Game Scout, Week 6: Chargers vs. Chiefs

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

The San Diego Chargers look to get back to .500 and fight their way back into contention with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead. Get set for this division contest with some fast facts, injury updates, predictions and more.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/25/09
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS (Dick Enberg, Dan Fouts)

SERIES: 98th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series 50-46-1, the Charges have won three in a row, including the last two at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chargers last lost to the Chiefs in September 2007, a 30-16 setback in San Diego.

PREDICTION: Chargers 28-23

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers' offensive line isn't creating many holes and coach Norv Turner isn't sticking with the run long enough for RB LaDainian Tomlinson to establish a rhythm. It might be irrelevant against the Chiefs, who have just nine sacks and a very young secondary that will be vulnerable against San Diego's vertical passing attack. To protect that defense, Kansas City will look to build on RB Larry Johnson's best outing of the year - even if it was a pedestrian 83 rushing yards last Sunday. Opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per carry against San Diego, and a similar number would help Kansas City control the clock.

FAST FACTS: The Chargers are allowing 141.0 rushing yards per game while the offense averages just 57.6 yards on the ground. ... Johnson needs 124 rushing yards to pass Priest Holmes (6,070) for most in franchise history.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Chargers:


SS Kevin Ellison
Kevin Terrell/Getty
--Rookie SS Kevin Ellison will remain in the starting lineup.

--CB Antoine Cason has been demoted, losing his job as the nickel back.

--DB Steve Gregory has been switched from strong safety to nickel back.

--DB Paul Oliver, another safety, has been getting reps as the nickel back.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson didn't practice Thursday, hit by the flu-like bug that is running through the locker room. Tomlinson should be OK by Sunday.

--RB Jacob Hester (illness) didn't practice Thursday.

--WR Buster Davis (illness) was out of practice again Thursday. Even if he is 100 percent Sunday, it's doubtful the former first-round pick will be active.

--ILB Kevin Burnett (ankle) didn't practice Thursday and he could be down this week. If he can't go, Tim Dobbins would replace him. Dobbins is more of a run-stopper; Burnett is better dropping back into coverage.

--OLB Jyles Tucker (illness) didn't work Thursday but should play Sunday. He is a regular part of the rotation on passing downs.

--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) has started working with the training staff on the side. Hardwick is still expected to be out until December.

--CB Antonio Cromartie (knee) had an ailment flare up after working on Wednesday. It's expected he will play Sunday.

Chiefs:


OT Branden Albert
Doug Benc/Getty
--LT Branden Albert did not practice Thursday, and it appears unlikely that he'll play Sunday against San Diego. Albert continues to rehab the left ankle injury he suffered Oct. 11 that caused him to miss last Sunday's game.

--RG Mike Goff returned to practice Thursday after missing practice the day before because of personal reasons. Goff is expected to play against his old teammates from San Diego.

--LG Brian Waters has been limited in practice this week due to a left foot injury that he aggravated again in the Washington game. There's little doubt that Waters will start against the Chargers.

--RB Jamaal Charles is still not getting enough touches of the football in the offense. One of the few explosive playmakers on the roster, Charles has touched the ball just 34 times in five games; he was inactive one week. He's produced 202 yards on those plays, with the team's longest run of the season (24 yards) and a 26-yard pass play.

--LT Wade Smith will start for injured Branden Albert for the second week in a row. Smith had his struggles last week against Washington, giving up two sacks to DE Andre Carter. For most of the past five seasons, Smith has played exclusively at center and guard.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Chargers:


WR Chris Chambers
Gregory Shamus/Getty
The Chiefs don't exactly possess the league's strongest defense. That might seem to indicate receiver Chris Chambers is in the right place at the right time.

Chambers has had his nose pressed up against the offensive window for most the season, eager to contribute more than he has been asked. While people are talking about emerging star Vincent Jackson, a healthy Antonio Gates and even Malcom Floyd, Chambers has become an afterthought. It's proven by peeking at his numbers, which show he has eight catches for 102 yards and a touchdown this season.

