Source: USA Today
The Chargers head to Detroit, motoring in with a three-game winning streak and a belief that keeps growing.
Hey, if the automobile industry can rebound, why not the Chargers?
"We need things go to our way, obviously, but all we can do is play our game," defensive tackle Antonio Garay said.
The Chargers have been doing that at late, and it will be up to the Lions to stop them. But the Lions are playing for a playoff berth as well, and considering the Chargers' (2-4) road woes, this will be a huge test.
But once you've been 4-7 and the knives were out for the head coach and general manager, it's almost like the Chargers are playing with house money.
It's still a thick muck the Chargers find themselves in, trailing the AFC West-leading Broncos by one game with two to play. They are also in the AFC wild-card hunt, but they need to jump over a collection of teams and the tie-breakers don't exactly work out.
But the Chargers are playing at a high level, and they proved it by thumping the Ravens last Sunday.
The Chargers, though, can put together a solid game on occasion. But can they do it when it is needed most? Can they show the consistency which is required to win two more and hope for the best?
Don't forget: Under coach Norv Turner, the Chargers are 18-2 in December.
Don't forget II: Both those losses came last year, when the Chargers were in a similar pickle. They got steamrolled by the Raiders when allowing 250 rushing yards and then the Chargers went to Cincinnati and laid a huge egg.
Despite going against a three-win Bengals team playing out the string with both starting wide receivers injured, then-quarterback Carson Palmer threw for four touchdowns.
Now here comes the Lions, and what once was a game on schedule circled as a win is anything but that.
"I know they're an awfully explosive offensive football team," said Turner, who is trying to save his hide with this late-season run. "I know that they're very talented defensively. I know they play very fast in their dome. It's going to be another real challenge."
The Chargers have already knocked away one obstacle. It would have been easy, with a 4-7 record and all the negativity around the franchise, the Chargers could have folded. But they started a streak just before becoming irrelevant and are going down swinging — if nothing else.
"What I take from it is our guys ... I appreciate them a great deal because they kept fighting and competing," Turner said. "Obviously after the Denver game it would've been easy to shut the thing done but our guys didn't. They responded."
In time to make the playoffs? In time to save Turner's job for next season?
That's to be determined. But each is more likely to happen if they are to run the winning streak to five.
But first, comes Saturday. Going into the Lions' den, the Chargers have to show they can beat quality opponents in consecutive games — something they haven't done all season.
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 6-3, thanks to beating the Lions in six straight games. That includes their last two visits to Detroit. When these teams last played, in 2007 in San Diego, the Chargers demolished the Lions, 51-14.
—OLB Antwan Barnes was named the AFC defensive player of the week after a career-high four sacks in the win over the Ravens. Barnes leads the team with 11 sacks. The best game of Barnes' career came against his old team. "You think about the things I went through with them and everything happens for a reason and I have no animosity toward the Ravens," he said. "It was great to get out there and show them what I can do."
—FS Eric Weddle, who is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions, is having another solid season. But what Weddle can't do is erase the Chargers' earlier six-game losing streak, which could result in them missing the playoffs despite a current three-game win streak. "We can't really look too far ahead because so much is out of our control," Weddle said. "All we can control is Detroit and we'll try and keep our hopes alive by winning that game."
—QB Philip Rivers is appreciative of etching his name in the franchise record book with his fourth straight, 4,000-yard passing season. But Rivers, a son of a high school football coach, knows it's all about coming out on top. "I'd take less yards for a couple more wins in that six-game stretch," he said, alluding to the team's mid-October and November skid. "I think first it says a lot about the offensive line and then obviously guys making plays."
—ILB Takeo Spikes has been long enough to know the winning formula in the NFL isn't that complicated. "We are getting turnovers, and we aren't turning the ball over," said Spikes, in his 15th year. "I think as a whole we are playing with great confidence. With wins, comes confidence." Taking care of the ball is crucial against the Lions, as their 30 takeaways are among the NFL leaders.
—DT Antonio Garay is hoping to go Saturday; he's been slowed with a toe injury. Garay said among the reasons for the Chargers' three-game winning streak is players leaving the trainer's room. "We are just clicking on all cylinders right now," Garay said. "This is what everyone was expecting from us all year. Guys are healthy and guys are revved up."
—LT Jared Gaither has been a find after being signed when the Chiefs cut him nearly a month ago. He has started three games, all wins, for the Chargers. Gaither gives credit to others. "I have a great cast around me," he said. "They help me out tremendously. I tip my hat off and give thanks to those guys."
—The Chargers have learned they could be eligible for a $200 million loan in their quest to build a stadium in downtown San Diego. The Chargers have said they are committed to staying in San Diego, but the threat of a move to L.A. is never far away.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Philip Rivers' interceptions in the last four games after throwing 17 in the first 10 outings.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's entirely possible that it took us too long to make it right, but we're going to do our part and finish strong." — QB Philip Rivers on the Chargers finally playing their best ball of the season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers filled a week-long, open roster spot with OLB Darryl Gamble. That could be an indicator the team is concerned about OLB Travis LaBoy's availability with a knee injury.
