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Inside Slant

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Sep 29, 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>

    The Chargers go overboard in stressing they are not living off their 2004 success. But it's difficult not to notice that heading into Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, the visiting Chargers are at the same station as in 2004.

    As in their won-loss record: 1-2.

    This time last year, the 1-2 Chargers seemed primed for another stinker after stumbling from the gate. Hotshot rookie Philip Rivers had been elevated to the backup role and starter Drew Brees was being shopped like a used car.

    But before anyone could open his hood and kick the tires, Brees got hot. The Chargers followed suit by cranking out a 12-4 record and earning their first AFC West title since 1994.

    Deja vu, anyone?

    "We got a tremendous challenge ahead of us going up to New England to play the world champs," Brees said. "This is a great opportunity for us. If we can get to 2-2 then we're right where we were last year at this time."

    Except for one difference.

    "Really, I feel like we are a better team than we were last year," he said.

    Good thing. Because if the Chargers are to emulate last year's bunch, they'll be tested mightily over the next four weeks.

    Consider the following month's worth of games the team will play three of the four finalists in their respective conference championship games last year: at New England, Pittsburgh, at Philadelphia.

    "You want to talk about some challenging games ... there are some tough, tough opponents," said Brees, who was sensational in Sunday night's win over the New York Giants, completing 19-of-22 passes for 191 yards and two scores. "But I feel like we went though a period that we had to dig down deep and we performed.

    "Now we feel like we got that rhythm going, got that confidence we need to go up to New England and play well - that's all there is to it - and get a victory. It's going to be a heck of a game and I really look forward to it."

    Looking back, the Chargers will face a depleted New England secondary. But Brees and his teammates aren't acting like they are catching a break.

    "They've fought through injuries before," Brees said. "I think with that system that they run, everyone knows what they are doing; they play very unselfishly and they are very efficient. They have proved it time and time again.

    "We need to say 'let's play our best game and we got a chance to win.' "

    And a chance to repeat a run in which the Chargers went 11-2 after a 1-2 start.

    SERIES HISTORY: 33rd meeting. New England Patriots lead the series, 17-13-2. But the Chargers won the last meeting, when defeating the visiting Pats, 21-14 in 2002. The Pats came in fresh off their first Super Bowl win and with a 3-0 mark, but LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 217 yards and two scores to turn back the Pats. The Chargers' lone championship came in the AFL, and they beat the Boston Patriots, 51-10, in 1963 to do it.

    NOTES, QUOTES

    -Chargers GM A.J. Smith is a native of Warwick, R.I., and was a part-time scout with the Pats from 1978-80.

    -This is the third match up between these quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, with this being the rubber game. Brady's Michigan team trounced Brees' Purdue bunch back in 1999, 38-12. Brees got revenge in 2002 when the Chargers handed the Pats their first loss, 21-14.

    -This is the first of five road games the Chargers will play three time zones away.

    -The Chargers' secondary continues to struggle and now must face Brady. Coach Marty Schottenheimer said its shoddy play isn't more painful because the unit features three players the Chargers drafted in the first two rounds. "It's all about production, that's all," he said.

    -Pats RB Corey Dillon was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 34th round of the 1993 draft.

    -PR/WR Tim Dwight filled that same role with the Chargers from 2001-04.

    -QB Doug Flutie was the Chargers' starter in 2002; he was released this past off-season.

    -Smith has but one picture of a former player in his office, and it's Flutie, Brady's backup.

    -The Chargers are taking no joy in facing the Pats without star S Rodney Harrison, who suffered a serious knee injury on Sunday. Harrison was a longtime standout for the Chargers and still has many friends in the organization.

    -The Chargers last road win in New England came in 1970.

    -LT Roman Oben played for Tampa Bay in the last Super Bowl (XXXII) the Pats didn't win.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - Top 10 single-game rushing days turned in by either LaDainian Tomlinson or the Patriots' Corey Dillon.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "To be able to do what they have done in an era in which everything is designed to get people to a .500 win-loss percentage, and they go out and win three championships in four years, to me that is remarkable." - Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer on the Patriots' dynasty.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    The Chargers might not want to tinker with a good thing.

    They had two new starters in the lineup last week, and the result was their first victory of the season.