That used to be a good game for Chambers, who has a Pro Bowl and a 1,000-yard season on his resume.

"People may look at the bottom line, see the numbers and wonder if I've fallen off," Chambers said. "That's not the case. I haven't lost a step.

"The guys around here know I'm working hard and that once I get opportunities, I'll make the most of them."

That could come Sunday when the Chargers travel to Kansas City. With Jackson becoming quarterback Philip Rivers' top target, the Chiefs could focus on him and Gates, leaving Chambers open for a big day.

And with the Chiefs being the foe, it would seem like a good chance for Chambers and Co. to pick on the NFL's 25th-ranked pass defense.

Rivers said there's no rhyme or reason to why Chambers hasn't been more involved.

"The way this goes, it could be any guy at any time," Rivers said.

But the time is right for Chambers, who has been relegated to rotating in and out with Floyd. Chambers, a classy, nine-year pro, admits it has been a challenge accepting his new role.

"It's tough for me right now," said Chambers, who averaged 838 receiving yards in his previous eight seasons. "I think Malcom is a great receiver and he needs to play, but I would like for my role to be expanded. I believe it will as the season progresses."

Chiefs:


QB Matt Cassel
Jaime Squire/Getty
Here was the question to Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel: At the current rate you are getting hit while throwing the ball, can you last 10 more games?

"Heck yeah," Cassel said with a smile. "I'm ready to rock and roll."

Ah, the enthusiasm of a young quarterback!

If Cassel continues to get hit as many times as he has in the past three games, he's going to need all that enthusiasm just to get out of bed in the morning. Opposing defenses are pounding Cassel; in the past three games, the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins sacked him 14 times. They hit him on average another dozen times per game.

Some of the hits that come after the ball had been released were the worst. Last Sunday against Washington, Cassel got off a pass and ended up with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth dropping all of his 300-plus pounds on his chest. Haynesworth drew a penalty for roughing the passer, which was a good thing because it allowed Cassel a few moments to breathe again.

"Kind of knocked the wind out of me; he hit me right in the chest with his helmet and then he fell on me," Cassel said, again smiling.

Cassel was grinning because despite the punishment he took, the Chiefs won their first game of the year, beating a wounded Washington team 14-6.

"Winning cures a lot of aches and pains," allowed coach Todd Haley.

Unless Haley, who doubles as the offensive coordinator, can solve the protection problems, Cassel will continue to be a pinata for opposing defenses. He's certainly won the respect of his coach and his teammates with his ability to withstand the drubbings.

"I'm extremely proud of the effort and competitiveness that he puts into a game," Haley said. "I'm excited to be around players like that. We just need to get more guys to think and act like that. I stopped the tape multiple times to point out Matt taking big-time shots from 300-plus-pound defenders in an effort to let the other guys know that they need to do their part.

"This guy is going to stand in and take that kind of a beating. We need everybody kind of thinking and acting like that."

But what about self-preservation for the quarterback? Isn't it time for Cassel to start getting rid of the ball faster, or shouldn't Haley be running more moving pockets or less five- and seven-step drops?

"I've talked to him about not taking sacks on the fringe and scoring areas," Haley said. "If he's taking a hit and throwing it away, I'm not feeling sorry for him. I'm happy. He's a competitive, competitive guy. I'm happy he's big, strong, can take some of those hits. But we do talk to him about running, sliding and not taking unnecessary hits."

Cassel's competitive nature and relative inexperience make him more susceptible to exposing himself to those extra shots.

"It was really hard for me to learn how to slide because you're always fighting for extra yards and you're competitive and you don't know any better," Cassel said. "In terms of self-preservation, you just go out there and play the game, you don't really think about it while it's happening. You just go and try to play, and if you get hit, it's part of it."

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