Source: USA Today
The Chargers are feeling giddy, right? It seems they have avoided their traditional slow start after winning two of their first three games and looking ahead to Sunday with the winless and visiting Dolphins on tap.
Funny, but the Chargers would probably admit — off-the-record — that everything doesn't seem right in their NFL world.
The Chargers might be 2-1, but they have already been hit by the injury bug hard.
The Pro Bowl quarterback, Philip Rivers, has been in a season-long slump. Their mantra of wanting to be more aggressive and take the ball away has been a bust.
And they are minus someone they thought would change the Chargers' persona as a finesse team. Safety Bob Sanders went on injured reserve Wednesday, which robs the team of a hard-hitter and someone able to give the defense some swagger.
Still, it's all the scoreboard in this league and on that count, 2-1 is 2-1 and the Chargers are thankful for that.
Still, something doesn't quite feel right. In their two victories, they played with little passion, allowing two inferior teams, the Vikings and Chiefs, to deliver a big-time scare of upsetting the Chargers at home.
Then in the loss at New England — despite coach Norv Turner saying how "excited" he was about the team afterward - they gave up more than 500 yards and committed four turnovers.
Strangely it was after a win, the one which came Sunday, where Turner said the offense was out-of-synch. That assessment brought a strong rebuttal for the team's out-of-sync quarterback.
"I don't think we are going to be putting any games away in the second quarter," Rivers said. "The next 13, I don't know if we'll put any away in the second quarter. It's a four-quarter game, it's the NFL.
"I know you get tired of hearing it but that's what it is. It's week-to-week, game-to-game, there is no bad team."
Even the winless Dolphins, Philip?
"There is no bad team," Rivers shot back. "Sure, by the end of the year, there are team records that aren't very good but you go and suit up and play for four quarters and anybody can win."
That is what makes Sunday's game so dangerous. The Chargers, under Turner, have proved time and again they often play down to the competition. They did just that in just getting past the Vikings and Chiefs.
Then there are those December disasters from last year, when they fell to the Raiders and the Bengals in the closing month.
The Chargers close out their home schedule for a month in taking on the Dolphins. This is a game the Chargers should win going away, but the way Rivers explains it, there are no gimmies in the NFL.
SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 12-11. When the Chargers defeated the visiting Dolphins in 2009, that ended a seven-game Dolphins winning streak. These teams have split two playoff games, with the most famous being one of the greatest games in NFL history, the 1981 AFC Divisional Game won by the Chargers in overtime, 41-28. The Chargers broke 15 Divisional Game records that day and tied two other. The picture of a depleted Kellen Winslow being assisted off the field after that draining wins remains among the most iconic in NFL history.
—SS Bob Sanders' quest to extend his career in San Diego was ended Wednesday when he was placed on IR with a knee injury. Sanders didn't play Sunday, meaning in the last three-plus seasons he played in 11 games. "All we wished for Bob was good health and hoped to turn him loose to do his thing, which was being one great, physical, highly-competitive player," general manager A.J. Smith said. "It didn't work out for him or us, and we wish him the very best. He was with us a very short time, but made a positive impact with our team in many ways, and I'll always appreciate that."
—TE Randy McMichael continues to be a solid replacement for Antonio Gates. "I've been in this league a long time," the 10-year pro said. "It's all about preparation. If you don't prepare yourself the way you're going to play, you won't be successful. Everyone has enough confidence in me to know that if (Gates) can't go, I'm able to step in and help us win." McMichael has eight catches for 77 yards.
—RB Ryan Mathews has now rushed for six touchdowns in his last four games. "I think he is one of these young, emerging stars and is going to be in this league for a long time," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. Added Mathews: "I've just been able to read holes. The linemen are doing a great job of just opening them up. I've just got to find them and run through them." Mathews nearly rushed for 100 yards Sunday, while scoring twice, as he finished with 98 yards. "Stats don't matter to me," Mathews said. "Just so long as we got the win."
—Among the reasons the Chargers were able to get that second win was the play of some players usually under the radar: DE Vaughn Martin, CB Marcus Gilchrist, ILB Donald Butler and TE Randy McMichael among others. "There's some guys that really aren't household names around here that have really stepped up and played for us in some situations where we needed them," Turner said. "To see those guys step up, that means a lot to us because we need every guy."
—Not too many people can keep up with bruising RB Mike Tolbert — on or off the field, or is it the dance floor? Tolbert has a little shaking-of-the-hips when scoring; his three touchdowns are tied for the team lead. But he's not all about finding the end zone. "I'm more happy with the protection things than I am with the touchdowns," he said.
—Turner is still being questioned on his play-call from Sunday, when the Chargers went for it on fourth-and-1 to ice the game away. But why would Turner send a quarterback with sore ribs into the line so rivals could possibly get a shot at him? "Because we want to win the game," Turner said. "He's not going to get hit in the ribs in a a quarterback sneak or get hit in the chest. He handled that fine." Well, except the part that the play didn't work and the ball turned over to the Chiefs on downs and they nearly came back to tie the game.
—FS Eric Weddle's fourth-quarter interception not only saved the game Sunday, but it was the first one recorded by the Chargers' secondary this season.
