Inside Slant 10/21/05

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Jul 6, 2005
USA Today

The Chargers are getting healthy - well healthier, anyway.

Right tackle Shane Olivea was able to work for the second day in a row as the team prepares for its Sunday date with the Philadelphia Eagles.

And while left guard Mike Goff (ankle) didn't work, he was walking noticeably better and said he would go this weekend.

Center Nick Hardwick (ankle) also didn't practice, but he was holding out hope he could play.

It's hard to overstate how critical it is that the line can get fit and put up a good effort this weekend. If the Chargers are going to upset the Eagles in Philadelphia, they will likely do so by running the ball.

The key is keeping the ball away from quarterback Donovan McNabb and a high-powered Eagles offense that is No. 1 in the league in passing. As far as matchups go, that sends shivers down the Chargers' spine.

The Chargers have struggled all year defending the pass and if they are asked to do so on a steady basis, it will be a long day against the Eagles.

So while all the attention is on running back LaDainian Tomlinson has he tries to set an NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown (19), don't overlook the big boys in front of him. If the line is compromised, so, too, will be the Chargers chances to surprise the Eagles in their own nest.

—With the New England Patriots already a notch on their belt, the Chargers will face the other Super Bowl participant from last season on Sunday.

The Chargers are headed to Philadelphia, and after the game, one will be able to tell if they are still pointed in the right direction.

"It's going to be a test for us," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "They have been a good defense for a long time now."

The Chargers are also looking for an extended run. It was at this point last year, when also sitting at 3-3, that the Chargers went on an eight-game winning streak. They won nine of their final 10 games to earn their first AFC West title since 1994.

"It's the time of the season where you can go one or two directions," quarterback Drew Brees said. "We need to make our move right now."

But Tomlinson said the Chargers know more about themselves going into Sunday's game than when playing the Patriots on Oct. 2. The Chargers, according to Tomlinson, no longer have to prove that they should be considered among the AFC's elite teams.

I think we are past that," said Tomlinson, who can set the NFL record with a touchdown in his 19th consecutive game. "That was early in the season.

"Now we are getting down to the middle of the season where you know what kind of team you have. This is just a game that both teams need to win, to be honest with you."

No lie, the Eagles have struggled stopping the run. But Tomlinson eyes the defense with a nod toward the unit's active linebackers of Jeremiah Trotter, Dhani Jones and Keith Adams.

"I see it as a group of guys, mainly the linebackers, who like to run and make plays," Tomlinson said. "Trotter is the leader of that group, he's the main guy that really brings a physical method to what they like to do."

Tomlinson likes to score - his race to 70 touchdowns in 69 games tied Jim Brown for the second-fastest in NFL history. And while cognizant that he's on history's doorstep once again - he can eclipse Lenny Moore's mark of touchdowns in 18 straight games - Tomlinson said leaving Philadelphia with a victory is the main quest.

"To be honest with you, I don't want to say that it's not important, but at the same time, it's just not a main focus for me," he said. " This is not something that I really want to do - it just kind of came about as I continue to play each week, and the record just kind of crept up on me. All of a sudden - boom - here is this record.

"It's definitely a great record. Any record that's held by a Hall of Famer like Lenny Moore, you have to be proud of it. And since Lenny Moore, no one has been able to touch it for 40 years. So it's something to be proud and happy about."

But Tomlinson's pride would swell more carting home a 4-3 record and building on the midseason momentum Tomlinson hopes will again carry the Chargers to the playoffs.

"I would sacrifice not getting the record for a victory, any day," Tomlinson said. "I think that explains how important it is to me."

SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. The Chargers lead the series, 5-3 and haven't faced the Eagles since bowing to them in Philadelphia, 24-14. But that game was at Veterans Stadium as this will be the first visit to Lincoln Financial Field. The Chargers have won three of the past four games against these teams.


—Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips held the same position with the Eagles from 1986-88.

—Since 1966, four players have performed the feat before LaDainian Tomlinson did it against the Raiders, throwing, receiving and rushing for a touchdown in the same game. The others are: Dan Reeves (1967), Harmon Wages (1969), Walter Payton (1979) and David Patten (2001).

—The Chargers must be aware of this stat: Since 2000, Philly has compiled a 17-3 (.850) record in games after a loss, the best such mark in the league in that time.

—New Chargers reserve QB A. J. Feeley is putting his disappointing stint in Miami behind him. "It's kind of bitter sweet," he said. "The bitter part is that things didn't work out all that well in Miami. It was tough to swallow that and accept what happened there. But on the plus side, it's a fresh start here. I'm happy about that; it was a much-needed change. And with that being said, I'm happy to be here."

—DE Igor Olshansky notched career-high 2.0 sacks last Sunday and is one of five Chargers with at least two sacks.

—S Bhawoh Jue has three interceptions in his past five games.

—WR Keenan McCardell is 11 receptions shy of passing Isaac Bruce (786) for 13th place on the all-time list.

—Opponents are averaging but 3.5 yards per carry against the Chargers, which is seventh-best in the league.

