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Inside Slant - 12/18/07

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Dec 18, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm?loc=interstitialskip" target="_blank">USA Today</a>
    <p class="inside-copy"><img src="http://i2.chargers.com/assets/213/38086_600w600h.jpg" alt="The Chargers scored six times in the first half and forced six turnovers as they cruised to a 51-14 victory over the Detroit Lions to claim their third AFC West title in the last four years.(Butch Owens/Chargers.com)" align="left" height="234" width="179" /> Roll, Bolts, Roll!</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> OK, it doesn't have the same rhythm as when the Tide fans say it down in Alabama. But by any stretch, the Chargers are on a roll as the regular-season rolls to an end.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers try to extend their winning streak to a season-best four games when they entertain the fading Detroit Lions on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> It's an interconference matchup of teams heading in different directions.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> While the AFC's Chargers are on fire, the Lions aren't firing on all cylinders after losing five straight, including Sunday's heartbreaker to the Cowboys.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But the Chargers aren't concerned with the Lions' woes. They overcame their share of obstacles - a 1-3 start - to have a shot of clinching their second straight AFC West title on Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> If the Broncos stumble on Thursday night at Houston and the Chargers prevail, it'll be the first time they have earned consecutive playoff trips since 1995-95.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> That was a long time ago. So, it seems, was earlier this year, when the Chargers were being labeled one of the NFL's most disappointing teams.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Instead, the present is looking good, and the future is so bright, the Chargers are reaching for the sun block.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> It's not too much of a stretch to think the Chargers could win out, beating the Lions, Broncos and Raiders as they lean toward the tape. If so, the Chargers could even end up with the AFC's No. 3 seed, behind the Patriots and the Colts, heading into the playoffs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But that's all to be determined. What's evident is the Chargers are playing well at, well, just the right time.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "I think that's the idea," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "We know, for the most part of the season, we haven't really hit our stride and played our best football. We feel like hopefully we can play our best football down the stretch."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Last Sunday's visit to Tennessee not only delivered a hard-fought overtime triumph but a huge dose of confidence, too. It seems players are starting to believe in what coach Norv Turner has been preaching since the season started.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> His message was simple: It's how the team looks at the end, not the beginning, that matters.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "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," Turner said.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But he hasn't forgotten the pain that came with losing three of the first four games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "Being 1-3, it's terrible and it was a terrible feeling," Turner said. "But I think our guys have enough confidence in what were doing that we found a way."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The way to go from here is on a hot streak into the playoffs. Although the way the Chargers are banged up - quarterback Philip Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman, fullback Lorenzo Neal, defensive tackle Jamal Williams are hurt - it might not be an easy road.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> If nothing else, at least the Chargers won't leave California until the playoffs - and then San Diego likely will host a first-round game. The Chargers have two regular-season home games remaining, and their last road trip is in Oakland.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>SERIES HISTORY:</strong> 9th meeting. Chargers lead, 5-3. The Chargers have won five straight, with the teams last playing in Detroit in 2003. The Lions' last visit to San Diego was on Nov. 11, 1996, when Stan Humphries returned to the starting lineup and the Chargers won 27-21.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Coach Norv Turner said he sent in a series of plays, including the one in which Shawne Merriman was injured on Sunday, to the league office for clarification.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers and RB LaDainian Tomlinson chuckled at the perceived rift between the two. CBS cameras on Sunday showed Tomlinson abruptly getting off the bench just when Rivers sat down. "I don't see any need to comment on it," Rivers said. "I have seen the clip and I still think nothing of it. Hey, when things are going good, they want to find something that is going bad, and things have been going good here for a while."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Pro Bowl C Nick Hardwick said coach Norv Turner kept his cool when he was feeling the heat earlier this year. "He never panicked," Hardwick said. "He had the same approach every week and just stayed the course.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-With all of their injuries, the Chargers are going to need to show off their depth. "We have some guys out, and obviously we need guys to step up as they have done in the past," Turner said. "Marques Harris has done it in the past, and I was pleased with Andrew Pinnock, the way he came in and did some good things for Lorenzo Neal. That's what we're going to have to have."