NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
Six down, five to go.
That's one way for the San Diego Chargers to look at where they are this season as they prepare to greet the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in a key December game for both squads.
The Bengals are cruising along in the AFC North with a two-game divisional lead, something the Chargers wish they had themselves.
Instead they are among a half-dozen teams entering the week with a 5-6 record, with five games remaining.
Working in the Chargers' favor is that four of the five are at Qualcomm Stadium.
Also, the wind is at their back in that they are coming off a stirring victory over the Chiefs, handing that AFC West foe its first home loss of the season.
But that big victory means squat unless the Chargers follow it up with a win over the Bengals on Sunday.
It won't be easy what with the offensive weapons the Bengals have to offer and a Chargers defense which is on its heels when not chasing ball-carriers toward the end zone.
"I think you just need to be sound in everything you do," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "They make a lot of big plays in all three phases so we just need to do our job."
Quarterback Philip Rivers' job is to stay even-keeled. While he understands the Chargers are coming off a big win, the realist in him knows the team has lost three of its last four games.
"I really think it's one of the things I learned early as an NFL player that I try to use often is, being able to manage the emotional highs and lows in this league is very key to being able to stay in the right mental focus week-to-week," Rivers said. "We've had to handle the lows three weeks in a row, those last couple, and then now we have to handle a high and all of a sudden not think that was easy, because that was hard."
Some speculate the Chargers might have to win five in a row to qualify for the playoffs to break a three-year skid of being postseason-free.
But on the way to winning five in a row, the Chargers have to win two in a row and that is the task come Sunday.
"It was hard to go find a way to win that game," Rivers said. "I think realizing that and having the same approach this week will give us the best chance to win two in a row."
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 19-12. The Chargers are coming off a stirring comeback in the win over the Chiefs but few games will match the one they had when defeating the Chiefs in 2006. The Chargers trailed, in Cincinnati, 28-7 at halftime. But they scored a team record 42 points in the second half to rally for a 49-41 victory. The teams have met but once in the playoffs, and it was in the epic Freezer Bowl, one of the coldest games in the NFL history. The great Chargers teams of the Dan Fouts era saw a golden chance to reach a Super Bowl slip away when they fell in the 1981 AFC Championship Game, 27-7.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has the utmost respect for veteran Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
"Just like any defensive coordinator, he has his schemes whether they are blitzes or dogs," Whisenhunt said. "He does the A-Gap pressures, which you have to be prepared for. He does a number of different things. He gives you multiple looks. It doesn't help that he has some pretty good edge pass rushers. That always helps. And he has some physical linebackers in there. They are a very coordinated group. They understand what they are trying to do to pressure you. You have to be buttoned up as far as how you are going to handle it."
--There is open competition among the Chargers cornerbacks as the secondary continues to struggle.
"We're taking it as the week goes right now," defensive coordinator John Pagano said. "They're all competing. Really, in my eyes, they're all starters. Everybody's got to be accountable out there and everybody's got to get ready to play.
"We've got a nice little competition going right now back there and how it shapes out at the end of the week and how we see it as a staff, you'll see who comes out. It could be goal line. It could be some situation where certain guys aren't even out there on the package. So it's really not about who starts, but it's about getting eleven guys out there playing together and competing at the same time."
-- Quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Chiefs. It was his fourth game with at least 390 passing yards this season. Rivers Dan Marino (1984) and Joe Montana (1990) for the most such games in a single season.
-- Running back Danny Woodhead has career-best in catches (59), receiving yards (469) and touchdown catches (five). He also leads all running backs in those categories.
-- Wide receiver Keenan Allen said he learned a lot about running routes from the Bengals' Marvin Jones; the two were teammates at the University of California. Allen was a good student as he leads all rookies with 50 receptions and 737 receiving yards. If Allen gets 10 catches over the final five games, he will surpass LaDainian Tomlinson's mark, set in 2001, for most receptions by a Chargers rookie.
-- The Chargers, coming off a big win, and still having a tough time winning over a reluctant fan base. The Chargers could become the first NFL team to have a home game blacked out this season, as nearly 6,000 tickets were still available on Wednesday. The team had four games blacked out last season.
-- The Chargers are honoring their 1963 team, which won the only league title in franchise history when it defeated the Boston Patriots for the AFL championship. The team will be inducted into the ring of honor and a banner signifying the accomplishment will be flown at all home games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- Number of 10-play drives the Chargers have produced, which is tied for the second-most in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hopefully it can plunge us forward with four of our final five games at home" -- Quarterback Philip Rivers, on what Sunday's dramatic win over Kansas City could do as the Chargers enter their final five games.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers are having open competition in the defensive backfield, and yes you read that right.