—QB Drew Brees knows the Chargers have their hands full trying to outsmart Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson's defense. "That defense has been good for a long time," Brees said.

—Coach Marty Schottenheimer said his film work hasn't shown Eagles QB Donovan McNabb being bothered by a sports hernia. "I've looked for it and I can't see it," Schottenheimer said. "I don't see any evidence of it in his play."

—Sunday will be the Chargers second trip to the Eastern time zone, with dates still remaining against the Jets, Redskins and Colts.

BY THE NUMBERS: 18-8 - Chargers record when Tomlinson rushes for more than 100 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Terrell (Owens) is going full speed every snap and part of that is driven by the fact that the play is never over with Donovan McNabb." - Coach Marty Schottenheimer, on the challenge of tracking Eagles WR Terrell Owens.


For the second straight year general manager A. J. Smith has fiddled with the roster right at the trading deadline.

Smith peddled disappointing LG Toniu Fonoti to the Vikings for a seventh-round pick, which is elevated to a sixth-round pick if he is active for six games or starts three games.

It's no big loss for the Chargers. They didn't consider Fonoti to be what they are looking for in a player, and his contract is running out at the season's end. They weren't going to bring him back; they have been pleased, too, with his replacement Kris Dielman.

Smith also swung a deal with the Miami Dolphins, swapping third-string quarterbacks. The Chargers received A. J. Feeley and a sixth-round pick for Cleo Lemon.

Feeley isn't expected to supplant Philip Rivers as Drew Brees' backup. But he could be kept around next year when (if?) the Chargers decide between Brees and Rivers as their quarterback of the future.

In other news, G Wes Sims was elevated from the practice squad. T Ben Johnson was added to the practice squad.


—CB Sammy Davis would replace Drayton Florence (ankle) if he can't go. But Davis is nursing a sore ankle, too; Davis did work on Wednesday.

—OL Scott Mruczkowski was running with the first string as Mike Goff (ankle) missed practice. Mruczkowski has yet to see the field this season.

—RB Darren Sproles and his nearly 30-yard average on kick returns will probably be back this week. He missed Sunday's game with a sprained ankle, but practiced on Wednesday.

—P Mike Scifres hopes to build on his best game of the season. Scifres, a Pro Bowl first alternate last season, had struggled early. But in Oakland on Sunday, four of his seven efforts were downed inside the 20, and he had a long of 51.

GAME PLAN: It seems too obvious, which makes you wonder if the Chargers will do it. But why wouldn't they point their stout running game and All-Everything Mr. Tomlinson toward and Eagles run defense which is ranked 23rd defending the run?

Not only is that what the Chargers do best, that's what the Eagles defense has the most trouble stopping. And by sticking the ball in Tomlinson's midsection, it could also prolong drives which drain the clock and keep the high-powered McNabb and is passing offense - which could give the Chargers fits - off the field.

Look for Tomlinson to get 30 carries on Sunday, unless the Chargers fall behind early.


Chargers pass rush, which has recorded seven sacks in the last two games, vs. QB Donovan McNabb and the Eagles' pass protection. The Chargers pass rush has shown a spark of late, and it comes none too soon. McNabb s playing with a sports hernia, which limits him from taking off for the big chunks down field. But the Chargers' film study has shown he still has enough mobility to sidestep the rush when the pocket collapses. Keep and an eye on Steve Foley and the right side of the Eagles' line. The protection on the left side will be tested by pass-rushing linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips.

Chargers secondary, which is hobbled by injuries, vs. the Eagles' passing game, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL. The Chargers had trouble stopping the pass when at full strength; it gives up 240 yards per game. Now the unit has been steamrolled by injuries, with CB Drayton Florence and SS Terrence Kiel nursing sprained ankles. They will likely go on Sunday, but a full day of tracking Terrell Owens and Greg Lewis could cause fatigue and a drop off of play late in the game.

The Chargers' running attack, spearheaded by Tomlinson, vs. the Eagles' shaky run defense, with FS Brain Dawkins trying to stop the bleeding. Tomlinson will get his carries and it will be up to more than the front seven of the Eagles' defense to stop him. Dawkins, a longtime standout, will have his nose up near the line of scrimmage to lend a hand. If Dawkins is successful, the going could be tougher for Tomlinson. If not, and he's staying close to the line, a big play-action pass to Keenan McCardell or Eric Parker will be in the Chargers' plans.


—TE Ryan Krause (foot) didn't practice and is out.

—CB Drayton Florence (ankle) did not practice and remains questionable. He's not making as much progress as the team had hoped, and if he can't go Sunday, he will be replaced by Sammy Davis. Davis is less than 100 percent, too, with a sprained ankle.

—LB Steve Foley (abdominal) didn't practice Thursday, but should play on Sunday. He'll play

—G Mike Goff (ankle) didn't practice Thursday but said he would go Sunday. If not, Scott Mruczkowski, a third-stringer, would fill in.

—C Nick Hardwick (ankle) didn't practice Thursday and he's looking more doubtful than questionable, which is how he is listed. If Hardwick is down, veteran Bob Hallen fills in.