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NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
The Chargers need to rebound. They need to recapture the belief they had when exiting Philadelphia two weeks ago that this could be more than just a rebuilding season.
But it won't be a snap considering the visiting Dallas Cowboys are up next.
The Chargers could easily be entering Sunday's home game with a double dose of confidence. They got one scoop by winning at Philadelphia; they could've had another save some terrible defense and questionable play-calling in their heartbreaking 20-17 loss at Tennessee.
It's clear with the roster purge and other organizational maneuvers that this season is one where the Chargers are looking ahead. After a shakeup in the front office, coaching staff and personnel, this team wasn't built for 2013.
But the great thing about the NFL is you don't know what you don't know. And after a win over the Eagles -- and a big if, if, they could have held on against the Titans -- the Chargers could be 2-1 and a game shy of first place in the AFC West.
But coach Mike McCoy got cautious down the stretch Sunday, and it cost the team a win and maybe the conviction that this season could be one of rebuilding and results.
"I think in all three phases there are a lot of good things, but there are still too many little mistakes," McCoy said.
That includes a coaching staff that seems reluctant to play to the team strength, which is quarterback Philip Rivers and the offense.
It's clear the Chargers' defense is going to be hard-pressed to stop anyone. So it's imperative the Chargers' offense leads the way, and it can only do so with a coaching staff turning its engine on as much as possible.
The Cowboys will present a stiff test, as their offensive options are seemingly endless with quarterback Tony Romo, a solid rusher in DeMarco Murray and tempting targets in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten.
But they can be had, especially with them being on the road.
First, the Chargers have to buy into leaning on an offense that just might be able to compensate for a dreadful defense.
McCoy wasn't eager to reflect on his offense going into a shell during the second half on Sunday. Too bad -- maybe the rookie coach could learn from it.
"We're not going to question what we do," McCoy said. "We went out and did what we thought was best to win the game and we're going to move on from it."
Their first chance to put the right foot forward again comes Sunday. Hopefully they won't step in the chunk of confidence they shed after letting a win slip away in against the Titans.
"We need to be solid for four quarters, not just most of the game," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We need this one big time."
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 6-3. But the Chargers have won two of the last three contests, with both wins coming in Dallas (2001, 2009). The Cowboys have had their way in San Diego, taking four of the five games here. Maybe it's because it almost feels like a home game. Legions of their Cowboys fans reside in Southern California -- the team has its training camp some 200 miles north -- and traditionally show up loud and proud for the games.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--RB Danny Woodhead continues to be one of the team's most productive offseason pickups. Woodhead, who came over from the Patriots, has 15 receptions in his last two games. His 17 receptions are the third-most among NFL running backs.
--QB Philip Rivers needs three touchdown passes to join John Hadl (201) and Dan Fouts (254) as the only players in franchise history to reach the 200 mark in their careers. Rivers has eight touchdowns and one interception this year, with no picks coming in the last two games.
--With the Chargers scratching their heads in trying to figure out how to fix their broken secondary, coach Mike McCoy said an answer could be tied to the play of the front seven. The Chargers have but six sacks in three games.
"We've always said here as an organization that the best pass coverage is a good pass rush," McCoy said. "So the more you get to the quarterback the less time he's got to get rid of the ball. He's got to do certain things. You've got to wreak havoc. The quarterback has a different mentality when you're getting to him and getting pressure. We've got to do a better job there too of creating more opportunities to get to the quarterback and help the back end out. There are certain things in coverage we can do differently too. So we'll do everything we need to do to adjust. That's our job as coaches."
--Paul Oliver, a Chargers safety from 2008-11, has died at the age of 29 by committing suicide. Oliver played in 57 games for the Chargers after being a fourth-round pick in the 2007 supplemental draft. "I had spent some time with him and when those tragedies happen they are just unexplainable," TE Antonio Gates said. "You feel fortunate to be a part of his life, the time that he was here. I would have never expected a guy like that to make those types of judgments about life."
BY THE NUMBERS: 57 - Number of touchdowns Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have combined for, most in NFL history between a quarterback and a tight end.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It killed the football team." -- Coach Mike McCoy of the significance of the unsportsmanlike penalty committed by QB Philip Rivers in the red zone during the loss to the Titans.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers' roster moves early in the week is tipping their hand: they are in a world of hurt along the offensive line.
