Chargers Bring Swagger into Eagles Game

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Donald Miralle/Getty)

Do they have it again? Do the San Diego Chargers have that strut that oozes from successful teams and players confident in their abilities and ability to win?

LaDainian Tomlinson thinks so.

"We've finally come together," Tomlinson said. "It usually takes a while to build that 'it' factor. When we get our swagger going, we're pretty tough to stop."

The Chargers don't look to stop their three-game winning streak Sunday, despite the always-tough Philadelphia Eagles coming to San Diego.

Like they have in all three years of coach Norv Turner's tenure, the Chargers start slow from the gate they build momentum.

This season is no different as a team which was 2-3 and three games behind the AFC West-leading Broncos is now 5-3 and a game behind Denver.

The Chargers, it seems, never do it the easy way. And Sunday's opponent is certainly no soft touch, especially with the Eagles being in a sour mood after losing to the Dallas Cowboys last week.

But the Chargers are lassoing another winning run, which is becoming a San Diego tradition.

It seems the Chargers don't get serious until the scoreboard or standings don't give them any other choice.

"Maybe we're just are a mature team that knows how to overcome adversity," outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "There is going to be adversity throughout the season."

The Chargers got an early dose when they lost both anchors of their lines in the opening game. Also, Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman was slow rounding into shape after knee surgery and the running game didn't -- and still hasn't -- appeared.

But the Chargers just shrug and head into another battle against an NFC East rival, one game after beating another one, the Giants, 21-20, in the Meadowlands.


LB Shaun Phillips
Harry How/Getty
"Every team has highs and lows and maybe our lows come at the beginning of the year," Phillips said.

Other people's lows come at the end of the year. Look at the Giants -- they started 5-0 and they have lost four in a row.

"It's hard to be perfect for a whole season, so where there is adversity it's how your respond to the adversity," Phillips said. "We have done a good job the past few years of responding to adversity."

The Chargers aren't out of the woods, not by a long shot.

The Eagles will be a tough foe, then it's a showdown at Denver. There's a possible lull with the Chiefs and Browns next on the schedule, but the Chargers jump right back into the fire against the Cowboys and Bengals.

But the Chargers, once again, have climbed off the mat. Just when everyone was writing them off and calling for Turner's scalp, they've reeled off three straight wins. If you want to discount this winning streak because two of the triumphs came against the Chiefs and Raiders, go ahead.

Still, it would be foolish counting the Chargers out -- although they have a tall task in beating the Eagles Sunday.

But they returned from New York with more than a foam figurine of the Statue of Liberty. That thrilling win last Sunday could pay off this Sunday and through the season's second half.

"When you're able to win in that atmosphere and have that type of excitement in your locker room after a comeback win, it can go a long way," quarterback Philip Rivers said.

How far? The Chargers are convinced that road will lead to their fourth straight playoff appearance.

"We've always had a close team," Rivers said. "But an experience like Sunday really can bring a team together."

The Chargers get to prove just that on Sunday against the Eagles.

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series 5-4, though Philadelphia has won the last two meetings, most recently taking a 20-17 victory at Lincoln Financial Field in 2005 as the Chargers lost on a blocked field goal. The Eagles have a distinction they can't be too proud of: They were the victim when QB Ryan Leaf got one of his four career wins as a Charger when he beat Philadelphia in 1998 -- the last time the Eagles played in San Diego.

NOTES, QUOTES

--If coach Norv Turner needed an instructional video on how to run a "7" route with the game on the line, he would just point to Vincent Jackson's course on Sunday.

"The last route is how you would teach a guy to run that route against that coverage," Turner said. "It is as good as you can run a route. He gave him a great move off the ball to get a release. He ran up the field as fast as you can, full speed, and when he came out of the break the ball was in the air and Philip made a perfect throw."

It was a throw that won the game for the Chargers.


CB Quentin Jammer
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty
--CB Quentin Jammer said it was outsiders, not the Chargers, doubting the team could turn it around after a slow start.

"We have always had character," he said. "But it was the media that put it out there and said that we were done. We have always known that we have a lot of character. We have seen it previous years where we come back, so I can't say enough about the character of this football team."

--Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera spent five seasons as the Eagles linebackers coach from 1998-2003.

--Michael Vick is more than a show piece for the Eagles. "It does present problems in terms of us in our preparation - we have to prepare for it," Turner said. "And they try to create problems for your defense by spreading you out. It helps get their play-makers in space. The people that say he doesn't look as fast aren't the guys getting ready to play him that week."

--Eagles secondary coach Brian Stewart was part of the Chargers' staff when it went 14-2 in 2006, his final year with the club after a three-year run.

--Eagles coach Andy Reid has a 3-2 record against Turner-coached teams.

--QB Donovan McNabb always seems to get away from the rush. How does he do it? "He's a quick guy and instinctive," Shaun Phillips said. "That makes us more cautious about our rush lanes. That's how we stop Donovan - us being diligent in what we do."

--How big is it that OLB Shawne Merriman is finally fit? "He has made a complete difference to our entire defense," Turner said. "It makes it easier on everybody."

