Chargers Look to Side-Step Trap Game

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Jamie Squire/Getty)

The Chargers now play the season anew, being the chased instead of the chaser. How will they handle it? How does any NFL team handle it?

The Chargers welcome an old and cherished AFL foe in the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Chargers have to be careful after momentarily reaching the hilltop of the AFC West.

After their dramatic rise to overtake the Broncos with a five-game winning streak, might the Chargers stub their toe -- like the Steelers and Bengals the week before?

Careful, men, distractions lurk. This being the team's big 50th anniversary splash and such, don't overlook the surging Chiefs.

"There's a lot going on around our team right now with the honoring the greatest Chargers," coach Norv Turner said. "A lot of our guys are involved in that. We just came off a big win, so there are a lot of things that could distract us. My focus is going to be on making sure that doesn't happen."

But excuse the Chargers if they exhale.

First they notched that emotional come-from-behind road win against the Giants.

Next was a sticky home win over the Eagles.

Then they had the beat down in Denver, backing up their talk by walking away with the AFC West perch.

So a letdown against a team that has won two straight -- and riding a titanic win against the Steelers -- is just human nature.

"A team coming off two big wins like Kansas City is, I think helps our guys," countered Turner. "The most important thing for them is to put the film on and when we watch our first game, there are some physical matchups and there are some plays that we made because we were in the right place at the right time. There were some plays that they made. We had some very positive things happen for us in that game (a 37-7 victory).

"Again, this league is such a one- or two-play league."


Coach Norv Turner
Stephen Dunn/Getty
The Chargers have had their share of game-changers, as does any team that finds itself on a roll, the one the Chargers always seem to find this time of the year.

While the Chiefs improved, it doesn't seem likely the Chargers would fall into such a trap. Even if the Chiefs had that stunner on Sunday.

"It really reiterates that this league, each week and each game stands alone," Philip Rivers said. "Any team in this league is capable each and every week. It's a division opponent at home. We've got things going. There's no reason why we won't be geared up and ready to go."

The Chargers are going into a somewhat easy two-game stretch. After the Chiefs (3-7), it's a road game at Cleveland.

Then the heavy lifting begins again, with a road game at Dallas and a home tilt against the Bengals.

That's why the Chargers have to avoid becoming complacent the next two weeks, with Job No. 1 being not overlooking the Chiefs.

It can happen, with a superior team coming in on Thanksgiving week.

"I think when you start getting to this point in the season around Thanksgiving you do, but I do a pretty good job of not falling into that trap," Turner said. "I know this is a hard week to prepare. I know there are teams that handle the Thanksgiving week better than others."

The Chargers have handled a 2-3 start into a gaudy 7-3 mark. And they got there by beating the tough teams as well as the ones not among the game's standouts -- like division rivals Oakland and Kansas City.

"I've been coaching in this league a long time in the same division and you start believing some things that have been true," Turner said.

"Sometimes you say it and you wonder if it still is true. When you go beat a team like that, sometimes people assume, 'You went to Kansas City and you should beat them because they're not very good,' or 'you beat Oakland because they aren't (very good).

"Then you turn around and see Kansas City beat Pittsburgh and Oakland beat Cincinnati, two pretty good football teams, and it starts to reconfirm some of the things I believe. Maybe I haven't lost it completely in terms of understanding completely what this league is all about."

The Chargers understand what they have done in erasing the Broncos' lead is something special. But only if they don't shrug with the likes of the Chiefs and Browns up next.

SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series 50-47-1. The Chargers have dominated of late and are going for their fifth straight win in this matchup, something they haven't done since the late 1980s. The Chargers have also won four of the past five meetings in San Diego.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Chargers signed veteran free agent T Jon Runyan, who replaces starting right tackle Jeromey Clary after Clary was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.


OT Jon Runyan
Jim McIsaac/Getty
Runyan, who turns 36 three days before Sunday's game, has been one of the NFL's premier offensive tackles over the previous 13 seasons The past 12 seasons (1997-08), he never missed a regular season or postseason start, totaling 213 straight games (192 regular season starts and 21 postseason starts). He hasn't played this season.

"We are very fortunate that a player of Jon's experience and ability was available at this time," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said. "He is an outstanding competitor, and I have always admired the physical, nasty approach he brings to the field every game. He will be added to the mix and we will move forward."

Runyan said he is fit. "I'm probably in the best shape I have been in 10 years," he said. "I've been training that much."

Runyan says he'll retire at the end of the season and campaign for Congress in New Jersey's 3rd District.

--CB Antonio Cromartie is still the focus of an incident that occurred in the hours after Sunday's win in Denver. Cromartie, it's believed, threw a champagne bottle that hit another bar patron in the head. The case remains under investigation to see if Cromartie can be charged with assault.

--The Steelers embarrassed the Chargers earlier this season so for them to fall to the Chiefs didn't go unnoticed in the Chargers' locker room.

"For Pittsburgh to go in there and lose to Kansas City, that's a real eye opener to everybody in the NFL," LT Marcus McNeill said. "It doesn't matter who you play. You've got to come to play. We're on a little streak right now and we want to keep it going."

