Chargers at Texans Week 9 Preview
Philip Rivers is very good, heck he’s downright amazing most of the time. He has made Patrick Crayton and Seyi Ajirotutu look like stars at times during the last couple of games. But, if Gates can’t go, Rivers’ is entering a shootout with an empty gun.
So, how can the Chargers score points and keep the game close? How about, three yards and a cloud of dust?
It is imperative for San Diego to establish a running game and keep the potent Texans offense off the field. The Chargers will have to at least match the 156 combined yards on the ground they gained against Tennessee last Sunday.
Though Ryan Mathews has taken over the starting role, Mike Tolbert continues to get more carries. On Sunday, San Diego may want to feed Tolbert the ball early and often and let him pound on the Texans defense. A steady dose of the bowling ball Tolbert will take its toll and the more speedy Mathews and Darren Sproles can come in and gash yards in a beat up defense.
Even if they can establish an effective running game, San Diego will need to go to the air. Undrafted rookie Ajirotutu has mad his catches count so far. Of the five catches he has made over the last two games, four have gone for first downs. The first down converting niche he has created will be invaluable if Gates is not in the line up.
Sproles could be a huge weapon on Sunday for the Chargers. With San Diego thin at receiver, Sproles could be all over the field against the Texans. I expect to see him in the back field and as a slot receiver. After a slow start to the season, Sproles has picked up the pace and looks more the versatile threat fans had seen in previous seasons.
Texans on Offense
Houston can pretty much do everything on offense. The Texans have the 7th rated offense in the NFL and have a balanced attack led by running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson.
Foster is currently 2nd in the NFL with 737 rushing yards. The former Mission Bay High standout has four 100-yard games this season, including a 233 yard and three touchdown performance against the Indianapolis Colts on opening day. Against the Colts last week, Foster showed just how versatile he is. He ran the ball 15 times for 102 yards and a touchdown and he also caught 9 passes for 65 yards.
Johnson who is arguably the best receiver in the NFL is currently nursing a high ankle injury. He is expected to play on Sunday. Even though “slowed” by injury, Johnson caught 7 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Colts last week. At 6-3 and 223 pounds, Johnson posses size and speed that is very difficult for defenses to match up with.
Quarterback Matt Schaub is coming off a career year in 2009. Thus far, his numbers don’t quite match up to last season’s, but he does have the ability to light up the scoreboard. Earlier this season against the Washington Redskins, Schaub passed for 497 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Schaub has several other quality receivers to target. Wide outs Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones will both see times opposite Johnson. Just two years ago, Walter hauled in 60 passes for 899 yards and 8 touchdowns. He has not matched those numbers since, but still is a very good possession receiver. Jones is always on the cusp of taking over as Houston’s number two receiver. Jones is more of a speed threat and will test the Chargers deep.
Houston could also be without their talented receiving tight end. Owen Daniels is a game-time decision this Sunday because of hamstring problems. Even if Daniels is able to make it on the field Sunday, the Texans will use Joel Dreessen at tight end also. Earlier this season when Daniels was limited because of injury, Dreessen caught 5 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders.
Chargers on Defense
Just quickly perusing the stat sheet from last Sunday’s game and see Eric Weddle with 10 tackles, Kevin Burnett had 7, Paul Oliver with 3, running backs Jacob Hester and Darren Sproles and kicker Kris Brown had 1 and Luis Castillo had, wait, Castillo had, hold on, Castillo had…well, like pretty much the entire season, Castillo didn’t do much. For the season, Castillo has only 9 tackles and half a sack.
Castillo along with the rest of the defense must create a pass rush or Schaub will have a field day picking apart the San Diego secondary. Last week, the Indianapolis Colts were able to pressure Schaub and held him to just 201 yards passing.
San Diego has zero sacks and zero interceptions against the Tennessee Titans last week. That just is not going to hack it. Linebackers Shaun Phillips and whoever else needs to find a way to get to Schaub.
The Chargers run defense was able to contain running back Chris Johnson last week, limiting him to just 59 yards. Foster will provide a similar threat this week. If San Diego keys the run too much, the Texans will torch the Chargers defense for much more than the 300 yards through the air the Titans had.
Quentin Jammer and Antione Cason did not have the greatest game last week. They were beaten deep a few times, including giving up a 71 yard touchdown pass.
The secondary will get a boost with the return of safety Steve Gregory, who returns after a four game suspension.
Texans on Defense
The Houston defense is not very good. If San Diego were fully manned, they would put up HUGE points against the Texans defense.
Sure, they have some players with name recognition, like Mario Williams and Brian Cushing, but as a group, they are the worst rated defense in the NFL. They surrender over 400 yards and over 28 points per game.
Defensive end Williams, the number one overall pick in 2006, leads the Texans with 5 sacks. He will be locked into battle with Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeil for most of the game. It is a premier matchup between pass rushing and pass blocking specialist. Antonio Smith is the other defensive end and has 3 sacks. He will give Chargers right tackle Jeromey Clary all he can handle.
An injury to middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has forced the Texans to shuffle their linebackers into different positions. 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing moves from outside to inside linebacker to replace Ryans.
Cushing tied for the AFC lead with 134 tackles last season and was selected as a Pro Bowl starter. During the offseason, he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season.
He played his first game at middle linebacker last week against the Colts and didn’t look fully comfortable. Cushing is not the first middle linebacker to look bad playing against Peyton Manning. San Diego’s Rivers should also be able to exploit the middle of the field against the inexperienced Cushing.
Strong safety Bernard Pollard leads house with 65 tackles, while starting cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin have a combined one interception. The Texans defense does not create many turnovers as a team.
Chargers Special Teams
It was not a pretty game for the special teams against the Titans.
Another protection break down, unbelievably led to another punt block. If that’s not bad enough, Mike Scifres dropped a snap which ended in a failed extra point attempt. The failed extra point kept the Titans within 8 points, which kept the game in reach and Chargers fans sweating out the end of a game that should have been out of reach.
Honestly, who knows what to expect from all of the Chargers special teams units? They have been putrid so far.
Texans Special Teams
Jacoby Jones serves as both the punt and kickoff returner. He has three career returns for touchdowns, including a 95 yard kickoff return against the Raiders last season. Jones will be eager to get to the stadium on Sunday to get a chance to return kicks against the Chargers.
Neil Rackers beat out current Chargers kicker Kris Brown for the Texans kicking job during training camp. Rackers has made 10-of-12 field goals this season and the veteran showed he still has some leg left, booting a 53-yarder last week.
Despite so much going against them, the Chargers can win this game. For all the Norv Turner bashing, it appears he has such an offensive system in place, that it may just not matter who is playing receiver.
Expect a pretty exciting back and forth game with the Chargers establishing the run early and Philip Rivers exploiting a poor Texans secondary. San Diego will score just enough to pull out a much needed victory.
At around 1:15 on Sunday, the Chargers playoff hopes will still be alive heading into a much needed bye week.