Rivers Aims to One-up His Idol
Phil Rivers/Nick Hardwick (Donald Miralle/Getty)
Phil Rivers/Nick Hardwick (Donald Miralle/Getty)

Posted Sep 21, 2007


Philip Rivers grew up idolizing Brett Favre. Come Sunday, he has to figure out a way to beat the NFL's winningest quarterback. That's the task facing Rivers and his Chargers as San Diego tiptoes into Green Bay after a demoralizing defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots.

But the Chargers don't have much time to play the woe-is-me card. Not with a short week after their cross-country trip home last Sunday night and an improved and undefeated Packers team and their rabid fans awaiting their arrival in Wisconsin.

"It's exciting for our football team to be going back there," Rivers said. "It's always neat when you can have that atmosphere that adds to the game.

"But then again we've got to make sure we are focused and ready to play the '07 Packers, who are 2-0 and will be ready for us."

When the Chargers' schedule first came out, this game came with a big red circle. While the Chargers anticipated tough opening outings against the Bears and Patriots, most thought a Green Bay visit would come with a welcome breather.

But that's no longer the case as the once-powerful Chargers offense has stalled at the starting gate. After leading the league in scoring last year, the Chargers have put only 28 points up in eight quarters. And in both of the first two quarters of their games, with the Bears and Pats, the Chargers have been shut out.

They got to get it right, and quickly.

"We obviously have a challenge on our hands," said Rivers, who is coming off a four-turnover game in New England.

Rivers will try to best one of the players he liked best when growing up in Alabama. Favre, along with Troy Aikman, John Elway and Dan Marino, were the quarterbacks Rivers tried to emulate.

"He's really the only one still around," Rivers said of Favre. "He's always been a favorite of mine so it'll be fun to compete against him."

There were few laughs in the Chargers' locker room or long flight home after getting crushed by the Patriots on national TV. Not only did the loss prove once again the Pats are a superior team than the Chargers -- they bounced them in last season's playoffs -- but the Chargers' confidence also took a hit.

Rivers was awful, looking indecisive with two interceptions and getting sacked three times. LaDainian Tomlinson had few holes opened for him. The wide receivers weren't aggressive going after passes. The defense was torched on the back end and nearly gave up 150 yards rushing.

It was as ugly as the Chargers have looked in some time.

So Sunday's game is accompanied by a sense of urgency for the Chargers. Not in the sense that it's do-or-die or the season circles the drain if the Chargers lose for the third time in four games -- counting the playoffs.

The Chargers, at this time, need to make a statement to themselves as much as they need to deliver one to the NFL. Confidence is a fleeting commodity in the NFL and right now, the Chargers might start questioning just how good they are -- or will be -- under new coach Norv Turner.

They can turn it around Sunday with a good showing -- and a win -- against a Packers team led by someone Rivers knows all too well.

To Rivers, Favre is the same as he ever was.

"When you watch him now, it looks like he's still playing now the same way that he always has and he's really got them going," Rivers said.

The Chargers need to start heading in a more positive direction. And there's no time like Sunday to switch course.

SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. Packers lead series, 7-1. Green Bay has won the past four meetings, including the last one in Wisconsin -- 42-10 in 1996. The Chargers' only win in the series did come at Lambeau Field, where they prevailed 34-28 in 1984. This marks only the Chargers' fourth regular-season visit to Green Bay.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson is telling the doubters to take a chill pill. Sure, that loss was tough to swallow last Sunday but there are still 14 games left.

"People get all concerned over two games," Tomlinson said. "It's only two games -- take it for what it is."

--Tomlinson did admit the struggles on offense are a bit baffling. The Chargers are averaging but 14 points a game after averaging a league-best 30 points last season.

"It shouldn't be a problem but it is," said Tomlinson, who has thrown for as many touchdowns (one) as he has rushed for.

--Some wonder if Tomlinson should call a team meeting as one of the squad's leaders to keep the players' spirits up.

"I don't feel that is necessary," Tomlinson said. "You guys want us to start panicking."

--Coach Norv Turner is upbeat about the week ahead: "The key is that you put the loss behind you," he said. "We started (Wednesday) morning in getting ready for Green Bay and the preparation that we do. I thought we had good meeting, good preparation and a good practice."

--Rivers stresses that those disappointed with the Chargers should keep the first two weeks of the season in perspective. "We're 1-1, not 0-8," he said. "It's important not to blow it up more than it is. We got to keep plugging, keep going at it."

--Chargers receivers coach James Lofton was the Packers' No. 1 pick in 1978 and spent nine seasons of his Hall of Fame career with Green Bay.

--Chargers QB Charlie Whitehurst's dad, David, is a former Packers quarterback. The elder Whitehurst could be in attendance Sunday with it being the Packers' alumni weekend. Among David Whitehurst's favorite targets was Lofton.

--Turner on what ails his No. 29th-ranked offense: "There are a lot of reasons and we have talked about it: consistency up front, we turned the ball over this last game and we played two outstanding defenses (Chicago, New England). There are a variety of reasons. I don't think you can only say this is the only reason."

--Ex-Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer's brother, Kurt, is the Packers' secondary coach. Think he'll be lobbing his unemployed brother a call in how to attack the Chargers' passing offense?

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- Number of 100-yard rushing games by Tomlinson in 2006. In two games this year, he's rushed for but 68 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Right now we need to get better as a team. And we will." -- LB Shawne Merriman, on the Chargers' sputtering start to 2007.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Chargers will go to Green Bay with their fingers crossed that the right side of the offensive line can hold up.

Right tackle Shane Olivea missed another practice Thursday with a back injury he suffered in Sunday's loss at New England. While veteran Roman Oben is available to fill in, it appears the Chargers are going to roll the dice with first-year pro Jeromey Clary.

