By Curtis M. Egan
BoltTalk Staff Writer
The San Diego Chargers come off a moral busting loss against another NFC West team only to face another. The Arizona Cardinals travel to the sand and surf of San Diego, looking to build on their 2-1 start to the season.
The Cardinals narrowly beat the Oakland Raiders last week, after overcoming a pair of breakdowns on special teams. The Chargers as well have suffered some poor special teams play and that is part of why they again start the season at 1-2.
The Chargers are looking to right the ship, and fix the mistakes that allowed their opponents twice this year to snatch an unexpected victory. Typically the Chargers play well after a bad game. In many ways the last game in Seattle was bad. Two kick off returns resulted in touchdowns as the special teams coverage looked like they were falling down like a house of cards in a wind storm, rather than attempting to make a tackle.
The Chargers special teams this season has allowed teams to look better than they actually are. The Cardinals have had one of the more explosive offenses over the last few years, but this is not your Super Bowl Cardinals. This is a team with a new starting Quarterback and many young players.
By the tale of the tape, the Chargers should dominate this game… Just like they should have dominated the game in Seattle, but failed to. The Chargers are averaging almost double the yards per game (461.3 yards per game) than the Cardinals are (290.7 yards per game). This is even with arguably one of the best wide receivers in the league, Larry Fitzgerald at the Cardinals disposal. In the running game the teams are very similar; both are averaging 116.3 yards per game on the ground.
Chargers: Over all; 1, Passing; 2, Rushing 12.
Cardinals: Over all; 25, Passing; 25, Rushing 12.
Defensively, again on paper the Chargers defense is the better unit, giving up only 272.7 yards per game to their opponents. The Cardinals on the other hand have struggled defensively and are allowing 377.7 yards per game. Unfortunately, this season has shown that the games are not played on paper.
Chargers: Over all; 4, Passing; 6, Rushing 12.
Cardinals: Over all; 26, Passing; 19, Rushing 31.
Draw what you will from the statistics. Statistics do not win the games, and it is the intangible differences that have made the difference to both teams in this season. We all know of San Diego’s well publicized woes on Special Teams, but the Cardinals have suffered their own breakdowns on special teams when they lost the ball on two punt returns last week that were mishandled.
There are some intangible issues that will impact this game. The Chargers have been bit by the injury bug. This last game right guard Louis Vasquez suffered a sprained MCL and will miss two weeks. Second year player Tyronne Green will fill in for Vasquez for those two weeks. This proves problematic for the Chargers as they have been having an extra body in on plays to assist Left Tackle Brandyn Dombrowski, and they now need to help the left tackle and right guard.
Chargers are also thin at linebacker, they lost Larry English for 6-8 weeks due to foot surgery, Shawne Merriman left the game against Seattle with a calf injury, Stephen Cooper has a sore knee, and Jyles Tucker missed the last game for an undisclosed reason.
The Cardinals have their share of nicks and bruises, but no single unit is impacted as they are with the Chargers and their Linebackers.
Penalties are another intangible that should be considered. The cardinals have been penalized an average of 10 times per game so far, while the Chargers have been penalized less than 7 times per game. Penalties can derail a successful drive on offense, or stand on defense.
The last intangible we should consider is the 12th man. Though it looks like this will be another blacked out game, with over 7000 tickets remaining unsold Tuesday, the fans of the Chargers are as vocal as any other fan base in the league. They will be in full throat on Sunday, and that is something that the Cardinals will have to be prepared for.
Offensively, look for both teams to try and establish a running attack early. For the Cardinals it is because it is the strength of their offense and they need it to set up the pass. For the Chargers it is because they want a balanced offense to control the clock, and they know their passing game can be effective.
On paper (yes, I know the games are not played on paper) it looks like the Cardinals have an uphill battle to keep up with the Chargers offense, that is playing at a higher level so far than it did last year at the same time. The Cardinals average 16 points per game, while the Chargers are averaging 24 point a game. Defensively point wise the teams are closer than either is probably comfortable with. The Cardinals are allowing 25.7 points a game while the Chargers are allowing 20.3.
San Diego by 8
Match ups to watch:
Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald vs. Corner Back Quentin Jammer:
This should be the battle of the game. Fitzgerald is arguably one of the best receivers in the league and will be going up against the captain of the Chargers secondary Jammer. Last week Jammer was flagged for pass interference on one call that led to the Seahawks touchdown to their Tight End. Fitzgerald who is averaging 12.7 yards per reception is a craft, talented and fast receiver who is capable of catching the ball and taking it the distance. Look for Jammer to play off the line of scrimmage rather than try and play bump and run. This will give him a better chance of matching Fitzgerald’s speed down the field, allowing the pass rush time to try and get to the QB.
Tight End Antonio Gates vs. Arizona:
I am not sure anyone can cover Gates. He manages to get open week in and week out. He is arguably the best player on the team right now, and that is throwing Philip Rivers in the mix. Gates is averaging 14.2 yards per reception, and is benefiting from the emergence of Legedu Naanee, and Malcolm Floyd as pass catching threats. Teams have to decide who to go one on one with, and River looks for when Gates is manned up on and will deliver the ball into tight coverage expecting Gates to get it, and for the most part he has. Gates has a chance with 4 more receptions to be the fastest Tight End to reach 500. Another fact, since he joined the Chargers in 2003, Gates has only lost 3 fumbles. Look for Arizona to try and shadow gates with a Linebacker, and keep a Safety in the area for support.
Defensive End Darnell Docket vs. Left Tackle Brandyn Dombrowski:
Dombrowski and Green will have a tough day. Docket is one of the best players at his position, and he is a tackling machine. He raked in 15 solo tackles last week against the Raiders, and his speed will be difficult for Dombrowski, who played well in the first two games but he struggled the last game. The Chargers will have to help Dombrowski and Green, unfortunately it is difficult to help both at the same time. Look for the Chargers to employ some pulling schemes to allow for extra blockers to the side of the line that the play is going.
Chargers Special Teams Vs. LaRod Stephens-Howling:
The Chargers are going to focus on shoring up poor coverage and tackling on special teams this week. It does not get easier for them however as they face another fast returner in Stephens-Howling, who last week returned the opening kick off 102 yards for the score.
Head to Head Match Ups:
Pass Offense: Chargers
Rushing Offense: Push
Pass Defense: Chargers
Rushing Defense: Chargers
Each week I look at the teams, where they rank in the league and how they are playing and prognosticate on who the winner is. Sprinkle in a heady dose of homerism and you get my record of 1-2. Notice that matches the Chargers win/loss record?
This game concerns me, again the Chargers should win. But injuries, poor special teams play, and losses to teams they should have beaten give me pause. However, I will remain cautiously optimistic and say the Chargers will win this match up at home.
24 to 17 Chargers