Bolts-Jaguars Game-day Primer

LaDainian Tomlinson (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

The Chargers attempt to notch their second consecutive win over a winning team when they travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars. The Jaguars' twofold mission is to run the ball and stop the run. The Chargers game plan is much of the same, although they need Philip Rivers to provide some balance if they are to leave victorious.

WHEN THE CHARGERS RUN

LaDainian Tomlinson always admired Fred Taylor. On Sunday, he has a chance to join him in elite company. Tomlinson is 91 rushing yards shy of 10,000 for his career, a mark Taylor eclipsed just last week. Tomlinson catches the Jaguars at the right time as Pro Bowl DT Marcus Stroud serves the second game of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio understands that Tomlinson will carve up a defense if given the opportunity.

"Offensively, it starts with LaDainian Tomlinson," Del Rio said. "He's really a special back. He catches it; he runs it; he's got exceptional vision, balance and burst; and he can throw it."

The Jaguars are capable of shutting down elite running backs. Their defense held Larry Johnson and the Kansas City Chiefs to 10 yards rushing when they met on Oct. 7. Last week, the Jaguars held the Tennessee Titans to 62 yards rushing.

The Chargers will once again be without Pro Bowl C Nick Hardwick, who will miss at least one more game with a foot injury. Cory Withrow will start in Hardwick's stead and will spend plenty of time doubling down on the Jaguars' other Pro Bowl tackle, John Henderson.

"Henderson is a big, tall guy. He can use his size to bat down balls, rush the passer do a lot of things," Tomlinson said.

A great matchup to watch is FB Lorenzo Neal against MLB Mike Peterson, who leads the Jaguars with 108 tackles. With Stroud out of action, it puts even more pressure on Peterson to fill the holes and win his battles with Neal.


WR Legedu Naanee
Paul Connors/AP

WHEN THE CHARGERS PASS

Philip Rivers (10 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 77.9 passer rating) is in dire need of a slump-busting performance and he'll have ample opportunity to deliver this week. The Jaguars own the NFL's No. 27 pass defense, allowing 244.3 yards per game. They have allowed opposing quarterbacks to author some big games, such as in week nine when Drew Brees exploded for 445 yards and three touchdowns.

Jacksonville's passing defense does have some bright spots, starting with a cornerback tandem that is the best in franchise history. Rashean Mathis is the team's record holder for career interceptions (21) and Brian Williams is riding a franchise-best streak of three consecutive games with an interception.

The key to attacking the Jaguars is to strike over the middle and underneath, something the Chargers are perfectly suited to do. Antonio Gates looks to bust loose after combining for four catches, 36 yards and no scores over the last two games. Gates had three 100-yard games during the first five weeks but has yet to hit that mark since.

Stepping up at wide receiver is Legedu Naanee, who caught two balls last week to convert a fourth-and-three and a third-and-two, respectively. Naanee will play the slot while Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson man the outside.

Chambers has not proved worthy of a second-round pick since arriving at the trade deadline. Also, Chambers' arrival has stunted Jackson's development; Jackson has three catches for 44 yards in the three games since Chambers' arrival. First-round pick Craig Davis has played his way out of the rotation.

The Jaguars' pass rush ranks No. 10 with 24 sacks, led by Paul Spicer's five. Spicer earned AFC Defense Player of the Week honors earlier this season after the Jaguars routed the Houston Texans, 37-17. Spicer recorded six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in that game.

The Chargers have allowed just 13 sacks, only five teams have allowed fewer, although opponents have gotten more penetration than they did a season ago.


ILB Matt Wilhelm
Doug Pensinger/Getty

WHEN THE JAGUARS RUN

The Jaguars have a potent one-two punch in Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. Jacksonville is one of two teams with a pair of runners both over 500 yards rushing, with the Oakland Raiders being the other.

Jones-Drew is a threat as a runner, receiver and return man. He is also a touchdown machine, ranking fifth in team history with 22 touchdowns despite playing just 25 games. The underrated Taylor has always been a big-play threat but never received much recognition for it. Of the top 49 rushers in NFL history, Taylor is the only one never to make a Pro Bowl.

The Jaguars have a physical offensive line with a dominant left side consisting of LT Khalif Barnes, LG Vince Manuwai and C Brad Meester. The challenge will be to match that physicality without wearing down, as San Diego will dress only five defensive linemen.

Jamal Williams considers himself 85 percent healthy but was 100 percent effective against the Indianapolis Colts last week, when Joseph Addai was held to 56 yards rushing. If Williams can control the middle of line, Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm can continue their banner seasons. Cooper leads the team with 65 tackles and Wilhelm is third with 50. Half of Wilhelm's tackles have come in the last two games.


CB Quentin Jammer
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty

WHEN THE JAGUARS PASS

The Jaguars get David Garrard back this week after their starting quarterback missed three games with an ankle injury. Garrard is an efficient, manage-the-offense quarterback with a 102.9 passer rating, a 66.2 completion percentage and bagel in the interceptions column.

Garrard returns to face a Chargers defense that leads the league in interceptions (17) and has created at least two turnovers in eight of nine games. The key to keeping that streak alive is pressuring Garrard. The Jaguars rank among the league's 10 worst teams in sacks allowed (23) and will have their hands full with Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips.

Merriman and Phillips lead the team with 5.5 sacks each, although neither has a sack since the 28-14 win over the Raiders in week six.

Garrard is surrounded by talented yet unproductive targets. WR Reggie Williams ('04), WR Matt Jones ('05) and TE Marcedes Lewis ('06) were all recent first-round picks and have all disappointed to varying degrees.

No player is a bigger bust than Jones, an incredible athlete whose work ethic and desire have been questioned. Jones has been deactivated in two of the last four games but will play against the Chargers due to an injury to rookie WR John Broussard.

The receiving corps is led by eight-year veteran Dennis Northcutt. The evasive Northcutt has 24 catches for 327 yards and two touchdowns this season.

The Jaguars' receivers face a Chargers secondary that is riding high. Antonio Cromartie leads the NFL with six interceptions after his four-game tear. He will make his second career start at one corner on Sunday.

The other spot will go to Quentin Jammer -- if he's healthy -- or Drayton Florence. If Florence starts, Jammer will still play in nickel and dime packages, with Florence sliding inside to cover the slot. A limited Jammer would still be bad news bears for the Chargers, as Jammer is the premier run-stopping corner in the NFL.


K John Carney
Doug Benc/Getty

JUST FOR KICKS

The Chargers have scored five touchdowns on special teams over the last five weeks, including two kick-return touchdowns by Darren Sproles last week against the Colts. Sproles became the second player in NFL history to score on a punt and a kickoff in the first quarter.

The Chargers coverage teams have been outstanding. Opponents started 32 of their last 52 drives inside the 20-yard line following kickoffs or punts. Mike Scifres helps facilitate that streak, landing 17 of his last 22 punts inside the 20-yard line and booming at least one 60-yard punt in each of the last three games.

Nate Kaeding has attempted only 10 field goals this season and made eight. His misses have been less costly than last season, as both of them occurred during Chargers wins.

Former Chargers great John Carney kicks for the Jaguars. Ironically, he may lose his starting job right before playing his former team. Regular kicker Josh Scobee returns this week after injuring his quad in week one.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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