Source: USA Today
Down at the crossroads, that's where the Chargers find themselves.
It's a crossroad game on Sunday for the Chargers, as they welcome the world champion Packers.
Just maybe a visit from the great Green Bay squad is the best tonic for the Chargers, a team that has lost two straight, including Monday's heartbreaker against the Chiefs.
The Chargers have little choice but to finish licking their wounds from their latest baffling loss and go compete. With it being the Packers, the undefeated Packers, it's clear the Chargers will have to focus and prepare in earnest if hoping to end their skid.
It's imperative the Chargers look ahead because if they are still stuck in Kansas City with their woe-is-me routine, the Packers will blow them out of Qualcomm Stadium.
And really, the Packers could do just that even if they have the Chargers' undivided attention. That's how good the Packers are and how deep of you-know-what the Chargers are in.
The whispers of a lost season are already starting for a team that at one time had Super Bowl aspirations.
Those thoughts, though, now seem laughable. Although the Chargers are in a three-way tie for the AFC West lead, they have let two consecutive road games slip away and now enter the teeth of the schedule.
That's the only chops seen around Chargers Park, because smiles are few and far between around the team's facility.
But a win Sunday solidifies the Chargers' chances of being relevant in the second half. It would allow them to keep pace, in case the Raiders beat the Broncos and the Chiefs dispose of the Dolphins.
But a loss Sunday crystallizes all what is wrong with the Chargers: mainly, this is a team not as talented as most think, and after injuries, its glaring lack of depth is showing at too many positions.
Where that talent was rock-solid was at quarterback, and how's that working out for you, Chargers? Not well at all as Philip Rivers' struggles - his muffed snap exchange leading to Monday's loss will go down in NFL lore - are well chronicled.
Where that talent was rock-solid was at tight end with Antonio Gates, but he is a shadow of himself with his balky foot injury.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is another play-maker, but for some reason he no longer gets open on a consistent basis. He battled a hamstring issue earlier, but it's possible the lack of the threat that is the Chargers' running game has allowed teams to play deeper, taking away Jackson's bread-and-butter.
On defense, there's not a single player either striking fear into opposing ball-carriers or being a difference-maker.
Where is the talent? Where is the depth? Where is the Chargers team that was supposed to be among the elite, but has fallen to the ranks of flat-dead average?
Maybe it's the work of Norv Turner - the popular target.
Maybe it's the work of A.J. Smith - the general manager who can't hit on first-round picks after making his reputation on doing just that.
The Chargers don't play the free-agent game, so their roster is built almost exclusively through the draft. But recent drafts, especially in the first round, have produced clunkers which are catching up with the Chargers: a benched cornerback in Antoine Cason; a two-year, IR-member in linebacker Larry English; a waived wide receiver in Buster Davis.
Last year Smith spent a ransom to move up and draft running back Ryan Mathews. While he's seventh in combined yardage, he can't stay on the field. In three straight games, he's been unable to finish with three different injuries.
Mathews' reputation at Fresno State was having trouble shaking nagging injuries. If it was happening in the Western Athletic Conference, that it is happening in the National Football League shouldn't be a surprise.
Want a real shocker? The Chargers spit out all this adversity and rebound with an upset of the undefeated Packers.
But if the Chargers continue their shoddy play and lose their third straight, that crossroad intersection they find themselves at Sunday could have their GPS pointing south for what could be a long, bumpy ride to the finish line.
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 8-1, and the Packers have dominated of late, winning the past four games by a combined score of 142-58. The Chargers' lone win over Green Bay came in 1984 and it was at Lambeau Field. In the teams' last game, the Chargers fell to the Packers in 2007, when Brett Favre engineered a fourth-quarter rally that included his 420th career touchdown pass to tie Dan Marino's all-time record.
