NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
The San Diego Chargers will look toward the scoreboard on Sunday, hoping to do more than play out the string.
The Chargers wrestle with old foe, the Oakland Raiders, this weekend and that's always a hoot.
But the Chargers figure to let out a holler if Sunday's scores -- before these teams' afternoon kickoff -- shows the Ravens getting beat by the Patriots.
That needs to happen, along with a string of other events, for the Chargers to stay alive for the AFC's No. 6 spot in the playoffs.
"Our No. 1 focus is the Oakland Raiders," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "We don't have control of the 31 other teams in this league. We can only take care of ourselves week in and week out and we'll let everything else play itself out."
Right now, it's not playing out so swell for Southern California's only NFL team. For the Chargers to break their string of missing the postseason for three straight years, they need to win Sunday against the Raiders and then the following week against the visiting Raiders.
Then the Ravens would have to lose to the Patriots this week and to the host Bengals next week.
Then the Dolphins -- you still with us? -- need to fall at Buffalo on Sunday and then to the visiting Jets in the season finale.
Mix all that up in the NFL blender and the Chargers' season will extend into next month.
It's a scenario that is unlikely. What is more plausible is the Chargers kicking themselves for losing to the likes of the Texans, Titans, Redskins and Raiders this season.
"There's nothing we can do to change them," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "I think that is just natural for you to look back on games you didn't finish or let get away. It caused us to be in the bind we are. I think what is most important for our team is to just focus on trying to win another division game and see if we can get to 8-7. I think worrying about anything more than that doesn't help you at all. Worrying about anything more than that would be silly, because we can only control our end."
So the Chargers will go for their third straight win while knowing their playoff chances are slim and none.
"Whatever happens in the next couple of weeks, the only thing we can control is how we play on the field these last two games," Rivers said.
Just maybe, in falling short of a Super Bowl tournament invitation, the Chargers can, at the least, form momentum for 2014.
"It's not so much for next season, but it can certainly do that," Rivers added. "It just speaks about the character of the team and how you finish the season. Again, whether we are eliminated, whether we still have a chance, whatever the circumstances are when we take the field these last two weeks, I think our mindset is going to be let's find a way to get to 3-2 in the division and hopefully find a way to get to 4-2 in the division, which is better than we have been the past few years.
"We want to finish winning four in a row and five of the last six. That's the mindset and you can still look back and be sick about some things that happened earlier in the season, but it will say a lot about our team if we can finish it the right way. We have to beat Oakland first, but to get these last two would be a heck of a finish."
It's just not the finish the Chargers wanted as they are coming off two of their most impressive victories of the season after thumping the Giants and then shocking the Broncos in Denver.
The Chargers are optimistic in that while they look ahead, they see a team on the right track.
But first they will look at the scoreboard before Sunday's game, hoping the news keeps their dwindling playoff chances alive.
SERIES HISTORY: 108th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 58-47-2. The Chargers are trying to avoid what is a cardinal sin to their fan base: being swept in the season series by the Raiders. The Chargers lost in Oakland earlier this year, 27-17, in what was among their worst performances of the up-and-down season. The Chargers were last swept by the Raiders in a season in 2010. That sweep broke a 13-game winning streak the Chargers had enjoyed over the Raiders. Despite the Chargers' most recent loss to the Raiders, they have won three of the last four against them.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen continues to shine -- not bad for the eighth receiver taken in the last draft. Allen has a rookie franchise-record 62 catches for 931 yards and seven touchdowns. He has four touchdowns in the last five games. "It's a great feeling," he said. "But I think that was only two wins in those five games."
--Free safety Eric Weddle said as the season progresses, the Chargers defense gets better. "I think the last three games, we have really tried to get better and we've really stressed the way we play in the back end," he said. "If we play together, communicate and get lined up, we can play with anyone in our minds. We are confident and gelling at the right time."
--Despite the Chargers-Raiders being such hated foes, Sunday's game could be blacked out in San Diego. The Chargers have had trouble drawing all season and the Raiders usually compensate for that when their fans turn San Diego into Oakland West. But with the Raiders struggling at 4-10, there's not much buzz from their boosters as well. Chargers coach Mike McCoy is hoping the locals get excited about the game and give his team a true home-field advantage.
