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2014 Regular Season
Preview: Chargers @ Cards

Setting the Stage:
We open on a Monday night, and the players are stoked over the opportunity to play on the national stage. Last season, every loss was magnified because we were competing with the Seahawks and Niners in the NFC West.
(and 10 wins weren't enough to qualify us for the playoffs). Every game - no matter how early or how seemingly unimportant - becomes all the more precious. Like every other game on our schedule, this game is, therefore, a "must" game. Late Breaking - 9/7 - Zastudil injured a groin. Bishop was cut. The roster spot may (or may not) have been created to sign a punter. Otherwise, Catanzara might have to do the punting.

Last Game
Not much to learn from for two reasons - (1) most if not all the starters for both teams didn't play. (2) The Cards and the Chargers played one another in that final preseason game. (You can bet your bippee that Arians and McCoy kept things extremely vanilla so as not to expose tendencies).


Charger Offense

WR1     13 Allen            16 Ajirotutu        15 Inman         
LT         77 Dunlap         69 W. Smith                  
LG        78 Rinehart       74 Ohrnberger               
C          61 Hardwick      74 Ohrnberger               
RG       63 Troutman      65 Watt            
RT        76 Fluker           69 W. Smith                  
TE        85 Gates           89 L. Green                   
TE        88 D. Johnson   83 Phillips                     
WR2     80 M. Floyd      11 Royal                      
QB       17 Rivers          10 Clemens                  
RB       24 Mathews       39 Woodhead    34 D. Brow

Cardinal Defense

DE        93 Campbell       96 K,Martin       95 Kelly
NT        92 D. Williams    66 Ta'amu                     
DT        98 Rucker          72 Stinson                    
SLB      91 Shaughnessy 94 S. Acho       53 Keiser          
ILB       50 Foote            54 Demens        56 Carson         
ILB       51 Minter           52 Bishop                     
WLB     55 Abraham       57 Okafor          97 Alexander     
LCB      21 Peterson       28 Bethel                      
RCB     31 Cromartie      25 Powers                     
SS        22 Jefferson      36 Bucannon                 
FS        32 Mathieu         26 R. Johnson 

Matchup: Charger Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
A key reason for San Diego's return to the playoffs with a 9 & 7 record last season was the return to form of QB Rivers under the tutilege of head coach Mike McCoy and his OC, former Cardinal HC Ken Whisenhunt (who has moved on this season). Most notable was Rivers' improved accuracy on deep throws and under pressure. Traditionally San Diego's most dangerous receiver has been their tight end, Antonio Gates, but understudy Ladarious Green is emerging as the best run blocking TE on the squad as well as a deep receiving threat (averaging 19.0 yards per catch). WR Keenan Allen has developed into a reliable playmaker (ranked #10 by PFF in percentage of targeted passes caught and tied for #10 in tackles missed after the catch). There are concerns about LT King Dunlap's durability and consistency of play as River's blind-side protector.

The Cardinals (who signed Antonio Cromartie to pair up with fellow CB Patrick Peterson) may have the best CB tandem in pro football, but other areas of concern include (a) an anemic pass rush (at least during the preseason - probably due in part to John Abraham's late arrival) and (b) difficulty matching up with TE's in coverage (the Chargers have two outstanding TE's in Gates and Green). Improved play by Tony Jefferson, the arrival of top draft pick Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu's return from a badly injured knee figures to represent an upgrade at safety, but it may take a few games for us to see the results of this improvement. The loss of two Pro Bowl ILB's (Dansby and D Washington) and the season-ending injury to Darnell Dockett complicate matters, but it is felt that the defense is deep in backup talent and the creativity of DC Todd Bowles should make up for the loss of Dansby, Washington and Dockett both in coverage and in rushing the passer.

Key Matchup: Charger TE's vs. Cardinal pass defense.

Matchup: Charger Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Ryan Matthews was finally healthy for an entire season and ranked #7 in rushing yardage in the NFL last season. The Chargers added breakaway capability with the addition of Donald Brown (second only to Andre Ellington in yards per carry). One other reason for the renaissance of the San Diego running game was improved run blocking by the O-line.

The Cardinal defense ranked #1 in the NFL in rush defense a year ago, and there's no reason why we shouldn't repeat in 2014. In fact, S/LB Deone Bucannon and ILB's Kevin Minter and Larry Foote could make us even better vs. the run. The Cardinal front seven is laced with experienced veteran leadership (which bodes well for our discipline in protecting our gaps and outside-contain vs. screens, misdirection and scrambles).

Key Matchup: Charger rushing attack vs. Cardinal rush defense.

