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Inside Slant

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Dec 15, 2005.

  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" target="_blank">USA Today</a>

    Careful what you wish for, Chargers?

    The Chargers were wishing last week it was this week. The result is this week they are coming in with a loss from last week.

    Got it?

    It's not too complicated: all the Chargers (8-5) have to do on Sunday is hand the Indianapolis Colts their first loss of the season. By snapping the Colts' 13-game winning streak, it will keep the Chargers' playoff hopes alive.

    They are nearly dead, though, because the Chargers went toes up at home against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. Looking past Miami toward their matchup with the Colts, the Chargers suffered a serious setback.

    Now that could open up some serious doubt among the Chargers.

    That's not to say the Chargers are no stranger to a strut. From quarterback Drew Brees to running back LaDainian Tomlinson to tight end Antonio Gates to wide receiver Keenan McCardell, the Chargers know confidence.

    That said, the Chargers were challenged by coach Marty Schottenheimer - and the players embraced it - to go on a nine-game, season-ending winning streak to steal the AFC West title from the Denver Broncos and enter the playoffs as the NFL's hottest team.

    And it was working just like it was drawn up, with five consecutive wins and an under-.500 Dolphins team being served on a Qualcomm Stadium platter.

    But the Chargers got to full of themselves, playing without the fire the previous five games had featured. Now their playoff hopes aren't so hot.

    So it's worth watching how steadfast that confidence is, with the players knowing one more loss is essentially a season-ender, and that confidence being tested by one of the top NFL teams in recent history.

    It's a tall task the Chargers face. A visit to Kansas City - where the Chiefs have won 17 straight December games - and a regular-season finale against the Broncos await.

    Even if they sweep that landmine of games, the Chargers need help to play in January. It can happen - it's the NFL, anything can happen - but the likelihood isn't strong.

    The Chargers point to their five losses being by a combined 14 points. But good teams win the close games, and the Chargers have been telling everyone since training camp they are just that. That spoke to their considerable talent, but also their deep confidence.

    With powerful Indianapolis on the other side of the ball, and the season hanging in the balance, the Chargers' confidence must be stout where Colts fans love to shout.

    SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. The Chargers lead the series 12-9 but have been on the wrong end of late, losing the last three. None was tougher to swallow than last December's meeting at the RCA Dome, when the Chargers twice held 15-point leads before surrendering the game to the Colts, 34-31, in overtime.

    NOTES, QUOTES

    -LaDainian Tomlinson, with 1,247 rushing yards, is only the third player in NFL history to rush for 1,200 yards in his first five seasons. The others are Eric Dickerson and Eddie George.

    -Chargers fans won't forget these teams' lone meeting in the playoffs. The Colts' defeated the host Chargers in a wild-card game 35-20 on Dec. 31, 1995. That was the beginning of the Chargers dark ages, as they wouldn't return to the playoffs until last season's visit. The Colts quarterback was Jim Harbaugh, now the coach at nearby University of San Diego.

    -Coach Marty Schottenheimer said the Chargers' playing with such high stakes on the line is really nothing new. Since starting 0-2, the Chargers have faced a season full of must-win games. "We obviously recognize that throughout this season we have left ourselves a lot of wiggle room," he said. "As you move down the schedule, a loss like we had the other day makes it very, very clear to you that you need to get your act together, as it were, and go out and play as we can play."

    -Colts coach Tony Dungy was the defensive backs coach for Schottenheimer in Kansas City from 1989-91.

    OL coach Howard Mudd was also on that Schottenheimer staff.

    -Many Drew Brees fans will attend, cheering for the former Purdue star. Brees isn't speaking as if he's going to let them down, or Chargers backers. "We feel like we have to win because of the situation we are in," he said. "I still feel like we're in a position where we control our own destiny. If we win each of these next three games, we are in." Of course, Brees is wrong - the Chargers need some help as they trail both the Steelers and Jaguars in the wild-card race.

    -Brees, on Sunday's test: "We're going into this game with a must win mentality regardless off what happened last week," he said. "Obviously, that is where we are at in the season, but obviously this is a great opportunity. Preparation is an all-time high and we look forward to the challenge.

