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NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
The San Diego Chargers are heading to Kansas City and can you dig it?
Well, maybe and maybe not.
What better place for the reeling Chargers to snap a three-game losing streak, proving to the NFL that they still have a pulse by winning in one of the NFL's most hostile environments.
Then again, trying to stop the Chiefs' pass-rushers with a patchwork offensive line might not be such a small task.
Good luck with that, as the Chiefs are not only 9-1 and a bit grumpy after losing their Sunday showdown with the Broncos, but they are a spiffy 5-0 at Arrowhead Stadium.
But the Chargers have to win again this season, don't they? Or will head coach Mike McCoy's rookie season - which started with such promise - dissolve into a disaster.
Here's the word from the coach: grab a shovel.
"We've dug ourselves in this hole," McCoy said. "As a football team, we'll dig ourselves out. We have to find a way."
Of late the Chargers have found different ways to lose: shoddy pass defense, troubles in the red zone, questionable coaching decisions and head-scratching clock management.
"Each man has to look at himself and figure a way out to play a little better and do their job better," McCoy said. "And it starts with me as the head coach."
That's admirable of McCoy to be the first to fall on the sword, but he can't put on the pads. He can't make the tackles the Chargers are missing; can't make the blocks in the red zone; can't bat down yet another pass which finds a receiver's mitts.
It's time for the players to step up instead of stepping in it, like they have for three straight weeks.
Then again, this might be the best the Chargers got. They got awfully young in the offseason when new general manager Tom Telesco shook the roster free of many of its experienced players - especially on defense.
Then again, a team that wasn't deep to start with has absorbed the usual injuries which hit every squad. They just don't have the depth to win with what they got.
But that type of attitude isn't welcome in the Chargers' locker room. When not making the playoffs for three straight years, those who've been around that long don't want to make it four straight.
Although all signs point to this season being just what it was predicted to be: the first of many in a rebuilding process.
"If you want to find our identity...you look at 10 games, somehow, we created an identity," tight end Antonio Gates said of the team's 4-6 mark. "That's who you are at this point of the season."
The point of Sunday is to prove the Chargers are something different. That they can do more than stay in games until the end and shock the NFL world with an unlikely victory.
Before everyone throws dirt on the Chargers, their coach has them reaching for the shovel. We'll see if in the Heartland, the Chargers still have a beat.
SERIES HISTORY: 106th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 52-52-1. This is the first time rookie Chargers head coach Mike McCoy faces the Chiefs, and the Chargers can only hope he does as well as his predecessor, Norv Turner. The Chargers' ex-coach faced the Chiefs 12 times, and won nine of them. The Chargers swept the series last year, but that's not saying much as the Chiefs were stumbling to a 4-12 record.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--With a three-game losing streak on being on the outside of the conversation for the final AFC playoff berth, is this a do-or-die game for the Chargers? "I don't know if this is our last chance because they are still going to tick the other five off regardless," QB Philip Rivers said. "I don't think it's the year you go 4-7 and win the division. If you ask anyone in the locker room about the playoffs, they will tell you it's not even worth talking about right now. We have to find a way to win a division game." The Chargers are 0-2 against AFC West teams, losing at Oakland and at home to the Broncos.
-- Among the reasons the Chargers have struggled on defense is their poor tackling. In the loss at Miami, the Chargers missed a dozen tackles. "That's inexcusable," coach Mike McCoy said. "We have to clean that up. If we make the tackle itself, it's 'X' number of yards, but because of the extra yards there were 92 bonus yards in the game. That's a lot of yardage that we gave up after the missed tackle."
-- OLB Melvin Ingram returned to practice, after being out since the OTAs when he suffered a torn ACL. There is no guarantee Ingram will join the active roster this year; the Chargers have until Dec. 10 to make that decision. Ingram is a former first-round pick. "It's just a blessing to have an opportunity to step back out there on the field," Ingram said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 - Number of interceptions this season by Chargers cornerbacks after 358 passes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "With the way they're playing now, it's going to be a tough task." -- Coach Mike McCoy on the challenges of playing the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers are still shaky at the tackle spot, with uncertainty riding for another week.
It's not clear if left tackle King Dunlap can return from his neck injury. That means D. J. Fluker will switch sides, with right guard Jeromey Clary sliding out to right tackle.
The Chargers made a move by signing tackle Willie Smith, and he could be active Sunday -- especially if Dunlap can't go. Also, Mike Remmers is back practicing after an ankle injury had him sidelined.
--TE Antonio Gates needs two catches and 15 receiving yards to become the fourth tight end in NFL history to have at least 700 catches and 9,000 receiving yards.
--T Willie Smith, a third-year pro, was signed.
--T Andrew Tiller, who was released to make room for Willie Smith, was re-signed back to the practice squad.
--WR Josh Bellamy was released from the practice squad.
--WR Keenan Allen (knee) was a full participant.
--CB Johnny Patrick (concussion) didn't work and it's not clear when he will be cleared to play.
--LT King Dunlap (neck) did not work and could be down another week.
--OLB Jarret Johnson (hand) didn't participate; he is also nursing a tender hamstring.
--WR Eddie Royal (toe) didn't practice but he is expected to play on Sunday.
--WR Vincent Brown (shoulder) was limited but should play on Sunday.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers' offense has been quiet, what with five touchdowns in the last three games. Early on, the offense was hogging the ball and scoring at a clip that it was able to cover up for a deficient defense. The Chargers need to return to spinning the scoreboard if they want to have a chance against the Chiefs. Kansas City is built to do a lot of things, but score a basket of points isn't one of them. The Chargers need to strike early -- and not stumble in the red zone -- by being aggressive early on and trying to out Kansas City in the hole.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass protection, with a banged-up offensive line vs. Chiefs pass rushers, which have 36 sacks, second-best in the NFL -- The Chargers are questionable on the edges, and that was proven last Sunday with rookie LT D.J. Fluker and RT Jeromey Clary. It's imperative they hold the edges against the Chiefs' Tamba Hali (nine sacks) and Justin Houston (11) -- easier said than done. But if the Chargers are to try and get up on the Chiefs early and put them in position the aren't comfortable in -- playing from behind -- then the Chargers can't be content on the dink-and-dunk passing account. The Chargers need to stretch the field, which means aiming the ball down field. To do that, Philip Rivers is going to need more time, which means the pass-blocking has to be sturdy longer.
--Chargers tackling vs. Chiefs shifty ball-carriers -- Against the Dolphins, the Chargers were horrible in the basic task of tackling. Now here comes the Chiefs, featuring the fluid hips of Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster and, to a lesser degree, Dwayne Bowe. Charles is averaging nearly 119 yards per game from scrimmage, best in the AFC. Among the most guilty of missing tackles is rookie Manti Te'o and the secondary, which looks like the Padres' batting order -- lots of whiffs.
--Chargers running game, with a resurgent Ryan Mathews vs. Chiefs run defense -- Mathews is coming off his third 100-yard game of the season and he's running the ball with a purpose that has seldom been seen in his career. But can he do it against the Chiefs? Why not, it's ranked tied for 20th in stopping the run. But the Chargers' run-blocking will have to content with Chiefs NT Dontari Poe and the team's active linebackers and S Eric Berry. This is a huge challenge for the Chargers, and Mathews, that they can rush the ball against one of the NFL's best defenses.