--The Chargers' coverage teams will be challenged in tracking Philly's DeSean Jackson. He averages 15.2 yards per punt return, the third-best mark in the league.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Number of consecutive games WR Vincent Jackson has a touchdown reception if he can get one against the Eagles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Winning can be contagious, just like losing can be. We've been able to put three in a row together against teams with different styles, playing at different levels. Our focus has been there and we really have improved." -- QB Philip Rivers, on the team's three-game winning streak.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Chargers will get a boost at inside linebacker this week with Kevin Burnett returning after being out three weeks with a knee injury. But in Burnett's -- and Tim Dobbins' -- absence, third-string ILB Brandon Siler has done a good job. Look for defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to rotate Burnett and Siler to try and keep both of them fresh.

Dobbins, Burnett's backup, is likely down one more week from a knee injury.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Legedu Naanee is a versatile player who bears watching. He had three receptions for 20 yards and could be used more if the Chargers go to the Wildcat offense.

--S Kevin Ellison's move into the starting lineup is paying off. Ellison, a sixth-round pick, had 10 tackles, a quarterback hit and two passes defensed in his best game of the season.

--RB Jacob Hester gets an occasional carry and is used as a blocker, a role he splits with Mike Tolbert. But where he is really making his mark is on special teams and he had a game-saving tackle late Sunday after Philip Rivers threw an interception.

--CB Antoine Cason got a dose of confidence Sunday when subbing late in the game for Quentin Jammer. Cason had an assist on a tackle and helped break up a pass in his brief appearance.

--WR Buster Davis continues to be a healthy game-day inactive. The team isn't getting much bang from a former first-round pick.

GAME PLAN: That adage of needing to run the ball to establish a passing game needs to take the week off -- at least as far as the Chargers are concerned. Don't look for them to get stubborn this week and try to get the running game going -- they are ranked dead last with 69.6 yards per game. The Eagles allow less than 100 yards per game on the ground, so why would the Chargers try to force the issue this game? They won't, meaning it's going to be up the Eagles to match points with the Chargers in what figures to be a shootout. At some point, the Chargers do need to get their running game untracked -- to a degree, anyway. But this isn't the week.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Chargers secondary, which has improved of late, vs. the big-play capability of the Eagles behind QB Donovan McNabb.


QB Donovan McNabb
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
The backend of the defense has played better, some of that because of the improved pass rush and because the backend was shaken up. But there is a rookie at safety in Kevin Ellison and the Chargers have to be careful he keeps an eye on things so the Eagles don't go up top. They must keep an eye on DeSean Jackson, who has scored six touchdowns of at least 50 yards this season, including one rushing score and one punt return. He has also has non-scoring receptions of 51 and 43 yards. Through eight games, Jackson has 26 receptions for 530 yards. His 20.4 yards per reception ranks second in the NFL. So CBs Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie must be on their game, but they will also need to some help from the safeties. Among the reasons the Cowboys beat the Eagles last week was because Jackson was held to two grabs for 29 yards.

Chargers pass rush, which is led by LBs Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, vs. Eagles front line and mobile QB Donavan McNabb.

The Chargers have won three straight, in part, because the defenders are meeting at the quarterback. In each of the three latest wins, the Chargers have five sacks in each game. If Merriman, who has four in two games, and Phillips, who has five in three games, can pester McNabb, it could take care of the some of the deeper routes downfield developing and contain the number of big plays the Eagles can produce. The Eagles have allowed 21 sacks. And with RB Brian Westbrook possibly not playing the Eagles might not have a running game - either through rushing or short passes - to lean on. The key here is McNabb being able to buy time and move around - that wasn't the case so much against Eli Manning and the Giants.

Chargers pass protection, which was keen on Sunday's big drive, vs. Eagles pass rush that comes from every direction and from nearly every player.

The Chargers have allowed 18 sacks, which is about middle of the road. But when the Chargers absolutely had to pass protect - and the Giants knew they were passing - the blocking was sensational in last week's late drive. Jeromey Clary has been getting some help at right tackle, with a tight end often at his hip in key moments. But the Chargers' blockers will need to have their head on a swivel as the Eagles have 14 different players with at least a sack. The biggest sacker is Trent Cole and his 7.5 sacks. LT Marcus McNeill will have his hands full with Cole. Rivers will also be hard-pressed to get much past Philly CBs Asante Samuel (five interceptions) and Sheldon Brown (four).

INJURY IMPACT:

--TE Antonio Gates (foot) skipped practice Wednesday but said he is fine for Sunday.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson (hip) didn't work but said it wasn't serious; he likely will practice Thursday.

--ILB Kevin Burnett (ankle) went through Wednesday's practice and is a go for Sunday.

--ILB Tim Dobbins (ankle) was limited and appears to be out at least one more week.

--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) was limited and will likely sit out one more game before returning.

--DL Travis Johnson (groin) didn't practice but will play on Sunday.

--DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) didn't practice but will play Sunday.

--OLB Shaun Phillips (ankle) didn't practice but will play Sunday.

--OLB Jyles Tucker (ankle) didn't practice and is still in a walking boot. He appears out for Sunday.

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