"Well I think it's a great rivalry," he said. "It's been that way for years. We need to have our best fan support of the year this week in our stadium. You talk about how the players try to improve every week and play your best game the next week, well that's the same thing we need from our fans. We know what the game means to this division and the rivalry: Chargers and Raiders twice a year. It's something our fans should be excited for, so it's a big game for us."
--Center Nick Hardwick didn't hesitate when asked if the Chargers are playing their best ball of the season. "We are and that's our goal, to keep getting better over the next couple of weeks," he said.
--Cornerback Brandon Jones was signed to the practice squad. Jones has been on the practice squads of the Giants and the Steelers this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 42-56 - Combined record of the seven teams the Chargers have lost to this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm just going to keep grinding and doing whatever the team needs." -- Running back Ryan Mathews on carrying the ball 58 times in five days in the Chargers' last two games.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers are having to juggle their secondary, just as it was playing some of its best ball of the season.
Cornerback Johnny Patrick has been put on IR with a concussion. That likely means Marcus Gilchrist will stay at strong safety, but become a slot cornerback on passing downs.
That means more playing time for undrafted rookie Jahleel Addae at the safety spot. Addae had two tackles in the win over the Broncos.
Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall figure to remain at the starting cornerback positions. Derek Cox hasn't seen much field time of late, but he could be thrust into action more with the injury to Patrick.
--TE Ladarius Green has been quiet of late, which might mean the Chargers will look his way on Sunday. Green has 16 receptions for 354 yards and two touchdowns, but he wasn't targeted last week.
--WR Keenan Allen is looking more comfortable as a punt returner. He will probably return again this week, although Eddie Royal's improving health might get him back there.
--RB Ronnie Brown, who hasn't got many carries, will likely continue in his role at returning kickoffs this week.
--C Nick Hardwick (neck) didn't practice but he is expected to start on Sunday.
--WR Eddie Royal (toe) didn't work but should go on Sunday.
--RB Ryan Mathews (foot) was a limited participated but is good to go against the Raiders.
--WR Keenan Allen (shoulder) was a full participant.
--LT D.J. Fluker (ankle) was a full participant.
--LB Jarret Johnson (hand) was a full participant.
--FS Eric Weddle (hamstring) was a full participant.
--CB Shareece Wright (foot) was a full participant.
Other than throwing screens?
The Chargers must be giddy in watching film this week and seeing how badly the Raiders covered the pass against Kansas City. So while Ryan Mathews is running the ball well, that also happens to be the strength - of what there is - of the Raiders in stopping the run.
Philip Rivers will get after the Raiders bad pass defense, which should translate into a big day for wide receiver Keenan Allen, who has been hot. The thinking is if the Chargers get up early on the Raiders by being aggressive, that the old foe will fold up.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chargers revved running game, led by Ryan Mathews vs. Raiders run defense -- Mathews has eclipsed the 1,000-yard single-season barrier for the second time in his career as his 1,012 yards are the second-most in the AFC. He has 100-yard games and a rushing touchdown in each of his last two outings, giving the Chargers another weapon in an offense that leans heavily on quarterback Philip Rivers. A good matchup is the Chargers offensive line -- which is finally healthy again -- going against the Raiders' run defense. Linebacker Nick Roach leads the Raiders with 100 tackles and figures to be in thick of things as the defense tries to contain Mathews.
--Chargers run defense, which is playing better, vs. Raiders running game which is the strength of their offense -- As rookie Manti Te'o gets his feet during his rookie season and Donald Butler, the other inside linebacker, puts his groin injury farther behind him, the Chargers' run defense has been stout. Don't overlook, too, the play of the defensive line in ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes. Tackle Sean Lissemore has also seen his snaps increase at the expense of former starter Cam Thomas. But the Raiders have the NFL's No. 6 running attack and they are No. 3 in rushing yards per play. The Chargers will match their No. 14 run defense against that -- and that number has gone up of late. It figures the Raiders will try to keep the ball away from quarterback Philip Rivers. How well they do that will be decided in how well the Chargers can defend the run, one game after allowing the Broncos to rush for but 18 yards.