<img src="http://www.2008-super-bowl-tickets.com/stadium01.jpg" alt="University of Phoenix Stadium" height="210" width="313" />
By Curtis Egan
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
The Chargers face some off the field challenges this week to preparing for the upcoming game against the Houston Texans. Wild fires in San Diego, and southern California have forced evacuations of may people including several Charger players. The Team decided to on Tuesday, October 23rd to move the team to Arizona to practice given the poor air quality in the San Diego area, due to the smoke from the fires.
There is a strong possibility that the Chargers will meet the Texans in the middle, playing in the University of Phoenix Stadium as the Cardinals enjoy their bye week. If this is the case then neither team will enjoy a home field advantage, however the Texans might have the benefit of facing a Chargers team that has other things on their minds.
The Chargers players who were evacuated during the fires may have a tough time concentrating on the visiting Texans, who come in at 3-4 and are looking to move to 500 by beating the Chargers. The Texans have had success on the offensive side of the ball this season, ranking 13th in the league in total offense and 5th over all in passing offense. They are hitting the Chargers at perhaps the right time.
The Chargers coaches will have perhaps their biggest challenge of the season in keeping the players focused on the game ahead. There has been criticism for the Chargers coaching staff in being able to motivate and keep the team focused. This week Head Coach, Norv Turner and staff have to keep the players focused on the game ahead, instead of on their families and houses at home. This should prove to be a very difficult task for the Charger Coaches to say the least.
The Texans opened up their season with some impressive wins, beating Kansas City, Carolina, and then they played Indianapolis very tough, losing a close game late. They have suffered injuries since then, placing 11 players on IR. They currently have injuries to their receiving corps with Harry Williams being listed as out for the game, Andre Johnson being listed as doubtful, and their starting Quarterback, matt Schaub being listed as day to day.
Even if Schaub can go, after suffering a deep hip bruise, an ankle injury and lower back injury he will not be at full speed when facing the speedy Chargers front seven. If Schaub cannot go they will have Quarterback, Sage Rosenfels to take over, Rosenfels has 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his two games of play. Four of Rosenfels' five touchdowns, and all three interceptions came against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, who ranked 24th against the pass defensively. Rosenfels did however put the Texans in a place to win the game, and their defense kept the Titans out of the end zone with the exception of two touchdown runs. However the Titans behind 8 field goals by Rob Bironas took the game.
The Texans have an excellent place kicker themselves in Kris Brown who only two weeks ago hit a game winning 57 yard field goal against the Dolphins.
The Chargers rank 25th against the pass defensively, and will be forced to rely on pressuring the quarterback with their front seven to give their beleaguered secondary some much needed help. This game will see a lot of aerial plays as the Texans boast the 31st rushing offense in the league, and it does not get any easier going against the Chargers who are 6th in the league against the run defensively. The Texans only attempted 12 runs against the Titans, and the Chargers should be ready for a carpet bombing attack on their secondary.
<em><strong>Chargers on Offense, Texans Defense:</strong></em>
The Chargers are hitting on all cylinders again on Offense. They are currently the only team in the AFC West with a positive net point's total, +18. They have found a way to get the running game on track and Quarterback Philip Rivers seems to be settling down in the pocket a bit. The Chargers offensive line is improving both run blocking and pass protection, which is needed as Rivers has been making bad decisions with the ball when pressured this season.
The Chargers currently rank 13th overall in offence, 20th in passing attack and 13th in rushing attack. The Texans rank 21st defensively, 20th against the pass, and 20th against the run. At a high level it looks like the Chargers have an advantage here, but they will have to score a lot of points in this game, and they are working new Wide Receiver, Chris Chambers into the equation.
Chambers, a 7 year veteran who was acquired from Miami just before the trade deadline will give the Chargers a veteran receiver to throw to and make it even harder for opposing defenses to put multiple defenders on a single player. The Chargers will field an offense with Running Back, LaDainian Tomlinson, Tight End Antonio Gates, and now Chambers. That is on top of the second tier players who are improving their games such as Receivers Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Craig â€˜Buster' Davis.
The Chargers can also bring in Tomlinson's back up, Running Back, Michael Turner, who's bruising running style can help wear down the opposing defenses, and who's speed in the open field gives him the ability to gain large chunks of yardage when he breaks through the initial line of defense.
Rivers will have plenty of targets for this game, the question remains will those targets be able to focus on the ball in the light of the tragedy that is affecting their community and lives.
So on paper, the Chargers should be able to find success going against the Texan's running defense, but they will not be able to abandon the pass, nor should they. The Chargers will have to maintain a balanced attack to keep the Texan's speedy defense off balance.