Cardinal Offense

WR1     11 Fitzgerald, 19 Ginn, 13 John Brown   
LT         68 Veldheer, 79 Sowell                      
LG        62 Larsen, 61 Cooper                     
C          63 Sendlein, 62 Larsen                     
RG       74 Fanaika,  78 Watford                   
RT        70 Massie, 79 Sowell                      
TE        87 Niklas, 85 Fells            
WR2     15 M. Floyd, 13 Jaron Brown              
QB        03 Palmer, 05 Stanton 06 Thomas        
RB        38 Ellington, 30 Taylor, 20 Dwyer, 39 Hughes
TE        89 Carlson, 84 Housler

Charger Defense

LDE      91 Reyes          71 Guy              
DT        98 Lissemore    92 Carrethers                
RDE     94 Liuget           72 Palepoi                     
OLB     54 Ingram          93 Freeney       97 Attaochu      
ILB       50 Te'o              52 R. Walker     59 Gachkar       
ILB       56 Butler           53 Conner                     
OLB     96 J. Johnson   58 T. Williams               
CB       26 Flowers        31 Marshall       23 S. Williams   
CB       29 S. Wright      22 Verrett          20 C. Davis      
SS       38 Gilchrist        37 Addae                      
FS        32 Weddle         25 Stucke

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Charger Pass Defense
Last season, when Carson Palmer was good, he was very very good, but when his pass blockers didn't give him enough time to locate his receivers and remain upright, his productivity could vanish. GM Steve Keim and Coach Arians did two things that should make Palmer very happy: (1) they (finally!) overhauled the offensive line by bringing in a "real" LT in Veldheer, along withthe versatile Ted Larsen or (eventually Jonathan Cooper) at LG, Paul Fanaika at RG and Bobby Massie at RT. Only center Lyle Sendlein remains from last year's starting squad. (2) to take some of the pressure off starting receivers (Fitzgerald and Floyd) they added two speedsters in veteran Ted Ginn and rookie sensation John Brown. Improved big play production by the "other Brown" (Jaron) is icing on the cake. More icing: If newly added veteran TE John Carlson can remain healthy, the Cardinal passing game could turn out to be something special.

Chargers have three pass rushing terrors in LB's Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram and DE Corey Luiget. But there is concern about pass coverage by Wright and Marshall (who ranked 6th and 9th worst among all NFL corners in coverage according to PFF. They brought in Brandon Flowers (who may be playing the back nine of his career) and rookie Jason Verrett (who is still fighting his way back from off-season shoulder surgery). One bright spot in pass coverage has been safety Eric Weddle (described by one writer as a "school teacher" type trying to keep control of a group of unruly kids in the secondary). But he may not be enough.

Key Matchup: Palmer and his receivers vs. San Diego corners.

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Charger Run Defense
Keim and Arians decided in the off-season to make breakway speedster, Andre Ellington their all-purpose RB threat and hope to get him 20 - 25 touches a game in a myriad of ways (as a deep back, slot receiver, split out wide, on screens, set in motion etc.). When they need more "thump" between the tackles, the Cards will probably rely more on bigger backs like Dwyer and Taylor. Ellington led the NFL in yards per carry last season, but there are some concerns about overusing him (The Cards are carrying no other breakaway RB to step in for Ellington should he go down). Although the OL is supposedly much-improved in the run-game, we didn't see much proof of this in preseason - you could count the times you'd see a RB blow through an open hole for 4+ yards (let alone 20) on the fingers of one hand).

Fortunately, the Cards will be facing a Charger defense who (at least a year ago) looked anemic vs. the run - especially at the D-line level (tied for lowest run-stop percentage and 4th-worst run-defense grades, according to PFF). They have, however, gotten some production out of LB Donald Butler (despite an off-season in 2013) and from their safety, Weddle.

Key Matchup: Between the tackles - More Dwyer and Taylor than Ellington vs. the Charger front seven.

Special Teams


P          05 Scifres                                 
K          09 Novak                                 
H          05 Scifres         
LS        47 Windt                                   
KR        34 D. Brown                              
PR        11 Royal         13 K. Allen


K          07 Catanzaro                             
P          09 Zastudil                                
H          09 Zastudil                                
LS        82 Leach                                  
KR        19 Ginn             12 John Brown               
PR        19 Ginn             21 Peterson        12 John Brown

Matchup: Charger Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Novak outkicked Catanzaro a week ago in the SD vs. AZ preseason tilt. Zastudil can be deadly inside the ten as a directional punter bit shanked three punts a week ago in SD. In the return game, D. Brown has breakaway pop. Royal and Allen aren't slouches either, but Ginn should have a leg up on all of them as an experienced return man who know how to make the first man miss and can take it to the house every time he touches the ball. A week ago, Cardinal coverage men outplayed Chargers special teamers. This advantage could prove crucial in a close contest.

Key matchups: Novak vs. Catanzaro (FG's). Ginn vs. SD coverage teams.

Last Word
We saw last season what can happen when a football team in an extremely competitive division gets off to a so-so start. Every game is important. Every seemingly insignificant early-season loss can create a hole too deep to dig out of. On paper, we appear to match up favorably with the Chargers, but - unless we can turn this into an actual "W" - "paper don't mean nuthin'."

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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 03/25/2013