USA Today: Inside Slant 11/24

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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

The Chargers are playing like it's 2004 all over again.

"I think it's safe to say that we are starting to get the feeling that we had last year," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said.

The Chargers head for Washington, D.C., on Sunday to try and extend their winning streak to four against the Redskins. The Redskins are headed the opposite direction, having lost three of their past four.

The Chargers look at their recent past and smile. Last year they won eight straight and nine of their final 10 games to qualify for their first playoff berth since 1995.

And after stumbling from this year's gate and sitting at 2-3 after five weeks, the Chargers have got their groove back.

"It's a confidence level, that attitude that we can move the ball no matter if it's the pass game or the run game," said quarterback Drew Brees, who is coming off a sensational game in the win over the Bills. "We are going to move the ball and score points. That's our job and that's what we do and our attitude is that's just what we do."

The Chargers offense, which is averaging 30 points per game, has been cranking. It is ranked in the top 10 in virtually every critical category.

"That's something that is built up over time," said Brees, who has thrown 18 touchdown and eight interceptions. "It's not something where you just wake up and snap your fingers and it is there."

But escaping the D.C. with a victory is no slam dunk. The Redskins will be in a sour mood after losing to the Oakland Raiders last week.

And as well as Brees and Co. are playing, they know the Redskins defense is no pushover, particularly when egged on by some 90,000 Redskins fans.

"They are a solid defense and have been all year long," Brees said of the No. 10-ranked unit. "They have played well lately and it's a group that, especially with us on the road, thrives off that crowd.

"Plus, they are in a situation now, sitting at 5-5, that it's some what of a must win for them. And it's kind of a similar situation for us. So it should be a heck of a battle."

Added Tomlinson: "You want to play your best football down the stretch and I think we are playing our best football."

SERIES HISTORY: Eighth meeting. The Washington Redskins lead the series 6-1, but the San Diego Chargers won the last time they played, 30-3, at Qualcomm Stadium. The coach for the Redskins that day was current Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer.


—Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was an offensive coordinator for the Chargers under Don Coryell from 1979-80.

While Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer and Gibbs have coached a combined 515 NFL games, this is only the fourth time they have matched wits. Schottenheimer holds a 2-1 edge.

Schottenheimer, unlike when he returns to Cleveland or Kansas City, said he doesn't have the same feeling as when he goes back to Washington, D. C. "I just wasn't there long enough," Schottenheimer said. In his one season there, he went 8-8 after starting 0-5.

The Redskins are 0-3 against AFC West teams this season.

If Antonio Gates (foot) can't play, fourth-year pro Justin Peelle would replace him. "Gates means a lot to us but I'm very confident Peelle can come in and do the job," Brees said.

This marks the second straight week the Redskins will see a former coach on the other sideline. Last week, Norv Turner's Raiders defeated the Redskins, 16-13.

—OLB Shawne Merriman is close friends with Redskins LB LaVar Arrington, and often calls him his big brother.

—If LaDainian Tomlinson can rush for 98 yards Sunday, he will post his fifth straight 1,000-yard season. Only six other players have accomplished that feat.

—QB Drew Brees has a 96.2 rating on third downs, fifth-highest in the NFL.

—How important is TE Antonio Gates? When he has multiple touchdown games, the Chargers are 5-0.

—WR Keenan McCardell is six catches shy of hitting the 800-mark of his career.

—The Redskins' director of player development is J.J. Jefferson, the Chargers' first-round pick in 1978.

—Schottenheimer continues to praise WR Keenan McCardell - for his toughness. "He is doing a great job in our run-blocking," Schottenheimer said of McCardell, who also has seven touchdown receptions.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 - This is the Chargers' fourth trip to the East Coast since Oct. 2. To date, they've defeated the Patriots and Jets, while falling to the Eagles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We still have to go out and find a way, that's just the way it is. There is not one guy on this team that we just can't do without. That's why it's a team game." - QB Drew Brees, when asked how big of blow would it be if All Pro TE Antonio Gates can't play with a foot injury.


