Bolts Primed to Salvage Season
TE Antonio Gates (Nick Laham/Getty)
TE Antonio Gates (Nick Laham/Getty)

Posted Nov 6, 2008
scout.com


The Chargers have hit a few obstacles in a rocky 2008 first half, but they'll get back on track Sunday against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. That's the plan anyway.

After returning from an 11,000-mile, two-loss road trip, firing a coach and inserting their third defensive coordinator in 2 1/2 seasons they return to a game.

"I think our guys are looking forward to playing at home," coach Norv Turner said. "We haven't been in our stadium in a month. It'll be good to be in our stadium with the energy level, the fans, everything involved with it."

It's hard to forget everything from the Chiefs' last visit. Kansas City slapped a 30-16 loss on the Chargers, rallying from 10 points down. Turner was serenaded with "Marr-ty, Marr-ty" chants with the Chargers officially hitting rock bottom.

The Chargers' hope is they've already reaching this year's version of the deep valley. After losing three of their past four games, the Chargers need to get back on a playoff path.

That the last-place Chiefs are the opponent is great. But really, this isn't about the 1-7 Chiefs but more about a team which was advertised as elite. Instead, only three AFC teams have fewer wins.

The Chiefs are a dismal, but that doesn't concern the Chargers.

"I think we're facing our own problems, too," Rivers said.

The Chargers' spin is that the Chiefs are dangerous in being such a familiar opponent and having played two straight close games -- even if they lost them.

"Any time you pay in a team in the division you throw out the records," Rivers said. "They came in here last year and beat us -- it's always a tough game."

Tough sledding is what the Chargers have been facing. But a win over the Chiefs can serve as a springboard to the type of second half 2007 brought.


HC Norv Turner
Stephen Dunn/Getty

The Chargers went 7-1 down the stretch and advanced to their fourth AFC championship game in their history.

But this year's edition has shown little signs it's up to a similar sprint with its choppy play. The defense was so bad Ted Cottrell was fired, replaced by Ron Rivera.

Turner is appreciative the Chargers are but one game behind the fading Denver Broncos for the AFC West lead. But he knows the Chargers have underachieved.

"We are not playing at a level we need to be playing and that is our main objective and my main objective," he said.

An objective observer of the Chargers' season can see how bad they have been. That observer would also note -- thanks to playing in the passive AFC West -- a hot run could get the Chargers where they want to go.

"We are still right in the thick of division," said Rivers, who have the NFL's top passing rating at 107.8. "Obviously that is the goal is to win the AFC West.

"We certainly have every capability of getting that done. But obviously we know it's going to be a long, hard fight. But we are up for it."

If so, it would turn an upside-down season around. The Chargers have tools to do it. But they also can't afford to overlook anyone, and that includes Sunday's guest, the Kansas City Chiefs.

SERIES HISTORY: 96th regular-season meeting. The Chiefs lead the series, 50-44-1, with the Chargers winning the only team they have faced each other in the playoffs. The Chargers have won two of the past three games against the Chiefs.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Chargers are rested and ready for a second-half run. In that regard, RB LaDainian Tomlinson speculates it was right on schedule. "I think it came at the right time," he said. "It just kind of gives you a chance to refresh and clear your mind a few days from playing football. Also there's the physical part of it. It helps us as we come back. You can always say, 'OK, it was a bad first half of a season. Now let's kind of focus on the second half of the season and see how good we can be.'"

--Not only are five of the Chargers' last eight games at home, but the bye gave some key players the time to mend from various injuries. "I really believe that we have a chance to go into the Kansas City game the healthiest we've been all year," coach Norv Turner said. "That's a big plus. I think L.T. was the healthiest he's been in the New Orleans game. (Antonio) Gates was. Other guys that have been beat up and playing with banged up parts of their bodies have had a chance to heal."


SS Clinton Hart
Donald Miralle/Getty

--Part of S Clinton Hart's bye weekend was spent viewing the Chiefs nearly upset Tampa Bay. "I watched Kansas City open up a big lead and put up some points against a very good Tampa defense," Hart said. "That's what I'm thinking about. We've got to worry about the Chiefs."