—The blackout blues are expected to hit the Chargers on Sunday. After having three games blacked out last season, Sunday's game could be the first of this season. Thousands of tickets remain, too many for a Chargers business partner to step in and buy them. That's the belief, anyway.
BY THE NUMBERS: 17 - Number of Vincent Jackson receptions this season, all of which have gone for first downs.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Something moving that big moving that fast? Vaughn's like a Ford truck with Porsche quickness." — Chargers defensive line coach Don Johnson on Vaughn Martin, a third-year pro forced into the lineup to replace the injured Luis Castillo.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers are scrambling along the defensive line, with numerous injuries striking there.
To that end, the team signed Tommie Harris for some insurance at tackle. Harris, a former Pro Bowler with the Bears, was in the Saints camp before getting cut.
The Chargers are hopeful defensive end Corey Liuget can go Sunday with his ailing sprained ankle.
—RB Mike Tolbert saw his touches decrease with the Chargers riding Ryan Mathews on Sunday. Tolbert was also slowed by a calf injury, but that is behind him. Look for his chances to increase on Sunday, although if Mathews starts hot, that will cut into them.
—CB Marcus Gilchrist is drawing praise for his work when playing most of the second half last week after Quentin Jammer went down with a hamstring injury. Gilchrist, a second-round pick, is contributing faster than the Chargers had anticipated.
—TE Randy McMichael could be headed for a big deal with Antonio Gates' availability in doubt. McMichael filled in well for Gates last year down the stretch and is picking up where he left off. Asked to be a receiver more with Gates absent, he had four catches for 51 yards on Sunday, including one for 26 yards.
—ILB Donald Butler is coming off the best game of his three-game career. He was a force in keeping the Chiefs' running game in check and had the team's only sack. Butler was expected to do this last year, but he injured his Achilles tendon which wiped out his rookie season.
—WR Vincent Brown is starting to see the field more after a camp and preseason that was derailed by a leg injury. Brown, a third-round pick, has yet to catch his first NFL pass — although he was targeted once Sunday, his first NFL game.
—WR Bryan Walters looks like he will keep his job as the punt-returner. Gilchrist is another option, but with him likely playing considerable snaps on Sunday, this role could be Walters. The undrafted first-year player has shown steady hands in fielding the punts, but not much on the return-end. He's averaging 5.6 yards per return, with a long of 13.
—TE Antonio Gates (foot) didn't practice as he seeks other opinions on the best course of action for his chronic injury.
—DE Corey Liuget (ankle) was a limited participant and has a chance to play on Sunday, although he will be heavily rotated.
—DE Luis Castillo (leg) is out until November, at least.
—CB Quentin Jammer (hamstring) has said he will play Sunday; Turner alludes to him as being week-to-week. Jammer didn't practice on Wednesday but could try later in the week.
—WR Malcom Floyd (groin) didn't practice on Wednesday. But it is believed he will play after going last week.
—WR Vincent Jackson (abdominal) didn't practice on Wednesday but that was somewhat expected. He took a day off last week before playing on Sunday and he had a big day.
—RB Ryan Mathews (foot) was a limited participant on Wednesday. He was walking and moving pretty freely, so it is not expected to be anything significant.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers usually like to butter their offensive bread through the air, and when you have Philip Rivers flinging the football, why not? But Rivers has some banged up ribs and the Chargers need to let the running game carry the load on Sunday. Keep Rivers out of harm's way and see if they can do their damage.
That said, the Dolphins' run defense isn't bad — or is that the case of the pass defense being shoddy. Still the Chargers should first go with the run, then fall back on the passing game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass defense, which could be missing CB Quentin Jammer, vs. a Dolphins passing game that features WR Brandon Marshall. Jammer could be limited this week with a hamstring injury. He is a key, veteran player on the back side of the Chargers defense and others are going to have to step in and fill the void. Marshall is well-versed in terrorizing the Chargers, as he used to do it twice a season when playing for the Broncos. In one game, he racked up an amazing 13 catches. Overall, he's caught 48 passes for 34 yards and a score against the Chargers. Backups Marcus Gilchrist and Steve Cooper might be asked to lend a hand in keeping the lanky Marshall in check.
Chargers pass offense, which is a bit depleted, vs. the Dolphins pass defense which is allowing 311 yards per game. This might be a good game for Rivers to get back on track — his sore ribs willing. But the team is going to likely be without Gates, and Jackson and Floyd might not be 100 percent with their ailments. The Dolphins' secondary has taken its lumps and starting CB Vontae Davis is hurting.
Chargers running game, with an emerging Ryan Mathews and a big back in Mike Tolbert vs. a Dolphins run defense that is ranked No. 4 and has a bitter Kevin Burnett at inside linebacker. Mathews had a bit of a coming-out party with his two-touchdown game last week. And Tolbert, who was slowed by a calf injury against the Chiefs, is back at full strength. But the Dolphins have allowed but 104 yards per game and Burnett is going to be smack dab in the middle to make sure the Chargers don't get much getting past the front line. Burnett was ticked that the Chargers didn't bring him back in the offseason.