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Inside Slant - 12/06/07

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Dec 6, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm" target="_blank">USA Today</a>
    <p class="inside-copy"><img src="http://images.usatoday.com/sports/_photos/2006/09/17/chargers.jpg" alt="RB Michael Turner ruses against the Titans in 2006" align="left" height="203" width="159" /> The Chargers head to Tennessee on Sunday, knowing the team they face has changed for the better.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Last year the Titans rolled into Qualcomm Stadium and got rolled to the tune of 40-7.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> That was then; this is December football in 2007, when both teams have plenty at stake.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers can clinch their third AFC West title in four years with a win Sunday and a Denver loss against the Chiefs. The Titans, at 7-5 like the Chargers, are in the hunt for an AFC wild-card berth.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">LaDainian Tomlinson, after viewing the Titans' game tapes, said something is obvious: This isn't the 2006 Titans.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "They're playing with a whole lot more confidence, I think," said Tomlinson, the NFL's third-leading rusher. "They know exactly what they're trying to do and accomplish on defense.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "Last year it was early in the season, so they were still finding themselves. This year is later, and those guys obviously know what they do best. They do it to perfection. They've got some great players over there - Albert Haynesworth and Keith Bulluck leading those guys. They're doing a good job at executing their game plan."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers' plan is to establish the running game, much as they did when punching the Chiefs in the nose in last week's win. Tomlinson ran for his second-highest total of the season (177 yards) and the Chargers had that look of 2006 about them.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But Tomlinson knows there is a behemoth in the middle of the Titans' line that makes running difficult for anyone - Haynesworth. He returned after missing three games and was productive last week in his first outing back.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Tomlinson figures he will be even stronger this week.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "He obviously makes a difference, I don't think there's any question," Tomlinson said. "He's one of the best defensive tackles in the game. He's one of the most dominant. Obviously, when he's in there, you really have to pay attention and you have to try to double-team him. One guy can't block him. So that helps (the Titans). If one guy can't block him, then you have to take up two blockers. That means someone else is going to be free to get to the football."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Coach Norv Turner agrees.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "On any team, when you have a dominant player, a Pro Bowl-type player, and all of a sudden the guy doesn't play for three weeks, it does affect your team," he said. "We went through it when Nick (Hardwick), our center, was out. It's not anything against the guy who replaces him, but there's a reason those guys go to the Pro Bowl."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> A win Sunday and some might speculate the Chargers would get a free pass to the playoffs, partly because they play in the awful AFC West. The Chargers are the only team in the division over .500; San Diego has just one victory this year over a winning team (Colts).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But all that matters little if the Chargers make the playoffs and then make some noise. The picture of last year remains fresh in the players' minds. They went an NFL-best 14-2, only to go toes up against the Patriots in their first playoff game.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "Really and truly, the regular season doesn't mean anything," Tomlinson said. "Obviously it does, trying to get to the playoffs, but once you solidify a playoff spot, then the regular season is over. It's one-and-done, and you've really got to be prepared to play week in and week out. If you don't, then you go home."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But before returning home next week to play the Lions, the Chargers must tangle with the Titans. And they do so after winning six of their past eight and two in a row. Just maybe, the wobbly Chargers are peaking at the right time.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "There is no question that I think we've played better in the last few months," Turner said. "I think there is a newness here in terms of staff and players and getting everything coordinated.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "I think we've revamped the wide receiver position because of some injuries and because of the Chris Chambers trade. I do believe we're playing better than we have at any point during the year, but I think we can improve a lot more in the next month."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Turner hopes that trend continues come Sunday in Nashville.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>SERIES HISTORY:</strong> 39th meeting. Chargers lead 21-16-1 - when including the Houston Oilers, the Titans' original name before moving to Nashville in 1997. The last time the Chargers were in Nashville was 1998, the Titans were still called the Oilers, the team played on the campus of Vanderbilt, and San Diego, behind QB Ryan Leaf, won its second consecutive game to start the season. Four games (and losses) later, coach Kevin Gilbride was fired.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-OLB Shawne Merriman was selected the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after his three-sack showing in Kansas City. "It's easy because our offense went out there and provided some points for us, which allows us to pin our ears back and just get after it a little bit and not play so tentative," Merriman said. "With our offense playing as well as its playing and our DBs playing as well as they are playing, we're going to be tough to beat."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-TE Antonio Gates is coming off a baffling game in which he had one catch for minus-1 yard. But coach Norv Turner said Gates can contribute without getting his mitts on the football. Defenses still have to pay special attention to the All-Pro. "That's one of the reasons why Vincent (Jackson) was covered by a safety down the middle for a touchdown," Turner said. "They were double-teaming Gates on the other side with a corner and a safety. That makes it pretty good when you can get a guy who can run like Vincent on a safety one-on-one." Jackson collected a 38-yard touchdown pass on the play.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers have 20 interceptions, with CB Antonio Cromartie leading the league with eight. "Well, we've got a group of guys that I think really have a knack for getting to the ball," coach Norv Turner said. "Obviously, Cromartie is one of those who's got eight. We do have a good pass rush. We are able to pressure people. In a number of our games at home, we've been able to get ahead, then obviously you get in situations where they have to throw the football. Those types of situations have been helpful. I think for the most part we have guys that have a knack for getting to the ball."