FB Mike Tolbert (Scott Boehm/Getty)
The Chargers and New Orleans Saints meet for the 10th time in London in a battle of desperate foes. Each team will bring the same level of urgency as they both enter this game with a 3-4 record. Samantha Fillerup profiles five players to watch Sunday as the Bolts try to improve their record to 8-2 in the series with the Saints.
1. Philip Rivers was chosen as the starting quarterback over former teammate Drew Brees and their careers will be forever and inextricably linked. Rivers will have to rebound from a poor performance last week where he threw one interception and lost two fumbles. He will be motivated not just to secure the win, but to confirm he was the right choice over Brees.
Rivers will face a Saints' defense that ranks No. 21 in the league in pass defense, conceding an average of 222.2 yards per game through the air. Despite the poor ranking, Rivers must be wary of the Saints' pass rush. New Orleans has 14 sacks this season and has forced five fumbles.
"We’re not playing one another (directly), but certainly having been on the same team and obviously he meant a great deal to the Chargers when he was here," Rivers said. "I know he’ll be looking forward to the game. It’ll be fun."
2. Mike Tolbert was an offensive threat during the first four games of the season until he sustained an ankle injury. Since then, the only statistics he has are five carries for 15 yards in the New England game. During first four games, he had five carries for 18 yards, as well as 10 receptions for 134 yards and one touchdown.
Tolbert's ankle injury has also hampered his ability to contribute as a run blocker for LaDainian Tomlinson. The Saints' run defense is ranked No. 16 and has allowed an average of just 109 yards per game. If Tolbert is fit, he may just help Tomlinson past the century mark for just the second time this season.
3. Vincent Jackson has been trying to establish himself as a go-to receiver all season long. In the absence of Chris Chambers, he has done exactly that. In the first five games of the season, Jackson tallied 17 receptions for 302 yards and one touchdown. In the two games without Chambers, Jackson has nine catches for 176 yards and two TDs.
Jackson (6-foot-5, 241 pounds) will look to exploit his size advantage against a defense that has no cornerback over 6 feet tall. Additionally, Jackson will work to maintain his high level of play even with Chambers back on the field.
"I don't think (performing well) has anything to do with Chris (Chambers) being out," Jackson said. "Malcom (Floyd) has stepped in and done a great job. We've continued to move the ball well in the passing game."
4. Luis Castillo desperately needs to rediscover his pass-rushing form from 2006 where he recorded seven sacks in 10 games. In 2008, he is on pace for a modest 3.5 sacks. The Chargers' pass rush numbers are dismal at best as they have just 6.5 sacks from non-linebackers.
On Sunday, Castillo will be matched up against 2003 second-round pick Jon Stinchcomb, who provides outstanding pass protection and is a cornerstone of the Saints' offensive line. New Orleans has allowed only seven sacks this season, so Castillo has his work cut out for him.
"I thought we started the game great against the Bills," Castillo said. "The next thing is getting after the quarterback. We haven't played at our level. That's something we need to make sure we get back to."
5. Antonio Cromartie has shown his frustration this season as he battles a hip injury and a lack of attention from opposing quarterbacks. His only two interceptions of the season occurred in Week 3 against the New York Jets. Cromartie is the NFL's most penalized player and must play a cleaner game at Wembley Stadium.
Brees is known for his tendency to throw into tight coverage, which must have Cromartie licking his chops. Brees averages an interception per game this season, so Cromartie will look to turn Brees' eighth pick into No. 31's third.
"I think there were a couple of times when I could've made a big play that I was maybe too far off or looking at the quarterback too much," Cromartie said. "There are plays I could've made, so my biggest thing this week is to focus on my technique so this week I can go out and make those plays that I should've made in Buffalo."