Guard Steve Schilling, who was cut on Aug. 31, was signed. Guard Andrew Tiller was signed to the practice squad. The Chargers felt letting linebacker Terrell Manning and wide receiver Toney Clemons go, was a small price to add depth in an area which has numerous red flags flapping because of injuries.
--WR Eddie Royal nearly reached a career-high with his sixth touchdown last Sunday, but his scoring catch was called back because of an injury. Royal's 12 receptions leads all Chargers wideouts.
--OLB Dwight Freeney has come close to a handful of sacks, but the Chargers brought him in to finish the deal. So far he has but 0.5 sack, which puts him roughly on pace for the five sacks he recorded last year. Freeney's sack total has gone down the last four years from 13.5 to 10 to 8.5 to 5. Freeney didn't practice on Wednesday, as is the norm. He isn't injured; just being rested.
--RB/KR Fozzy Whittaker was the Chargers' top rusher in the preseason but he has had trouble getting in the offensive mix once the season started. The rotation of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown -- with Le'Ron McClain getting an occasional carry -- has made it difficult for Whittaker to see the field. He is averaging 26 yards per return, which is sixth in the NFL.
--WR Malcom Floyd (neck) didn't practice and appears to be a long shot of being able to play this week.
--C Nick Hardwick (shin) didn't practice and had his right leg wrapped. But Hardwick likely starts on Sunday.
--LG Jeromey Clary (clavicle) didn't practice and might not try to until late in the week. The thinking, though, is he starts on Sunday.
--LT King Dunlap (concussion) wasn't working on Wednesday, and considering the manner in which he went down Sunday, he could be out on Sunday.
--RT D.J. Fluker (concussion) was back working and he seems to be on track to play against the Cowboys.
--LG Chad Rinehart (foot) didn't practice, and in looking at the Chargers roster moves, he may not be fit this week.
--ILB Donald Butler (groin) was back practicing and he would seem to be a go Sunday. He nearly played in the previous game against the Titans.
--ILB Manti Te'o (foot) continues to practice and he could be activated this week for the first time in his career. He got some time running with the first team today, opposite Donald Butler.
--CB Shareece Wright (hamstring) didn't practice and he wasn't running on the side, either. Could be another week off for Wright.
GAME PLAN: Attack, attack, attack. The Chargers can't afford to go into an offensive shell, like they did on numerous occasions in Sunday's loss. Get a chance to score, take it, and stop thinking a shoddy defense is going to hold the other team.
It's not the greatest situation when having to get into a shootout against a team with as many weapons as the Cowboys.
But when trotting out the No. 31 defense, one that has been defeated in their opponents final drive in two of three games, drastic measures are needed.
McCoy's offensive mind needs to go into overdrive and not into duck-and-cover mode.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass protection, which could be filled with backups vs. a Cowboys pass rush, which while missing an injured Anthony Spencer, has a monster in DeMarcus Ware. The Chargers' left tackle situation is in flux with starter King Dunlap having to leave Sunday's game with a concussion. That means Mike Harris, a backup right tackle, will likely move over and man Rivers' blind spot. Harris started nine games there last year and the results were mixed. What's more evident is this is a huge change for Ware to have a pick day; he is coming off a two-sack game and is playing well. Harris could seek some help from his left guard, but a backup could be playing there as well with Chard Rinehart nursing a foot injury. And that left guard figures to have his hands full with Jason Hatcher -- he has two sacks. The Chargers are going to need to throw the ball to keep up with the Cowboys -- plus the Chargers running game is nothing special. But it's going to be a keen test for a line of fill-ins to fill the gaps in keeping Rivers from harm's way.
Chargers pass defense, in particular the secondary vs. a Cowboys passing attack that features three solid targets. Anyone the Chargers' pass defense is ranked ahead of? Not exactly. It's hit rock bottom and that's no mistake, as it gives up 340 yards per game. The possible return of starter Shareece Wright (hamstring) could help, but when he was last spotted he was chasing DeSean Jackson's jersey, getting beat repeatedly by the Eagles' wide receiver. Now here come the Cowboys, with the likes of Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten to spread any defense thin. Wright hasn't been anything special, but he looked better than what the Chargers trotted out to replace him in Johnny Patrick and Crezdon Butler. Derek Cox, who starts opposite Wright, needs to lift his game as well. What this embattled secondary really needs is a pass rush to elevate its chances to cover someone. So far, that's been spotted about as often as spot-on coverage in the back end.