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RB LaDainian Tomlinson still has a hard time swallowing that he has more touchdowns than his hero, Walter Payton. "It really hasn't set in, because in my mind, I'm still not on his level," Tomlinson said. "In my opinion, he's the greatest running back and greatest football player to ever play. I've idolized him since I was a kid. It hasn't really sunk in yet, what people say. I'm just enjoying the ride."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow held the same job with North Carolina State in Chargers QB Philip Rivers' freshman year there.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers FB Lorenzo Neal played two seasons with the Titans and was on the 1999 AFC championship team.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Backup Chargers QB Billy Volek was with the Titans from 2000-06.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-When Titans coach Jeff Fisher was a defensive back for USC, Chargers coach Norv Turner was Fisher's position coach.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers played the then-Houston Oilers for the first two AFL titles in 1960-61; the Chargers lost both games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Sunday marks the last time the Chargers will exit California in the regular season. They have two home games and a road outing at Oakland remaining.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-At 7-5, the Titans are in the hunt for one of the two AFC wild-card playoff berths; they are tied for the second one with the Browns.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>BY THE NUMBERS:</strong> 1994-1995 - The last time the Chargers made the playoffs in consecutive seasons. They can clinch their second consecutive AFC West title with a win at Tennessee and a Broncos loss to the Chiefs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "We're smirking, not smiling." - LB Shaun Phillips, on the confident but not cocky Chargers.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers will trot out the same offensive line for the second consecutive game, a bit of a rarity this year because of injuries and ineffective play.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> RT Jeromey Clary graded out well enough in his first game as a starter last week after replacing Shane Olivea. And C Nick Hardwick, while still hobbling on a sore foot, will go again Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Ryon Bingham likely will see more action at defense end with Jacques Cesaire rebounding from a thumb surgery Monday. Bingham has played well of late, as has Cesaire while they make up for the absence of Luis Castillo (ankle).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-TE Antonio Gates needs three touchdown catches to reach 45 and tie TE Kellen Winslow for the fourth-most in team history.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-OLB Shawne Merriman had his 10th career multi-sack game against the Chiefs last week. The Chargers are 9-1 in those 10 games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RB LaDainian Tomlinson is getting 41.3 percent of the offensive touches, his highest total since 2003.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-WR Vincent Jackson is looking to get hot down the stretch, much the way he did last year. Jackson, who had a scoring catch in the win over the Chiefs, had three touchdown receptions in the team's final four 2006 games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-P Mike Scifres has had 23 of his past 37 attempts land inside his opponents' 20-yard-line.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-C Nick Hardwick is coming off one of his best games of the season. While rusty in his first game after missing four contests two weeks ago, Hardwick played at a Pro Bowl-level in Kansas City.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>GAME PLAN:</strong> Time for QB Philip Rivers to have a game he can hang his hat on.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> While the Chargers needed only 10 completions from him in last week's win when relying on the running game, the sledding figures to be tougher this week. With DT Albert Haynesworth back wrecking havoc in the middle, the Titans probably will live up to their No. 7 ranking in stopping the run.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> So turn to Rivers, after an early dose of LaDainian Tomlinson. Go with the play-action for the deep balls to Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson, and get Antonio Gates more involved after a Sunday showing of just one catch.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>MATCHUPS TO WATCH:</strong> The interior of the Chargers' defensive line, with DT Jamal Williams, vs. the front line of the Titans, with C Kevin Mawae - Much of this game will be decided between these two Pro Bowlers. Mawae will be looking to clear some room by clearing out Williams, which few people are able to do. If Mawae isn't successful, the Chargers will have a better chance of shutting down the run, especially if the Titans lean on RB LenDale White. The bruising White makes his yards between the tackles and will be expecting Mawae to open up something in the middle. But that is easier said than done against the immovable Williams.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers' pass rush, with OLBs Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, vs. Titans QB Vince Young - The Chargers have been getting after quarterbacks of late, proof positive being the eight sacks they collected last week in Kansas City. They also were successful the preceding week against the Ravens. But know this: The Chargers got fat off immobile quarterbacks such as K.C.'s Damon Huard and Baltimore's Kyle Boller. On Sunday they will chase Young, who moves more than Huard and Boller could ever dream of. Merriman, who had three sacks last week and leads the team with 9 1/2, and Phillips, will have to be careful not to overrun the pocket or Young will just step up and scamper away. Young's shifty style could take some of the steam out of Merriman and Phillips tearing after the quarterback. They will have to be more cautious than they have been the past two weeks.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The left side of the Chargers' offensive line, with G Kris Dielman and T Marcus McNeill, vs. the right side of the Titans' defensive line, with DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch - Dielman and McNeill will have their hands full with Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch. Haynesworth is the immovable force in the middle, and Vanden Bosch has a motor that is always revved. What makes this interesting is that the Chargers are a predominantly left-side running team. But will that stay true if they keep getting stopped by Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch? McNeill, one week after mixed results against the Chiefs' Jared Allen, will be asked to play to his Pro Bowl status. Dielman, who is playing better after battling a sore knee, will have to prove he's worth that huge offseason contract he signed. Don't be surprised if TE Brandon Manumaleuna is attached to McNeill's hip for some additional help and if LG Mike Goff will be pulling over to that side with regularity.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>INJURY IMPACT:</strong> DT Jamal Williams (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday. He will play Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> RB Darren Sproles (knee) didn't work Wednesday. He should play Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> C Nick Hardwick is battling a sore foot after playing the last two weeks after missing a month of Sundays. He will play Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> OLB Shawne Merriman was limited in his Wednesday work due to a tender calf. He will go Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DE Luis Castillo (ankle) will miss two more weeks.</p>

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