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Tomlinson was among the ecstatic players to get a Victory Monday off after the Chargers beat the Titans. "Particularly towards the end of the season, it gives you time to rest your legs and stay away from being on your feet," Tomlinson said. "Just getting away from football a little bit. It gets more important now. Each game gets more important. It will just give us a couple of days just to refresh before we prepare for Detroit."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Tomlinson has produced a carry of at least 10 yards in 24 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers TE Antonio Gates is a Detroit native, and he led Detroit Central High to the Class A football title as a senior. Gates was all-state in football and basketball.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Stan Kwan, the Lions' special teams coach, was on coach Bobby Ross' staff during the Chargers' 1994 Super Bowl season. Kwan's special teams have slipped of late, with the Lions' kick- and punt-coverage teams rating No. 31 and No. 30, respectively.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Former Chargers WR Shawn Jefferson is a Lions offensive assistant coach.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz coached at San Diego Mesa College.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>BY THE NUMBERS:</strong> 1 - Player who has rushed for 1,200 yards in his first seven seasons, Eric Dickerson. LaDainian Tomlinson can join him if he gains 5 yards Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "He's an amazing athlete. He's a guy that really does have a knack for the ball. He's got great jumping ability, great closing speed. He's got the long arms. He can really catch the football." - Coach Norv Turner on CB Antonio Cromartie, who leads the NFL with nine interceptions.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> With Shawne Merriman being out for at least a couple of weeks, all eyes turn to Marques Harris, his replacement. Of course it is a step down, Harris for Merriman, but in some ways they possess the same skills. Harris' game is all about speed; he doesn't have the muscle against the run that Merriman does. But Harris has filled in well in the past and is a steady part of the rotation at linebacker on passing downs. He should do fine.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-DT Brandon McKinney will likely see increased playing time with Jamal Williams ailing. McKinney played well down the stretch last week when the defensive had some key stops to allow the Chargers' winning rally.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RT Jeromey Clary will stay in the starting lineup this week. If RG Mike Goff is compromised, the former starter at right tackle, Shane Olivea, would take some of Goff's snaps.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-DT Ryon Bingham is playing well with his increased snaps of late.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-CB Antonio Cromartie is one interception shy of setting the Chargers' single-season franchise mark of 10.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-WR Kassim Osgood continues to shine on special teams; he was a Pro Bowl selection at that spot last year. He leads the Chargers with 14 special teams tackles, and he downed two punts on the Titans 1 last Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-S Eric Weddle, a rookie, continues to steal reps from starter Marlon McCree in the base defense. Weddle is close to taking over a starting role.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>GAME PLAN:</strong> Sell out early on the running downs with a series of running-play blitzes and never let one of the NFL's worst running attacks get untracked. If the Chargers can do that - no guarantee with all of their injuries - they can force QB Jon Kitna to beat them. Kitna is having a solid year, but he can get happy feet when pestered. If the Chargers can pin their ears back on obvious passing downs, it would eventually pay off.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>MATCHUPS TO WATCH:</strong> Chargers secondary, with NFL interception leader Antonio Cromartie vs. Lions wide receiving corps, which includes first-round pick Calvin Williams - Cromartie's skills are such that some quarterbacks have a hard time believing he is that good, so they throw at him - as did the Titans' Vince Young did last week. Cromartie is the real deal, but he still figures to be tested by the veteran Jon Kitna, who is in the NFL's top five this season in completions, yards and attempts. The Lions were known for having loads of wide receivers, but Mike Williams is no longer around and Roy Williams is out with a knee injury. So the onus falls on rookie Calvin Williams (37 catches, 553 yards, four TDs), Shaun McDonald (67-800-4) and Mike Furrey (48-537-1). Cromartie and Quentin Jammer figure to be tested if the Lions running game has its usual struggles and Kitna is forced to pass.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Chargers return game vs. Lions' struggling coverage units - The Chargers could be without their regular return specialist, Darren Sproles, as he nurses a sore knee. If he saw the numbers the Lions coverage units are compiling - both among the bottom of the NFL's ranks - he might feel better quickly. But Michael Turner is no slouch in replacing Sproles; Cromartie might get a chance or two as well. And rookie Craig Davis impressed coach Norv Turner so much last Sunday while filling in for Sproles that Turner said the position would be open to competition when Sproles returns. This is an area where the Chargers could collect some great field position.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>INJURY IMPACT:</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-WR Craig Davis seemed primed to increase his playing time after a solid game last week. But the rookie was limited in practice with a sore Achilles.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-DE Jacques Cesaire worked Thursday and that is an encouraging sign. He's just over a week removed from having thumb surgery.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RG Mike Goff (foot) was able to get through part of the practice. He's pretty tough and will likely try to play Sunday. He's banged-up, though.</p>
     

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