The Texans however have gone up against some of the league's better offenses this season and have accounted well for themselves. They were not blown out against Indianapolis, and against the Titans the kept the offense out of the end zone most of the day.
The Chargers cannot look past this team as the Texans can stay in a game, and in the fourth quarter hit teams between the eyes. This is a game that both teams will have to play for the entire 60 minutes.
<strong>Key Match Ups:</strong>
<em><strong>Weaver vs. Olivea:</strong></em> Anthony Weaver is not the biggest Defensive End, but he has a good initial off the ball push. He is 6' 3", and is listed at 280 pounds. Weaver while not the best pass rushing End, is a player who can make tackles up and down the line of scrimmage. He is not good against double teams, but is a hard working player who doesn't give up on a play. He does not allow blockers to get good grips on him, and is a good stating End.
Weaver will be line up against Shane Olivea, who is 6' 4" and 312 pounds. While no the prototypical Tackle, Olivea is tough and consistent. He is better at run blocking that pass protection, he likes to get in close to those he is blocking and when he can achieve that he has proven to be a very physical player. However, Weaver is a tough customer to get in close on.
Olivea has good balance and instincts which he will need going against the veteran Weaver. However Olivea does not always pick up the second level blocking well, something that he will have to do against the speedy Texan secondary if they choose to blitz.
<em><strong>Ryans vs. Tomlinson:</strong></em> DeMeco Ryans is a speedy middle line backer, and a tackling machine at 6' 2" and 236 pounds. He has 59 tackles on the season, 51 of them solo tackles. He has the speed and awareness to get outside to stop the run, and the grit to charger the line of scrimmage to put a hit on the inside runners. He has shown the ability to make quick reads and drop into coverage as needed, but excels as a run stuffing line backer.
LaDainian Tomlinson is a running back who is tough to stop. He has one of the best stiff arms in the league and speed to make a defender miss. He is not afraid to get the tough yards and is an excellent pass catcher to boot. Tomlinson excels at keeping his pads low, legs moving, and possesses excellent vision.
This could be the match up that decides the game, look for the Texans to focus on stopping the run and the Chargers star running back.
<em><strong>Robinson vs. Chambers:</strong></em> Dunta Robinson is a bit undersized but an excellent Cornerback. At 5' 10" and 174 pounds, he can sometimes be pushed about by a big receiver or tight end. He reacts quickly to plays, and can close on the ball in a flash. He is better in a zone coverage scheme than a man to man coverage scheme.
Recently Robinson critiqued himself after giving up a big pass play against the Titans on the winning field goal drive, in which he was in man to man coverage.
"We were in man coverage and I thought I was in pretty good position," Robinson said. "But he threw a perfect ball.
"We had to fight to get back in it and it just didn't turn out the way we wanted. I blame myself. Both those passes were on my side and I should have made the plays. This is the most painful loss of all, especially when you feel you lost it for the team."
He isn't afraid to make contact either. However he ahs been know to lose a step in transition, and does not always turn and make the proper adjustments on the ball.
Chris Chambers is a new acquisition for the Chargers, and while at 5' 11" and 210 pounds, he doesn't fit the mold of the typical Chargers receivers who average 6' 3", he is a crafty veteran who can make acrobatic catches.
Chambers has great agility and quickness. He does not run the best routes and sometimes fails to adjust to the ball in the air. In the past he has faced numerous double team situations which have affected his statistical performance. That should be lessened in an offensive backfield that holds the numerous weapons the Chargers have.
<em><strong>Williams vs. McNeil:</strong></em> This is clearly the clash of the Titans in this game. Mario Williams is a huge Defensive End at 6' 7", and 291 pounds. He has an explosive burst on the ball at the snap, and can often bull rush past an offensive lineman before they can get their feet set. He has good counter moves to break blocks, and long arms to keep the offensive blockers from getting into his body. He has fluid speed which allows him to move from side line to sideline like a linebacker. He has 20 tackles on the year and 3 sacks.
Marcus McNeil is a jumbo offensive lineman who has played well beyond his two years of experience. He has a nasty streak and will continue blocking until the whistle blows. He is an excellent pass blocker with long arms and solid footing techniques. He has shown the ability to handle edge rushers well and maintain balance while transitioning into the backfield. He has good strength at the point of attack and takes good angles on his blocks.
<em><strong>Chargers on Defense, Texans Offense:</strong></em> The Texans are enjoying more offensive success this season than they have before in their short existence. They currently have a negative net point's total, of -5. They rank 10th overall in offence, 5th in passing attack and 31st in rushing attack.
The however, Chargers currently rank 16th defensively, 25th against the pass, and 6th against the run. The question here is how the Chargers pass defense will cope with the passing offense of the Texans.
