivers and the Chargers got the ball back with just under two minutes left to play and trailing by one. But they quickly moved backwards, setting up a desperation 3rd and 22 pass play. Rivers perfectly fired one down the sideline to Inman, but a defender just got a fingertip on it to change the trajectory and cause it to be dropped. On the ensuing fourth down desperation heave, Rivers again fired one down that same sideline, but that one was picked off for his first interception of the season.

RB Melvin Gordon, 62 offensive snaps, Rush: 19 - 36 - 2, Rec: 6 - 43 - 0 (7 targets)
Gordon scored his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the season, which hid yet another lackluster rushing performance by the second-year back. Lost in Gordon's touchdown barrage to open the season is the fact that he's barely averaging three yards per carry on the year. His long run of this game went for ten yards, which means his other 18 carries went for a total of 26 yards. He showed good strength on a couple of occasions, repeatedly fighting for extra yardage. And he shows nice start-and-stop abilities at the goal line and seems to have developed a real knack for running in traffic. The problem is that there's nearly always traffic. When he runs up the middle, defenders are always there to meet him. If he tries stretching a play out wide, he just doesn't show that second gear burst to get to the edge like he showed in college. It wouldn't be as noticeable against a good defense, but he had a very poor game on a per carry basis against one of the league's worst defenses in this game. To cap off his day, with the Chargers up by 13 late in the fourth quarter and just trying to salt the game away, Gordon was stripped of the ball on the first play of the possession and turned it over to the Saints. That led to a whirlwind of events that eventually cost the Chargers the win. With no one else of note in the backfield, he's not in danger of losing touches over that one fumble. But Gordon owners in 2015 recall that his fumbling issues in his rookie year led to a reduced role at times, so this is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

RB Dexter McCluster, 9 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 2 - 0, Rec: 2 - 9 - 0 (3 targets)
McCluster didn't get a lot of work in the game, but he did receive two red zone touches. On one such play, he did a great job reading his blockers to pick up first down yardage on a short swing pass out of the backfield, but never really had much of a chance to reach the end zone.

WR Dontrelle Inman, 68 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 120 - 1 (11 targets)
Inman entered the game having been overshadowed in the passing game by both Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams. But by game's end, Inman was staking his claim as the team's top passing game threat after leading San Diego in both targets and receptions. Inman was seemingly getting open at will, taking advantage of the very porous New Orleans secondary. Late in the first half, he got loose from the defense deep down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown, easily beating his coverage. In the second half, he showed good ball skills on a laser pass over the middle. Inman was leaning right, but the ball went left. He reached back and just plucked it out of mid-air before it got past him. He had a couple other nice grabs in traffic, one of which he went high in front of a defender to snare it for a first down and one on which he managed to hang on despite taking a big hit. Inman was targeted later on a floater from the 5-yard line, but was badly interfered with by the defender and he had no chance to catch it. Melvin Gordon scored from a yard out two plays later. On San Diego's last gasp drive, Inman was the target of a bullet pass down the right sideline on a 3rd and 22 prayer. He actually had the ball bounce off his hands, but replays appeared to show that the defender had barely gotten a finger on it that deflected the ball at the last second. The announcers said Inman should have caught it, but those kind of passes that are deflected right in front of you that change the trajectory of the ball are almost always impossible to corral.

WR Tyrell Williams, 67 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 40 - 0 (8 targets)
The young wideout was given a lot of hype leading into this matchup. The up-and-comer who has seemingly taken the reins as San Diego's top target in the passing game was squaring off against a very poor defense in a game that was supposed to feature an offensive explosion. The script didn't quite go according to plan, as Williams wasn't even mentioned in the first half. Meanwhile, teammate Dontrelle Inman was getting all the looks in the passing game, including a 57-yard touchdown reception. In fact, Williams wasn't even mentioned until early in the second half and it was for a negative reason (a false start penalty). He finally recorded his first reception midway through the third quarter, a 12-yard quick slant. Soon after he saw another target down the field with a diving attempt. The ball fell incomplete, but more importantly the defender sort of landed on him as he hit the ground, and he briefly left the game with some sort of arm injury. Upon return, he made two more nice grabs - one on a comeback and one a sliding grab near the end zone. He showed excellent hands in particular on the second one, snatching the ball that was thrown a bit out in front of him while he slid to the ground. A few plays later the Chargers had the ball at the goal line. While just about the whole stadium expected Melvin Gordon to get a handoff, Philip Rivers turned and fired a quick screen to Williams who caught it at the 1-yard line. A terrific tackle by the defender was the only reason Williams was unable to cross the plane for the score. It's important though to remember that they tried to get it to him on first down.

WR Travis Benjamin, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 48 - 0 (7 targets)
Some observers felt that the injury to Keenan Allen would open up Benjamin as the team's go-to wide receiver, but that hasn't quite materialized. His targets are there, but they are kind of infrequent thus far. He had a nice 25-yard catch up the right side after crossing the middle as his defender trailed him horribly. His speed allows him to get by the defense, but there aren't many other known weapons in the passing game to take a lot of pressure off of him. He was a big deep threat with the Browns a year ago, but hasn't seen a lot of deep looks to this point. On one such pass in this game, Rivers tried to hit him with a deep bomb down the right sideline, but the coverage was very tight and there wasn't much chance of completing the pass. Late in the fourth quarter with the Chargers just trying to run out the clock, Benjamin made a short catch over the middle. He tried to turn upfield and simply dropped the ball untouched for a fumble, which was recovered by the Saints. It was the Chargers' second straight fumble in as many plays, and helped contribute to yet another fourth quarter collapse and loss - the third time they've lost a game this season that they led at the 2:00 mark of the fourth quarter.

TE Hunter Henry, 68 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 61 - 1 (7 targets)
The rookie had another very productive game in place of the injured Antonio Gates. He was the second-most targeted player after Dontrelle Inman, and joined Inman as the only players to catch touchdown passes for San Diego. His score was a wide open catch where Philip Rivers temporarily froze the defenders with a hesitation while waiting for Henry to get past his man. The quarterback put it over the top of the defense for the easy score. Henry was targeted in the end zone soon after that on a floater in the corner, but wasn't close to getting his second foot down. It was still an impressive grab even if it didn't count. He showed some veteran savvy on a second half grab over the middle. He caught a pass just shy of the first down marker as the defender grabbed him. He was seemingly wrapped up just shy of the line to gain, but he quickly looked to the sideline to find the first down marker, stretched out while keeping his knees off the ground, and lunged ahead for the first down. He displayed his athleticism later in the fourth quarter with a tremendous sliding grab to get the ball back into the red zone on a low thrown ball.