--The front line has been great in keeping Philip Rivers upright during the five-game winning streak. Rivers wasn't sacked in the Chargers' win over Denver after they got to him five times in the earlier matchup. The blocking has gotten better and the play-calling has called for shorter routes.

"Whether you block them or not, you usually get them off," Rivers said. "If they're bringing one too many and you're throwing it quick, it's frustrating for a defense to keep blitzing because (they) can't get there."

--The Chargers have righted their red-zone defense and it showed on Sunday when the Broncos had two forced fumbles in the red zone.

"With our red-zone defense, we got a good scheme," Turner said. "We've got good players doing it. We are continuing to grow and grow in terms of how physical we are so it's harder to run the ball down there."

--During the Chargers' five-game winning streak, the team is plus-five in the turnover ratio. In their first five games, the Chargers were even.

--OLB Shawne Merriman beat Runyan, his new teammate, for the first sack of his career in 2005.

--The Chargers may be among the hottest NFL teams but a ticket for Sunday's game isn't one. The game will likely be blacked out on local TV, breaking a streak of 44 straight sellouts for the Chargers.

BY THE NUMBERS: 250 -- Number of career regular-season games for long snapper David Binn on Sunday, a Chargers team record.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Their record probably isn't where they want it, but they're still battling like crazy. You see what they've done the past few weeks. It'll be what you expect in a division game." - QB Philip Rivers, on the pesky Chiefs.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Newcomer T Jon Runyan isn't expected to start this week, with the team sticking with Brandyn Dombrowski to take Jeromey Clary's place in the lineup at right tackle. But at some point Runyan should play with the first team as he gets back into football shape and learns the Chargers' system.

Dombrowski, who filled in well when Clary went down Sunday, will make his third career NFL start after starting two games at right guard earlier this year.

PLAYER NOTES


K Nate Kaeding
Doug Pensinger/Getty
--K Nate Kaeding, with four field goals Sunday, has now hit 54 straight inside of 40 yards. A blocked extra-point attempt, however, ended his team-record streak 248 consecutive PATs.

--P Mike Scifres saw a streak come to an end when one of his efforts landed in the end zone. It marked the first touchback of the season, coming on his 37th punt.

--WR Legedu Naanee is making his catches count. He has four catches in the past two games and two have gone for touchdowns. Look for Naanee when the team goes into its wildcat formation.

--RT Jeromey Clary, who is out for the season, was given a game ball from Sunday's win.

--WR Vincent Jackson could be primed for a breakout game. He's been relatively quiet in the past two wins, catching five balls for 66 yards and no scores. In the first K.C. game, Jackson went for 142 yards and a score.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers will stick with pounding the ball, which plays into something the Chiefs don't do very well: stopping the run. But if they can keep it low to the ground, it saves Philip Rivers for another day in which he is needed more. Plus, the offensive line has a confidence about running the ball, something not seen since opening day. Stay with it and keep Matt Cassel and Chris Chambers off the field. Vincent Jackson is nursing some sore ribs, so the less he has to expose those, the better.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Chargers secondary vs. Chiefs WR Chris Chambers.

The backend of the defense has played better of late, since it was revamped with the release of S Clinton Hart. But Chiefs QB Matt Cassel has a new toy in Chambers, the former Charger who was released last month. Antonio Cromartie will see plenty of Chambers, but he will need some help over the top from Eric Weddle and Kevin Ellison. Chambers, though, has been a hit in his brief stint in Kansas City with 10 catches in three games for 248 yards and three scores. With Dwayne Bowe not being 100 percent of late Chambers has become the go-to guy for the Chiefs.

Chargers run defense vs. Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles.

It figures the Chiefs will try to keep the ball away from Philip Rivers by relying on its running game to chew clock. With Larry Johnson gone, that role has fallen to Charles, who rushed for 103 yards against the Raiders two weeks ago. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The Chargers' run defense, which has improved greatly over the five-game winning streak, got hit for 115 yards last week but has shown a new spark since Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler have been contributing more at inside linebacker.

Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Chiefs run defense.

The Chargers are feeling good these days with a two-pronged attack -- no longer is it Philip Rivers heaving long passes. The Chargers are coming off a season-high 203 rushing yards in the win over Denver. Many of those yards came in the second half when the Chargers were killing the clock with a big lead, but the confidence gained from that stays with an offensive line, and this one was feeling good about itself after that performance. The Chiefs are giving up an average of 139 yards per game as the front line has been average. Tomlinson has rushed for 169 yards in his last two games.

Chargers coverage units vs. Chiefs return game featuring Charles.

The Chargers stood up to the test last week when they kept Eddie Royal under wraps; earlier this year he returned a kick and a punt against them for scores. But that coverage unit will be challenged again by Charles. He took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a score last week and is average a nifty 25.7 yards per kickoff return.

INJURY IMPACT:

--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) was a limited participant on Wednesday; he probably still is a couple of week away from playing.

--OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) and OLB Shaun Phillips (ankle) didn't practice but both will play Sunday.

--DE Luis Castillo (calf) could be a game-time decision; he didn't practice on Wednesday.

--DL Travis Johnson (groin) didn't work but he should be part of the Sunday rotation.

--WR Vincent Jackson (ribs) didn't practice but should be able to go Sunday.

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