    Kris Dielman subbed for Toniu Fonoti at left guard, and Schottenheimer has hinted that the Dielman might stay put regardless if Fonoti's broken hand is feeling better.

    And Luis Castillo pushed Igor Olshansky to the bench last week. Olshansky had sat out the previous game with a leg injury, but was fit enough to see playing time last week against the Giants - but not as a starter.

    With the running game getting untracked last week - and Tomlinson's three scoring rushes went to Dielman's side, he might not be pushed back to second-string status. And with a secondary struggling as much as the Chargers, they might want to go with Castillo, as he's a much better pass-rusher than Olshansky.

    PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

    -OLB Shawne Merriman could see additional playing time Sunday with Shaun Phillips (calf) questionable. Merriman is showing flashes of skills, but can also be out of position.

    -P Mike Scifres got off a 50-yarder on Sunday and the Chargers hope he is getting back in a groove. A Pro Bowl first alternate last year, Scifres has been just so-so.

    -PR Darren Sproles is gaining confidence from the coaches and will see more playing times in the base offense, often on third downs. He's been stellar as a returner.

    -LG Toniu Fonoti (hand) is fighting to get his starting job back from Kris Dielman. It's a big year for Fonoti as he's in the last year of his first contract.

    -TE Antonio Gates appears to be on the verge of a big game after two solid showings; he shared in the team-lead in receptions in both games. Gates was suspended for the opener.

    GAME PLAN: Chargers will look to keep the ball away from Brady and Co., by running the ball and draining the clock. While it's tempting to test a secondary that is banged-up - and the Chargers will at some point - it's more likely they will give the Pats a heavy heaping of Tomlinson to earn yards on the ground and to milk the game clock. But the Pats' run defense is ranked No. 6 and is coming off a good day in Pittsburgh, limiting the Steelers to 79 yards rushing. But the Chargers' strength is running the rock, and that's what they plan to do on Sunday.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

    Chargers OLB Steve Foley, who has a team-high two sacks vs. LT Nick Kaczur, a rookie filling in for the injured Matt Light. The Chargers keep talking about the new players brought in to rush the passer - rookies Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo - but it's Foley who is still the man they look to do put some heat on the quarterback. Last year Foley had more than a third of the team's 29 sacks and he's picking up where leaving off. Kaczur will get some help from a tight end or a running back, but not only does he have to worry about Foley, but the way in which defensive coordinator Wade Phillips sends different people from different angles in the team's 3-4 alignment.

    Chargers secondary, which got burned for 352 yards and two touchdowns from a newcomer like Eli Manning, vs. Tom Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and the Pats' passing game. Figure that the Chargers' defensive strength is stopping the run, that might limit what Corey Dillon is able to do, and Dillon has been just OK to date. But Brady will eye a secondary that hasn't gotten any better despite the talk of how it was ready to mature this season. Instead, it's allowed 254 yards per game, getting beat for the big plays as well as the underneath stuff.

    Kick returner Darren Sproles vs. Pats' coverage teams. Sproles nearly broke two returns for touchdowns last week, and he enters this week as the NFL's No. 2 returner with a 31.9-yard average, with a long of 58. The Pats' coverage unit has sprung some leaks, especially on punts. Sproles also handles those chores, but hasn't been as effective as on kickoffs. The Chargers want to work the clock and win the field-position battle to have a chance of upsetting the Pats. To do that, they need a big day from Sproles.

    INJURY IMPACT

    CB Quentin Jammer (quad) is questionable after leaving practice early on Wednesday. If he can't go for some reason, that makes a shaky secondary even weaker; Sammy Davis would likely be the starter.

    OLB Shaun Phillips worked after a strained calf kept him from last week's game. Phillips' game is built around his burst, so if he's hobbling, his contributions could be compromised.

    WR Vincent Jackson (calf) will play at some point this year - one guesses. And he is looking better in practice. But even if fit, he could be an inactive on Sunday.

    LG Toniu Fonoti (hand) worked, but Kris Dielman's play of last week could keep Fonoti out of the starting lineup this week.

    C Nick Hardwick (neck) worked and is fine.

    TE Ryan Krause (foot) didn't practice.
     

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