Gamble was active for three games this year with the Chargers but has spent the last five weeks on the team's practice squad.
Gamble had a great preseason and camp to make the team as an undrafted rookie, but he's yet to have an impact.
The Chargers also have to monitor the foot injury of OLB Shaun Phillips. He's been playing and practicing, but he did miss four games earlier this year with the injury and it could become aggravated when becoming fatigued.
—RB Ryan Mathews, fresh from breaking the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career, is looking for his fifth straight game with at least 90 rushing yards. Mathews has benefitted from the Chargers' pass-catchers getting healthy.
—WR Vincent Jackson has now reached the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the third time in four year — last year was derailed by a nasty contract dispute. Jackson needs 132 more yards for a career-high; he went for 1,167 in 2009.
—TE Antonio Gates is near a big-time milestone in becoming the franchise's top receiver. He needs three more catches to eclipse Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner, the team's receivers coach.
—TE Randy McMichael drew praise last year for stepping into the passing-game mix when replacing an injured Antonio Gates. This year McMichael is contributing, but more so as a blocker. That will be true this week when trying to keep the Detroit pressure at bay.
—CB Antoine Cason could see action returning punts again this week; he got one chance last week but there was no return opportunity. The Chargers like to give Cason a look when hoping for a big return instead of just calling a fair catch because of where they are on the field.
—DE Jacques Cesaire (ankle) was able to practice Wednesday and looks like he will go on Saturday. Cesaire is a critical part of the defensive line's rotation.
—OLB Travis LaBoy (knee) didn't work and all indications are he will be down on Saturday. LaBoy, playing more than the Chargers anticipated, has one sack.
—DT Antonio Garay (toe) didn't work but that seems to be a cautionary move. Garay should start and play on Saturday.
—WR Vincent Jackson (groin) continues to be bothered by this nagging injury. It shouldn't be enough to keep him from starting Saturday, but he could be compromised.
Philip Rivers is playing at a level we haven't seen since last year, and it's time to run the ball?
Rivers has been hot but here goes the thinking: The Lions are dreadful against the run, allowing some 136 yards per game.
With Ryan Mathews hitting the hole and cutting back with panache in gobbling up yards and Mike Tolbert looking to score for the fourth straight game, the Chargers' run-game is cooking.
If they can get yards this way, and gobble the clock to keep Matthew Stafford from aiming passes to Calvin Johnson, the Chargers' offense could keep the defense fresh. That is especially important for the fourth quarters, as the Lions have rallied for wins in four games when trailing by 13 points.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers pass defense, which is coming off a seven-sack game, vs. a Lions passing game, which is stout with Matthew Stafford flinging passes to Calvin Johnson — Any chance the Chargers can duplicate Monday's showing with a pass rush folks haven't seen around here since a young Shawn Merriman was running around?
If the Chargers can generate some heat on Stafford, that won't allow Johnson the time to get down field on double moves to take advantage of those jump-ball opportunities he and Stafford are so good at completing.
The Chargers, though, are thin at outside linebacker with Larry English on IR and Travis LaBoy, his replacement, nursing a knee injury. Instead it will be up to Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes to get after Stafford to help the cornerbacks trying to stick with Johnson.
Chargers running game, with Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert vs. a shaky Lions run defense — Mathews and Tolbert are doing their thing, but it would be a mistake to overlook the upgraded run-blocking. Since the Chargers signed Jared Gaither three games ago, it not only solidified the left tackle spot, but allowed backup tackle Tyronne Green to go inside and play left guard. That is the side the Chargers prefer to run to, and they will point their runners in that direction most of the time. Any front line with Ndamukong Suh on it has to be respected. But keep an eye on LB Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant. Tulloch had a 10 tackles in last week's win over the Raiders and leads the team with 97. Durant had seven tackles in Oakland and it was his fourth-quarter forced fumble which help the Lions win.
Chargers passing game, with a sizzling Philip Rivers and all three of his main targets healthy vs. the Lions pass defense which is playing with a makeshift secondary — Rivers is playing at a high level — or the level the Chargers are used to. The key is Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd are on the field to stretch defenses.
The Lions have to decide which to cheat on if trying to avoid single coverage and that is where the openings arrive — Rivers finds that single coverage and goes that direction. Lions CB Chris Houston wasn't able to finish the game in Oakland as his sprained MCL, which had kept him out of action, restricted him. But the key here, for the Lions, could come from their ends, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. They combined for three sacks in the win over Oakland and will be revved to help out the back end. The Chargers, from his days with the Titans, have always had trouble containing Vanden Bosch.