Source: USA Today
The Chargers' attention goes toward the Jets, hoping to come off their best bye in team history.
Doesn't every team, every time say its bye is perfectly placed on their schedule? Although the Chargers, after winning four of five, possibly could have disputed that with their fast start.
But if a week off means the return of Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, well, they'll take it.
The Chargers' wish is that Gates being idle since the Sept. 18 loss in New England — thanks in part to the bye — will mend his aching right foot.
It's the same plantar fasciitis issue Gates has had since last October, and where it goes no one is quite sure. But Gates is going to attempt to practice this week, and play Sunday when the Chargers visit MetLife Stadium to face the Jets.
"I'm just hoping that the worst part of it is over and I'm able to play and keep playing," Gates said.
Gates was durable until this ailment, an iron horse in the Chargers' explosive and balanced offense. But this setback has been different, and so have the Chargers — especially in the red zone.
Their struggles inside their rivals' 20 was among items needing tidying up last week with no game. But if Gates is game Sunday, and then moving forward, that shortcoming gets a considerable boost.
Of Gates' 69 career touchdown receptions, all but 20 have come inside the red zone. Gates, along with lanky wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, flood Philip Rivers with goal-line options.
But the wide receivers have been gimpy; Gates has missed three straight games.
That could change Sunday with Gates returning. But Gates is a proud man with a pragmatic vision regarding his production and the team's cohesiveness.
"The bottom line is that I need to be in a position to go out and contribute," Gates said. "I don't want to be a decoy. I'm on a team that's playing well, and I want to do as much as I can."
"He always looks good when he's out there," Turner said after watching Gates work Monday. "He went through part of practice, but we're going to make evaluations every day. Hopefully he's able to continue and he doesn't have a setback during the week.
"I'm excited to have him out there. I'm hopeful he can play, but I don't want to put that burden of a guarantee on him or us. Hopefully he can continue to work this week and play on Sunday."
—Don't think a certain Chargers inside linebacker hasn't noticed the 49ers' 5-1 start? Takeo Spikes spent the last three seasons in San Francisco, and out of the playoffs. That extended a baffling string that has Spikes missing the playoffs in all 14 of his productive NFL seasons.
"But you forgot one thing," Spikes said. "We're going to make it. We're going to make it big. I know that. My boys promised me that already."
Spikes has fit well with the Chargers, although their inexperienced defensive line could tax him as the season matures. Free safety Eric Weddle thinks otherwise of a teammate with 37 tackles. "We didn't bring him in here just to lead," Weddle said. "He's a great player. He can still run around and make plays. He leads both by the way he plays and how he acts."
—The Chargers worked a bit earlier than usual Monday, but there doesn't figure to be many practice tweaks in preparation for Sunday. When the Chargers play the Jets at 1 p.m. EST, it will be their lone game at 10 a.m. on their West Coast body clock. The Chargers look to flip last year's road record of 3-5, and so far have split their two away games (loss at New England, win at Denver). The team does figure to leave Friday, as is the custom when traveling three time zones.
—The linebacking unit could add some depth Sunday, depending on how quickly recent pickup Gerald Hayes gets acclimated. The Chargers are trying to get the veteran linebacker, an eight-year pro, up to speed quickly after he replaced Stephen Cooper, although it's uncertain whether Hayes will be ready for the Jets game. "We're going to try and get him up to pace as quickly as possible," defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "See what he's absorbed and what's left to do."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
—WR Vincent Jackson continues to be slowed by a hamstring injury. Jackson didn't practice on Monday but is expected to play Sunday. But his progress is worth watching during the week.
—WR Malcom Floyd worked and seems to be improving each week off his groin injury. His practice time is increasing and his availability is more critical considering Jackson's status.
—RB Ryan Mathews is nursing a calf strain but was able to practice Monday.
—RB Mike Tolbert left the last game with a concussion. But he was able to practice and it appears he's a go for Sunday.
—CB Quentin Jammer practiced on Monday, a good sign for the veteran who has had some hamstring issues. A physical Jammer will potentially be tested by Plaxico Burress on Sunday.
—DE Jacques Cesaire has missed the past two games but appears to have a shot at playing Sunday. Cesaire has been out with a knee sprain but is working. Cesaire's veteran presence, and production, along an inexperienced defensive line is significant.
—DE Luis Castillo remains out with a broken leg and isn't expected back for at least another month.
REPORT CARD AFTER FIVE GAMES
PASSING OFFENSE: C — With Philip Rivers churning out one inconsistent game after another — two interceptions in each of his first three games — and losing two fumbles as well, this is far cry from what the Chargers expected. Rivers had nine turnovers against only six touchdown pass as his accuracy was hampered, to some degree, by sore ribs. Plus Antonio Gates has missed a significant chunk of time and wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd have struggled to stay fit. The good news is the Chargers still won four of five with a shaky Rivers. Pass protection — eight sacks — needs tightening up as well.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Ryan Mathews has bloomed as an emerging star, ranked among the leaders in combined yardage as his production has risen every week. Mike Tolbert has been dogged by ball-security and health issues, but he still has contributed a team-high four touchdowns. Run blocking has been pretty good, especially on the left side. Mathews has shown more patience to take advantage of it.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus — Not bad here, especially considering the team lost Bob Sanders after two games and steady cornerback Quentin Jammer has missed time with a hamstring injury. Still, the time the Chargers faced a quality quarterback in Tom Brady, they were exposed as a unit still struggling with communication issues. That's been cleaned up, but the true test is still on the horizon as the competition improves. Pass rush hasn't been consistent, with a Larry English sighting with two sacks in a game among the highlights. Shaun Phillips has but one sack and no one is penetrating the pocket on a consistent basis.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — The addition of veteran Takeo Spikes and the somewhat unexpected play of first-year starter Donald Butler is encouraging, but there's still work to be done. The safeties have to become more forceful in run support, with teams going for 114 yards per game and an average of 4.6 yards a carry. Sometimes it's a struggle for the Chargers to get off the field against a ground-control offense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — After giving up a touchdown on the season-opening kickoff, it couldn't get worse, right? It didn't, although the Chargers' coverage units are still a work in progress. The kick return game hasn't shown much but the punt-return yardage has increased since Patrick Crayton took over after the first two games. Nick Novak has been a gem, converting all 11 field-goal attempt since replacing the injured Nate Kaeding.
COACHING: B - Norv Turner has done a nice job of showing some offensive balance, turning to a running game and running backs as receivers more with Rivers struggling with the down-field throws because of accuracy and protection issues. The defense, while stout at times, hasn't shown the consistency in getting to the pocket or in stopping the run. Still, in both areas, enough has been done to win four of five and that can't be overlooked, even if coming against the NFL's lower-tier teams.