As stated before, Texans starting Quarterback Matt Schaub is listed day to day after injuring his hip, ankle and lower back in recent games. The backup, Sage Rosenfels is a solid back up but has been known to put the ball up for grabs.
The Texans have not given much time to their running game of late, against the Titans they only attempted 12 rushes, choosing to go to the air more and more. This could be due in part to injuries along their offensive line which includes the loss of their starting Center, Steve McKinney, who tore his ACL and was placed on IR in a recent game. Also lost to the Texans is veteran Tackle, Kevin Barry, and Guard Scott Jackson.
The loss of three starters off of the offensive line could cause the reduction of any running game. The Texans may have to rely solely on the pass when facing the Chargers who excel in stopping the run. If that is the case you can expect the Chargers to try and put a lot of pressure on the Texans quarterback behind that make shift offensive line.
If the Texans are able to protect their passer, they can find success against the Chargers secondary who are struggling this season. The Chargers do not want to keep the Texans in the game as they tend to perform better in the fourth quarter of the game.
<strong>Key Match Ups:</strong>
<em><strong>Williams vs. Flanagan:</strong></em> Jamal Williams is a monster of a Defensive Nose Tackle at 6' 3" and 348 pound. He is fast and can handle double teams well. He is very strong and it is rare that you see him being pushed backwards. He can shed a block and move sideline to sideline and make tackles, much as the Bengal's running back discovered last season when Williams came in to make the tackle and knocked him off of the field of play.
Mike Flanagan is a 12 year veteran Center, who went to the ProBowl in 2003 with the Green Bay Packers. He is a good pulling blocker and can help out on the second level blocks. However, he is not the best when having to use leverage, and when facing a player like Jamal Williams, leverage is a key factor. He is not a good run blocker and lacks upper end strength to push the pile for extra yardage.
<em><strong>Jammer vs. Davis:</strong></em> Quentin Jammer has a good bump and run ability. He is strong and has good coverage speed. However he draws a lot of flags for aggressive play, and for jamming receivers beyond the five yard mark. He does not handle double moves well, but has sure hands and a good jumping ability. He has to rely on inside help in coverage often. At 6'0" and 204 pounds he has a good mixture of size and speed.
Andre Davis is a receiver who is playing hot right now. He gained 88 yards and a touchdown in the last game, and is a very fast receiver. He runs good routes and makes sharp cuts then gets back up to speed in just a few steps. He has the ability to out jump a defender for the ball. At 6' 1" 195 pounds, he is a good match up against Jammer. However, he drops some balls and is not known for having â€˜soft' hands. He is not the best in short passes as he tends to look for running room instead of concentrating on the ball. He is not good against the bump and run and can get held up at the line of scrimmage by and aggressive defender.
<em><strong>McCree vs. Daniels:</strong></em> Marlon McCree is a hard hitting Free Safety. He is not overly tall at 5' 11" but is strong and not afraid to lay a hit on bigger receivers or tight ends. He is good in man to man coverage across the middle of the field, and has the ability to change direction quickly. He has been known to bait quarterbacks into throwing into his area of coverage and create opportunities for interceptions. He is a good tackler and reads offenses well.
Owen Daniels is an exceptional Tight End who has good pass catching abilities. At 6' 3" and 247 pounds, he is larger than McCree. He is athletic and has good speed. The Texans appear to like to go to Owens to keep drives going, but do not look to him all that much in the red zone. He is betters against a zone defense than man to man, though he can make catches in traffic. He is not an elusive runner with the ball, and is not a very good blocking tight end.
<em><strong>The monkey and the wrench:</strong></em> Both teams will have to concentrate on protecting the ball. Currently the Chargers are tied for 4th in the AFC with a Give Away / Take Away value of +3, while the Texans are 15th in the AFC with -5. The Chargers are entering this game in a high note, having won two games versus divisional rivals, and coming off the bye. The Texans are coming off two consecutive losses and are looking to right the ship before their season slips away.
The Chargers will be facing two opponents come Sunday. The Texans and their own fears, they must find a way to focus on the game. This is not an easy thing to say, and even less easy to do. Their families, friends and property are in danger, and while that may subside by the time the game rolls around, it will be emotionally draining.
Perhaps the players will see the game as an opportunity to think of something else, but it is clear, and understandable if they have other things on their mind.
Typically I would not list Tomlinson in this area, but he may be the biggest kink in the chain for the Texans. They will have to focus on stopping him first and foremost. Tomlinson currently leads all running backs in the league with 6 rushing touchdowns.
<em><strong>Concudan's Prognostication:</strong></em> This game could be closer that anticipated. If the Texans score early it will be a shoot out.
Chargers 28, Texans 20.