Tight end Ryan Krause was put on injured reserve because of a chronic foot problem. The team elevated Landon Trusty off the practice squad. They went ahead and brought back Brock Edwards to the practice squad. The Chargers are just happy the tight end they are putting on IR is Krause, and not All Pro Antonio Gates.

Also, the Chargers kick coverage team has been terrible. Looking for any edge, the Chargers have tinkered with going with P Mike Scifres on kickoffs instead of PK Nate Kaeding. Kaeding has been bothered by a sore back and it has hampered his distance and hang time on kickoffs. But early in the week, coach Marty Schottenheimer said the team was sticking with Kaeding.


—C Nick Hardwick's ankle held up well last week and he should be even stronger this week.

—LT Leander Jordan has done well - save one play which nearly cost the Chargers the game against the Jets - in his two games while replacing Roman Oben.

—RB Michael Turner continues to impress with his spot play. Turner is averaging 4.6 yards per carry - better than even Tomlinson.

—WR Reche Caldwell has had a resurgence after two fumbles on two catches put him in Schottenheimer's doghouse. In the past two games he has eight catches for 83 yards with a long of 39.

—OLB Shaun Phillips could see his playing time diminish if Steve Foley returns this week. But Phillips has learned both sides of the outside linebacker's spots, so he could still see the field when Foley is in there. Phillips has played well in Foley's absence and has five sacks, second-best among Chargers.

GAME PLAN: Look for the Chargers defense to really get after Redskins QB Mark Brunell with their blitz packages. Outside of Santana Moss - and he is a good one - the Redskins have few threats on the outside. That would allow the Chargers to blitz and not be concerned with Brunell making them pay by a standout receiver burring someone in single coverage. Moss, no doubt, will draw a lot of attention. But the Chargers could exploit the lack of a threat on the opposite side, and blitz Brunell more than they might if an offense had more balance in their wide outs.


The Chargers pass rush, led by rookie Shawn Merriman and his team-high seven sacks, vs. the Redskins pass protection, which must keep somewhat mobile Mark Brunell in one piece. Rival quarterbacks can no longer sit back in the pocket and pick apart the Chargers suspect pass defense. Merriman has been on fire of late, collecting six sacks since becoming a starter four games ago. But don't overlook Shaun Philips, another linebacker with a burst - Schottenheimer said Philips' first step reminds him of Derrick Thomas, when Schottenheimer was coaching him in Kansas City. The Redskins use a lot of two tight-end sets, which could make getting to Brunell more difficult. Brunell doesn't run around like he did long ago when he was with the Jaguars, but he is deceptive in that he has the knack to evade an oncoming rusher. Among the keys is if NT Jamal Williams can again collapse the pocket on the inside, when going against C Casey Rabach. If Williams can, that opens things up on the outside for Merriman, Phillips and Co.

The Chargers' top-ranked run defense against a Redskins running attack led by Clinton Portis, who has rushed for 5,270 yards since the 2002 season, the third-most in the NFL. The Chargers are coughing up but 78.1 rushing yards per game. Twice this year, they have kept teams under 40 yards: Oakland (39) and Philadelphia (24). Over their last five games in which they have gone 4-1, the Chargers are allowing but 62.4 yards. But look for them to do more than just tackle Portis, as Donnie Edwards and others will try to stripe the ball from his as well. Portis fumbled twice in last week's game, something the Chargers aren't overlooking.

INJURY IMPACT: LT Roman Oben (foot) didn't practice and is questionable, and they way he is still limping he looks like the low side of questionable. Leander Jordan would replace him. TE Antonio Gates (foot) didn't practice and is questionable. Still in a boot and has yet to test his foot. It would be a surprise if he goes Sunday. Justin Peelle would replace him. OLB Steve Foley (abdominal strain) was able to work on Wednesday. ILB Ben Leber (foot) wasn't able to work and he won't play on Sunday; he's a backup.