—Among the head-scratchers about the Chargers' unraveling season is what has happened to Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers. The usual sturdy leader of the Chargers' offense leads the league with 13 turnovers, which includes 11 interceptions against only seven touchdown passes. Coach Norv Turner said Rivers is trying too hard. "Philip is one of the most competitive people I've ever known," Turner said. "I don't think there's anyone that winning means more to. He has great confidence in his abilities. I will say that he's pressing and there are times he's doing more than he needs to do. There are times in those situations where he makes a great play. There's a fine line for him. He's trying as hard as he can to help us win games, and sometimes he's trying too hard and trying to make plays that aren't there. From a scheme standpoint, we're trying to give him safe options to throw the ball."
While Turner said QB Philip Rivers is pressing, Rivers wouldn't quite describe it in that fashion. "I'm trying to do the best I can, it's hard to feel you own self exactly what you are doing. If you knew what you were doing and what was going to hinder you, you wouldn't do it. I've been in my best stretch lately, obviously, but by any means is it going to make me slow down or quit trying or lose confidence. We still got a long ways to go."
—In two straight games, hard to believe, but the Chargers have been charged with 25 penalties and given up 200 yards - the length of the field, twice - in penalty yards. "It's a problem," cornerback Quentin Jammer said. "We can't make mistakes like that and expect to succeed in this league. We've had a couple rough games and some questionable calls, but we'll get that problem fixed."
—ILB Takeo Spikes, a 15-year pro, knows all about devastating losses - he's never made the playoffs in his career. But he said the Chargers will stiff-arm the temptation of letting that loss linger. "The Packers are coming to town and we know what it is stake," Spikes said. "We would have loved to win that ball game on Monday night but it is over with. There is no time to sit back and have a pity party. You won't find that in this locker room. It's a long season, man, and I'm very happy how we came out and took the field (Wednesday) at practice." You turn the page but you don't forget."
—CB Quentin Jammer said it's not so important that the Chargers are playing the Packers. It's more so what they have to do with their team than worrying about the opponent. "We just have to come out and play our game; that's what we got away from, is playing our game. We made a lot of mistakes and that is unlike us to make as many mistakes as we have the last two weeks, with penalties and turnovers."
—WR Patrick Crayton has been around some big-time quarterbacks but he says Philip Rivers doesn't act big-time. "There's no flash there," Crayton said, "His being down to earth is critical. It trickles down. He doesn't separate himself from the rest of the locker room. You can feel it."
—The Chargers have sold out Sunday's game, thanks in part to the legions of Packers fans descending on Qualcomm Stadium. It could be the Chargers' last sellout - with four games remaining. The only other game the Chargers anticipate being close to a sellout is against the Raiders on Nov. 10.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - Number of games over .500, at 13-10, the Chargers are since the end of the 2009 regular season.
QUOTE TO NOTE:"Every time you're struggling, the No. 1 thing you can do is go win a football game. That's going to be our focus. The fact that we're playing the defending world champions makes it a real challenge." - Coach Norv Turner, looking for ways how his team can rebound Sunday after losing their second straight game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers signed pass-rushing specialist Everette Brown, who hasn't played this season after getting cut by the Panthers. Brown coming aboard shows how little push the Chargers are receiving from the outside linebacker's spot, where Brown, normally a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment, will be positioned.
The Chargers still aren't sure what they will get out of an injured Shaun Phillips this week and Larry English is already on IR. Brown will join a rotation that includes Travis LaBoy and Antwan Barnes.
DL Ogemdi Nwagbuo was released to make room for Brown, the Chargers deciding they need more of a pass rush than veteran depth along a line which is inexperienced.
WR Bryan Walters, who was cut leading up to the Chiefs, was signed back to the practice squad.
LB Bront Bird was signed to the regular roster off the practice squad prior to the Chiefs' game.
—WR Patrick Crayton had three catches for 50 yards on Monday, including a 19-yarder for a key first down. With the receiving corps battling so many injuries, Crayton might be asked to have a bigger role against the Packers. It's possible Crayton starts on Sunday if some others don't get well.
—WR Vincent Brown could get a big chance on Sunday with Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd potentially out with injuries. Brown, a third-round pick, hasn't shown much with only two catches for 26 yards.