    The team cut TE Landon Trusty and elevated DT Ryon Bingham from the practice squad to take Trusty's spot.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Touchdown needed by LaDainian Tomlinson to set the term's single-season mark of 20; he's tied with Chuck Muncie.

    QUOTE TO NOTE "I'm not in position to say if it is smart or not. I'm not the coach and not on a team playing for a record like that." - RB LaDainian Tomlinson, on the Colts' using their key players after clinching their division and home-field advantage.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    QB Peyton Manning gets the ball out so fast, it's almost useless to scheme many plays to sack the quarterback. But the Chargers will have to try, featuring their speed rushers, Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Steve Foley, on the RCA Dome carpet. The Chargers' secondary is such that unless a quarterback is feeling some heat, he picks it apart. The Chargers have to at least pester Manning on occasion to be successful.

    PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

    -K Nate Kaeding isn't being called on for long-range attempts. Twice coach Marty Schottenheimer declined to use him last week just past the 50-yard mark.

    -OLB Shawne Merriman has now gone three straight games without a sack. He's still tops on the club with seven, tied for the NFL rookie lead.

    -DE Luis Castillo is blossoming fast. Schottenheimer hasn't been shy about praising his play of late - something Schottenheimer doesn't do often with a rookie.

    -P **** Scifres is on a good roll. In his last nine games, he's punted 41 times, with 19 landing inside the 20-yard-line and only four touchbacks. Overall, he's fourth in the NFL with a 38.9-yard net average.

    -TE Antonio Gates is coming off his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season; a career-high 123 yards. The Chargers are 3-1 in those four games; 5-2 in his seven 100-yard games of his career.

    -FB Lorenzo Neal has blocked for nine-straight 1,000-yard rushers. Neal, a 13-year pro, has played in 189 consecutive games.

    GAME PLAN: Sell out on the run. The Chargers will be hard-pressed to stay with the Colts' offense - any defense is. But the Chargers can stop the run - they're ranked first in the NFL. So it's essential the thing the Chargers' do best must shine. If Edgerrin James can at least be slowed down, that throws the Colts' balanced attack off a notch or two. Not sure if making it one-dimensional in the shape of Peyton Manning passing is the smartest thing, but the Chargers have to at least do with the do best: squash the run.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

    The edges of the Chargers' pass protection vs. the Colts' pass rush, with ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Right tackles Shane Olivea and left tackle Leander Jordan will have their hands full. Freeney got Olivea for a key sack last year, which he hasn't forgotten. He'll see Mathis this time around. Jordan makes his sixth NFL start at left tackle, or the Chargers could go with savvy vet Roman Oben. But Oben has been down for six weeks with a foot injury, and putting him back in the lineup on that fast turf again Freeney might be asking too much; Oben didn't work on Wednesday. Brees got sacked three times last week and coughed up a key fumble. How the pass protection responds in the din of the RCA Dome is a key.

    Chargers wideouts, including Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker, vs. Colts pass defense, in backs Nick Harper and Jason David. The Chargers seldom were able to get the ball downfield last week in the loss to the Dolphins - some of that was due to the lack of protection. But the Colts figure to put a lot of attention on the middle of the field with Gates coming off one of the top games of his career. So it's essential that McCardell and Parker can find some separation if given more wiggle room. Many times last week when Brees did have time, his wide outs had trouble getting open and he had to check down to either Tomlinson or full back Lorenzo Neal.

    Chargers interior run-blocking vs. Colts run inside run defense of Corey Simon and Montae Reagor. Tomlinson had numerous runs interrupted last week by the pressure being applied up the middle. Some of that had to do with it being an active Zach Thomas, but it's essential C Nick Hardwick and the men on each side of him, Mike Goff and Kris Dielman, have better games. The Chargers could get a break if Simon (sprained foot) isn't at 100 percent, or his replaced by his backup, Larry Tripplett.

    INJURY IMPACT: RB LaDainian Tomlinson (chest) practiced and is much better than he was this time last week. S Bhawoh Jue (knee) didn't practice, but Schottenheimer was upbeat he could go on Sunday. CB Quentin Jammer (shoulder) practiced. DT Luis Castillo (hip) didn't work, but should be able to go Sunday. WR Reche Caldwell (calf) practiced. LT Roman Oben (foot) didn't work and could very easily give way to Leander Jordan for the sixth straight week.
     

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