--GM A.J. Smith has said if the Chargers don't reach the playoffs they'll look back on the first half, and not in a good light. "If we can turn it around, we can make an interesting run," Smith said. "If it doesn't work out, then we know it wasn't a good 2008 and probably the first start of the season brought us down, meaning 3-5."

--Count Tomlinson among those excited by president-elect Barack Obama. "I think it's a great time in America, to be honest with you," Tomlinson said. "I never thought I'd see the day where an African-American would become president of the United States. To me, we've come a long way and I'm proud of that."

--Chiefs LB Donnie Edwards was the Chargers' leading tackler in each of his four seasons with the Chargers, his last being in 2006.

--Chiefs coach Herm Edwards went to San Diego State.

--The Chargers had Chiefs T Damion McIntosh from 2000-03.

-- The Chargers and Chiefs have played 10 games decided by one point. No pair of teams can match that since 1960.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Times the Chargers have lost after a bye in the last five seasons.

QUOTE TO NOTE: The best thing about it is we still have a chance." -- QB Philip Rivers, when asked about a silver lining in a 3-5 first half.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

There might be some fresh faces getting some increased playing time with Ron River taking over as defensive coordinator.

DE Ryon Bingham could see more field time with Igor Olshansky's production slipping of late. Plus, Bingham isn't needed as often inside to spell Jamal Williams with Williams feeling better.

CB Cletis Gordon could get some more looks, especially if Antonio Cromartie's sore hip becomes fatigued. Cromartie hasn't been playing well and could be on a short leash.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson is going for his first back-to-back 100-yard rushing games of the season. The Chiefs could allow it, with the NFL's worst run defense at 182 yards per game.

--QB Philip Rivers has thrown for a least three touchdowns in a game three times this year.

--WR Vincent Jackson has had at least three receptions and a touchdown in three straight games.

--RB Darren Sproles is the only returner to be ranked in the top five in kickoffs (27.3) and punts (12.5)

--P Mike Scifres leads the league in net average at 42.7 yards.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers have two things going for them in their running attack: Tomlinson is feeling fit and the Chiefs' run defense, isn't.

If the Chargers are to make their second-half run, it must build on the foundation of a solid running game. This is a great time to pound the ball, fortify that mind-set and gain confidence moving forward. Sure Norv Turner likes to fling it around, but he is also a big believer in balance. So far, the passing has been ahead of the running -- Sunday is a perfect opportunity to give the running game its due.


OLB Shaun Phillips
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Chargers pass defense, tweaked by new coordinator Ron Rivera, vs. a Chiefs passing game led by Tyler Thigpen, who is 0-3.

Rivera was hired to get some heat on the quarterback and Thigpen could be just the tonic. Look for a more aggressive bent from the Chargers and more man coverages on the outside. But the Chargers can't get sloppy against Thigpen, who played well last week against a tough Tampa Bay defense. In Thigpen's last two games, the Chiefs have lost by a combined seven points. OLBs Shaun Philips and Jyles Tucker could be cut loose for big days if the protection doesn't hold.

Chargers run defense, led by an invigorated DT Jamal Williams, vs. Chiefs evolving running game.

Williams has been his old destructive self in the middle after a slow start. The inside play has improved since Tim Dobbins replaced Matt Wilhelm in the starting lineup. And it's a break not facing the Chiefs minus Larry Johnson -- maybe. Jamaal Charles, his replacement last week, rushed for 106 yards on 18 carries against a rugged Bucs defense. DE Igor Olshansky -- zero tackles last game -- needs to show up.

Chargers passing game, led by QB Philip Rivers and aided by a healthy Antonio Gates vs. a Chiefs pass defense that got rocked in last week's loss.

Rivers has been clicking (19 TDs, six INTs) and he's spreading the ball to a number of receivers -- three different ones caught scoring passes in his last game. In addition, Gates is moving the best he has all season after having a toe injury. The backend of the Chiefs pass defense could be compromised with CB Brandon Flowers and Patrick Surtain ailing. Plus the Chiefs unit gave up 339 yards through the air last week. Look for Rivers to have a big day.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Chris Chambers (ankle) didn't work on Wednesday. He held up well in the last game after missing three games and should go on Sunday. ... CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) didn't work but should go on Sunday. This has been a lengthy nagging injury.



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