—LT Marcus McNeill was playing with a neck sprain Monday and it showed as he was flagged for six penalties and beat often by Tamba Hali. McNeill, two years removed from neck surgery, deserves praise for at least trying to play. A bigger question is why didn't the Chargers' coaches give him some help after seeing how much trouble he was having? McNeill should be in better shape for Sunday's game.
—LG Tyronne Green figures to start in place of Kris Dielman (concussion) for the second straight game. One wonders how much Green's presence, instead of the Pro Bowler Dielman, had to do with LT Marcus McNeil's struggles on Monday night.
—CB Antoine Cason got passed over twice in one game and it will be interesting to see how the Chargers use him on Sunday. Cason was benched in favor of rookie Marcus Gilchrist, then was removed as the punt returner after letting a kick sail over his head, pinning the Chargers in bad field position. Cason is a former first-round pick.
—WR Vincent Jackson (hamstring) didn't practice, and if he does at all this week, it will be limited. Jackson will likely go Sunday, but if he does, he will be compromised.
—LG Kris Dielman (brain) remains sidelined with a concussion, did not practice on Wednesday and will not play on Sunday.
—TE Antonio Gates (foot) went through practice and should be a go for Sunday.
—RB Mike Tolbert (hamstring) was a full participant.
—RB Ryan Mathews (calf) didn't practice and could be down this week.
—DE Luis Castillo (leg) didn't practice and is an estimated four weeks away from returning.
—LB Shaun Phillips (foot) didn't work and he is looking doubtful for Sunday. He is still in a walking boot and indications are his injury is fairly serious.
—OL Tyronne Green (hand) didn't work but he could practice later in the week.
—RB Curtis Brinkley (brain) has not been cleared to practice and remains out.
GAME PLAN: Time for the Chargers, and Philip Rivers, to forget about the past and focus on what they do (did?) best: throw the football. It's clear Rivers is struggling but it's also clear the best way to attack the Packers is through the air. We realize their defensive passing numbers are a bit askew with teams often trailing them and trying to get back into games through the heaving the ball.
But the front seven is more apt to stop the Chargers' running game, which could be without an injured Ryan Mathews and will include Mike Tolbert, who has had his own injuries issues. Plus the run-blocking might be off a tad with Pro Bowl LG Kris Dielman out.
It's time for Rivers to throw caution - and the doubters - to the wind and crank it with an old-time shoot out with the Packers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass defense, with an uneven secondary vs. Packers passing game, led by MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers. The Chargers aren't sure who they'll trot out at right cornerback, with rookie Marcus Gilchrist fresh from getting burned on Monday night, or Antoine Cason, semi-fresh from getting beat for three touchdowns by Plaxico Burress. One will have to start opposite Quentin Jammer and you can bet he'll have a target on his jersey. The key, really, is the Chargers presenting a pass rush to pester Rodgers, who has thrown 20 interceptions against only three interceptions. But the Chargers' pass rush will likely be missing its best player in OLB Shaun Phillips and the team has generated little heat from anywhere else.
Chargers running game, with possibly Mike Tolbert being the lead back, vs. a Packers' run defense, with a front seven which includes NT B.J. Raji and OLB Clay Matthews. Ryan Mathews is nursing a groin injury and he could be down this week. Even if he goes, Mathews hasn't finished the past three games because of various injuries. That means Tolbert will need to carry the load and he might be a heavy one with Curtis Brinkley, another running back out with a concussion. The Packers offer the massive man in the middle, Raji, and he might be in for a big game with LG Kris Dielman out.
Chargers run defense, which has been struggling of late vs. a Packers running attack that is ranked No. 24th in the league. The Chargers have allowed 418 rushing yards in the past three games thanks to a thin and inexperience defensive line that is not keeping the blockers off the linebackers. The Packers' running game hasn't struck fear into too many defenses - but when you have Aaron Rodgers, what's the point? But if the Chargers can at least get Rodgers in some third-and-longs by winning on the early downs, they can insert additional defensive backs to try and slow Rodgers down. It's not much, but the Chargers will take any advantage they can get.