Despite the schedule reaching December, the Chargers are still unsettled in the secondary.
Derek Cox was benched in three of his past four games and the high-priced free agent is no guarantee to start on Sunday. He could be replaced by either Johnny Patrick or Richard Marshall.
It appears Shareece Wright, the other starter at cornerback, will be with the first unit. Then again, after regularly getting burned, that's no slam dunk.
The safeties seem safe. Well, at least one of them seems to be -- Eric Weddle -- although he has slumped as year. Marcus Gilchrist, a first-year starter, has trouble but the depth behind him isn't considered any better, and it lacks more experience.
--TE Antonio Gates became the fourth player at his position to catch 700 passes and have more than 9,000 receiving yards.
--WR Seyi Ajirotutu was the star in Kansas City with his go-ahead touchdown catch in the final 30 seconds. Ajirotutu has had three different stints with the Chargers and despite his sporadic appearances, he has formed a strong relationship with QB Philip Rivers. Their connection could lead to Ajirotutu getting more playing time.
--WR Vincent Brown hasn't gotten better as the year progresses, and that has some Chargers staff concerned. After being injured for most of his first two years, this is in some ways Brown's rookie season. But he has been sloppy on his routes and several times haven't been on the same wave length as QB Philip Rivers.
--ILB Manti Te'o continues to absorb his learning curve. He played a tad better on Sunday, but he is still often out of position and/or gets run over by blockers.
--OLB Reggie Walker, an undrafted free agent, is making the most of his opportunity with all the injuries that have hit that position. Walker is tied with Tom Keiser for the team lead with four sacks.
--T Kenny Wiggins was signed to the practice squad.
--LT King Dunlap (neck) still isn't working and could be down for another week.
--TE Antonio Gates (hamstring) was given the day off -- thought to be a precautionary move.
--C Nick Hardwick (neck) was given a rest day -- he will start on Sunday.
--RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) didn't participate but he isn't walking with a limp -- he should go on Sunday.
--WR Eddie Royal (toe, chest) didn't practice but is expected to play on Sunday.
--S Darrell Stuckey (concussion) has yet to be cleared to return to practice.
--OLB Jarret Johnson (hand) was a limited participant; he was close last week and could play on Sunday.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers, in their five wins, did something they must do again come Sunday -- score a lot of points to cover up for a shoddy defense.
That was never more true than when they slapped 41 points on the Chiefs. The Chargers defense is challenged even against the Chiefs' pedestrian offense, so it is imperative that the Chargers' offense rolls against the Bengals.
No going for field goals; no getting shy on fourth-and-short situations near midfield. The Chargers must lean on their offense to compensate for the defense, so let quarterback Philip Rivers do his thing and get out of the way.
The Chargers found a new weapon in second-year tight end Ladarius Green and they must use him. The Chargers found new faith in running back Ryan Mathews. They must stick the ball in his gut. The Chargers have an exciting rookie in wide receiver Keenan Allen. They must send him deep.
This will be a game in which the Chargers' offense must carry the day, especially considering what the Bengals' offense is capable of. This should be a high-scoring affair -- or should be if the Chargers want to have their best chance of winning.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass defense, which includes a secondary not playing with any confidence vs. a Bengals passing game that includes targets such of wide receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Lewis and tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Chargers have burn marks from their game in Kansas City, but those are administered on a weekly basis. The secondary is young and not very good -- a bad combination. There could be new starters in it as cornerback Derek Cox hasn't played up to the level the Chargers expected when awarding him a $20 million contract.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has some tempting receivers, especially the tandem of Green and Lewis. The back end could get some help if the front seven attacks the pocket with more urgency -- and maybe that happens with the return of outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. The secondary sure hopes so.
--Chargers' resurgent running game, led by Ryan Mathews vs. a Bengals run defense that is missing Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins -- Mathews has been solid this season -- when the coaches have believed in him. He's the AFC's third-leading rusher with 721 yards and has added three touchdowns. But he's not alone as the Chargers also use Danny Woodhead, and on occasion, Ronnie Brown.
If the Chargers establish the running game, the play-action opens up for quarterback Philip Rivers and so does the passing game. Losing Atkins was a killer for the Bengals, but their run defense still allows 108 yards a game, which is ranked 10th in the league. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is likely headed to the Pro Bowl as he's among the league's leaders in tackles. And Rey Maualuga is expected to return from his knee injury. The key will be the Chargers' makeshift offensive line getting to the second level of blockers, i.e. Burfict and Maualuga, to open up the running lanes. That's especially true for Mathews, as his moves don't have much wiggle to them.