The unknown Clary will play a key role if the Chargers want to spit out that sour taste from Sunday's blasting. But 6-foot-6, 306-pound Clary, a sixth-round pick in 2006, will have his hands full.

If it's Clary, he'll be getting his first NFL start. He played most the game Sunday night when Olivea went down early, but this is the first week he likely trots out with the first team.

Waiting for Clary is Aaron Kampman. The Packers' dominating left end led the NFC with 15.5 sacks last year.

The Chargers need to shore up a pass protection which saw Philip Rivers get sacked three times and hit on numerous other occasions against the Patriots.

For Clary, who spent last year on the practice squad, it's a golden opportunity to make his mark against one the NFL's elite pass-rushers.

Quarterback Philip Rivers said Clary held up well on the road at New England.

"He really stepped in and played well," Rivers said. "He studies, he works, he listens. I think (Sunday) was good for him."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--ILB Matt Wilhelm sat out Thursday's practice with a calf injury. He won't play Sunday and will be replaced by Tim Dobbins. For Dobbins, it will be his first NFL start. He struggled at times on Sunday after replacing Wilhelm.

--ILB Stephen Cooper was able to work and is a go for Sunday. He has been bothered by a sore neck.

--S Clinton Hart (hamstring) also returned to practice. But he's not quite 100 percent and it'll be worth monitoring how his injury holds up against Brett Favre -- he figures to throw a lot against a struggling secondary.

--The news continues to be encouraging on Pro Bowl NT Jamal Williams. He left Sunday's game with a hyper extended elbow, but has now been able to work two straight days. His importance to the Chargers' 3-4 defense can't be overstated.

--WR Craig Davis should start opposite of Vincent Jackson. Davis is replacing Eric Parker, who is likely out at least two more games with a toe injury.

--OLB Shaun Phillips has been careful with a quad ailment that occasionally acts up. But he has worked the past two days and is a go for Sunday. Still, his game is all about speed.

--WR Vincent Jackson opened some eyes for the wrong reasons in the Pats game. He looked lackadaisical on some routes and wasn't aggressive in going after some passes pointed his direction.

--WR Kassim Osgood gets frustrated with not being a part of the base offense. But he's been dynamite on special teams; he earned the Pro Bowl selection at that position last season. He made three special teams tacklers and stripped the ball from returner Calvin Hobbs.

--OLB Shawne Merriman appears to be back on track after a stellar game last Sunday when he had two sacks, a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss and a pass defensed.

--That scoring catch by FB Lorenzo Neal in the Pats game was his first since 2005.

--TE Antonio Gates continues to be the lone offensive threat performing with consistency. He leads the team with 16 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Three of his catches last Sunday resulted in first downs.

--QB Philip Rivers had but nine interceptions in 16 regular-season games last year. In two games, he already has three.

--Maybe LaDainian Tomlinson will get untracked through the air and not on the ground against the Packers. Back in 2003 when Tomlinson had 100 receptions, he had 11 receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns. That included the third-longest receiving play of his career, a 68-yard, catch-and-run, for a touchdown.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers should stretch the field early and often against the Packers. It's not that the Chargers have lost their minds and are getting away from using Tomlinson or Gates. It's just that first two defenses have paid little notice to the Chargers' vertical game and the result has been Tomlinson and Gates have been bottled up to some degree. So if the Chargers can loosen up the Packers and get the linebackers and safeties off the line of scrimmage, it will open room for Tomlinson and Gates.

Even if the completions aren't there, the mere sight of Rivers looking toward the intermediate or deep routes will pay dividends. Of course, that is going to take some work up front for Rivers to have the time to look down field. That could be difficult with the uncertain situation at right tackle with starter Shane Olivea ailing.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Chargers pass defense, which was abused last Sunday, vs. Packers passing attack, led by the ageless Brett Favre.

The Chargers have bragged about how much better their aggressive schemes would be under new coordinator Ted Cottrell. But the secondary was torched on numerous occasions against the Pats as the defensive backs seemed content to give huge cushions to protect themselves from the deep balls -- and they still got beat deep. Brett Favre, no doubt, will take notice and aim many passes at CBs Quentin Jammer, Drayton Florence and Antonio Cromartie. The key here might be the play up front more so then the play on the back end. It's imperative the Chargers mount a pass rush or Favre, if given time, will pick this secondary apart like he has done throughout his illustrious career.

--Chargers pass protection, which allowed three sacks last game, vs. Packers pass rush, which features LDE Aaron Kampman.

The Chargers have to be more stout against the pass rush as the pressure the Pats were able to send forced at least two of Rivers' three turnovers. The task could be even more difficult this week, as RT Shane Olivea was forced from last week's game with a back injury. If he can't go, veteran Roman Oben would be asked to flip sides and take Olivea's place, or Jeromey Clary gets his first NFL start. The sense seems to be Clary gets the call as he did well subbing for Olivea most the game in New England. Still, the Chargers pick the wrong week to face an opponent with the speed rusher coming off their right side, instead of the normal left side.

--Chargers return game vs. Packers special teams.

Among the reasons the Chargers were such a high-scoring squad last year was the dynamite field position the offense often assumed. The Chargers need a spark from their return game, as it has been very ordinary. Some of that can be attributed to KR Michael Turner nursing a sore ankle coming into the season and PR Darren Sproles getting knocked from the opener with a concussion after his first effort. Both are back, and both need to get back to gaining some of those hidden yards that offensive coordinators love to work with. The Packers' coverage teams have been pretty solid. They have allowed an average of 20 yards on kickoffs with a long of 27. On punts, rivals are averaging but 2 yards.



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