Insider's Take: Chargers vs. Redskins

WR Vincent Jackson (Donald Miralle/Getty)

The San Diego Chargers are the NFL's hottest team heading into the postseason. But did their latest win position them for a deep playoff run? To find out, we look back at what worked, what didn't and what's next after the 23-20 win over the Redskins.

What Worked

--Norv Turner's top priority going into the season finale was to keep his starters healthy. He was able to do exactly that as the Chargers reported only two injuries from Sunday's game: reserves James Holt (shoulder) and Antonio Garay (hamstring). Holt's injury may be serious, but Turner expects all his other players to be available when San Diego opens the playoffs Sunday, Jan. 17.

--Turner played his starters just long enough to keep them sharp and, boy, were they ever. The first-string offense scored points on its first two drives, the second of which was capped off by a 12-yard TD toss to Antonio Gates. The first-string defense was equally impressive despite missing a starter on every level (DE Jacques Cesaire, LB Shawne Merriman and FS Eric Weddle). The starting defense forced a three-and-out on its first drive and another punt on its second.

--WR Buster Davis didn't play his way into the playoff rotation, but he may have reinserted himself into the mix for next season. Davis was active for the first time this season and finished with career-highs in receptions (six) and all-purpose yards (142). Davis is one of just two receivers on the active roster with a contract that extends beyond this season (Legedu Naanee being the other), so his progress is a welcome sight for GM A.J. Smith.

RB Michael Bennett
Jeff Gross/Getty
--The Chargers are elated to have a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson for the playoff run, but should anything happen to LT, Michael Bennett looks ready to step in and contribute. Bennett turned his 15 touches into 90 yards from scrimmage, with three of those touches going for at least 14 yards. He is a nice combination of Tomlinson's between-the-tackles running ability and Darren Sproles' explosiveness.

What Didn't Work

--Speaking of Tomlinson, he picked up just 1 rushing yard on two carries during his cameo appearance. He finished the season with a career-low 730 rushing yards, which is less than half as many rushing yards as he posted in 2007 (1,474). LT averaged just 3.3 ypc this season; the team's rushing average was also 3.3, lowest in the NFL.

--The Chargers sacked Jason Campbell just once (Marques Harris) despite him dropping back to pass 46 times. This is becoming a concern as Ron Rivera's crew has struggled to manufacture a steady pass rush as of late. The Chargers posted just five sacks over their last four games.

--When most teams go to their nickel and dime defenses, they bring in extra corners. When the Chargers do it, they bring in extra safeties. On Sunday, Chargers fans saw exactly why that's the case. Backup corners Antoine Cason and Dante Hughes piled up the missed tackles. Cason was reluctant to fly forward and initiate contact while Hughes too often missed his target altogether.

What's Next?

The Chargers will play host to the New England Patriots, the Cincinnati Bengals or the New York Jets on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 1:40 p.m. (PT). If the Patriots defeat the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday, they come to Qualcomm Stadium. If not, the winner of Saturday's Bengals-Jets game comes to the Q.

The Chargers have already faced the Bengals this season and won on a game-winning 52-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding, 27-24.

San Diego faced the Pats last year in Foxboro and won, 30-10. However, Tom Brady was out with a knee injury. The last time the Chargers faced a Tom Brady-led Patriots team was in the AFC Championship game two seasons ago, where the Patriots pulled out a 21-12 victory.

The Chargers' last clash with the Jets was last season, where Turner's team rebounded from an 0-2 start to thrash the Jets in Week 3, 48-29. However, like the Patriots, the Jets have a history of success over the Chargers in the playoffs, winning in San Diego during the wildcard round after the 2004 season, 20-17.

Who'd you like San Diego to face in Round Two? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter. Recommended Stories

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