KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers
PREDICTION: Chargers 34-22
KEYS TO THE GAME: Chargers QB Philip Rivers isn't having any issues flinging the ball all over the field minus WR Vincent Jackson, turning to TE Antonio Gates (14.2 yards per receptions, four TDs) and WR Malcom Floyd (20 yards per catch), both of whom have made big plays downfield. San Diego is, however, having problems protecting the ball and playing special teams. Arizona must take advantage of both areas because the offense has taken a significant step backward. The Chargers appear to have improved their run defense between the tackles, but the Cardinals will still pound away with RBs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. QB Derek Anderson's erratic arm will get Arizona in trouble if the Cardinals fall into an early hole. San Diego will get rookie RB Ryan Mathews back after he missed last week's loss at Seattle with an ankle injury suffered in Week 2.
FAST FACTS: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald leads the NFL with 477 catches since 2005. ... Anderson's teams are 8-0 when he has a passer rating of at least 90. ... Rivers has thrown at least one touchdown pass in an NFL-high 16 consecutive games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Receiver Larry Fitzgerald joked Thursday that his goal this week was to double his number of catches from the week before.
In most weeks, that's a lofty goal for Fitzgerald. But against the Raiders last Sunday, he had only two receptions, although one of them was a touchdown.
Getting the ball to Fitzgerald will be important this Sunday, because he's the only experienced receiver the Cardinals have. The next four on the depth chart had not caught an NFL pass before the season.
Starter Steve Breaston is likely to miss at least two more games after undergoing knee surgery earlier this week. Early Doucet, the third receiver, is out for at least two more games after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia.
That leaves two undrafted rookies, Stephen Williams and Max Komar, at the second and third spots. Andre Roberts, a third-round pick this year, is at the fourth spot with Onrea Jones, re-signed earlier this week, at No. 5.
Fitzgerald said all four of those players received considerable playing time in preseason, which should help them against the Chargers.
"Steve (Williams) started three preseason games for us at the X position. That's unheard of for a (rookie) free agent to get that much playing time," Fitzgerald said. "I know the guys are confident, especially Max and Steve. They just have an aura about them."
The Chargers should have their way against the Cardinals, especially playing at home Sunday.
But nothing is easy with this year's 1-2 Chargers squad, and just maybe, they are heading into a trap.
The Cardinals are no longer a pass-happy team having the luxury of leaning on Kurt Warner. Instead they look to pound the ball - they average nearly 117 rushing yards per game -- and that works against the Chargers on two fronts.
If the Cardinals can get their running game gobbling up the clock, it keeps Philip Rivers' hands off the football and directing the NFL's top offense.
And with the Chargers' rash of injuries, most are coming at the linebacker spot - not good, if facing a running team.
Outside linebacker Larry English was lost for four-to-six weeks earlier in the week with a foot injury. Inside linebacker Brandon Siler - among the top two Chargers run-stoppers - has seen his foot get worse as the week wore on. He was limited on Wednesday and didn't practice at all Thursday.
Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper is back practicing, but he will be playing in his first game Sunday after skipping the past two with a knee injury. How his knee reacts to game situations is worth watching.
Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is also ailing with this injury du jour. This week, it's a calf.
The Chargers are still more talented than the Cards - that's clear to see. But what's not so easy to decipher is if the Chargers' injuries - in light of how the Cardinals will likely attack the defense - could make this game a lot closer than many expect.
--QB Derek Anderson has completed 52 percent of his passes this season and is about 35 percent when throwing to Fitzgerald. That has to improve if the Cardinals will make a third consecutive playoff appearance.
--RB Tim Hightower remains the starter but he will receive fewer carries than Beanie Wells, as long as Wells remains in good health. Hightower does have big-play ability, having scored from 70 yards and 80 yards out in his last four games.
--RB Beanie Wells looked fully recovered last week from knee surgery, gaining 75 yards on 14 carries in the victory over the Raiders. Wells looked fast and quick and should carry the ball 15 to 20 times a game.
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling is a dynamic kick returner who took one back 102 yards last week. He also plays on some third downs and is dangerous when he is isolated on linebackers and defensive backs.
--WR Steve Breaston is out for at least two games after undergoing knee surgery last Tuesday. The hope is that Breaston will return on Oct. 24, after the bye.
--WR Stephen Williams drew two pass interference calls last week, and he has the size and speed to continue to be a deep threat.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald isn't fully recovered from a knee sprain, but he looks better than he did in Week 1. Derek Anderson is having trouble getting the ball to Fitzgerald, who had two catches last week.
--PK Jay Feely has a strong leg and barely missed from 54 yards out two weeks ago in Atlanta. Feely made his two other field-goal attempts this season.
--LG Kris Dielman (illness) missed his second straight day of practice. He'll go Sunday, but he could be at less than full strength.
--OLB Shawne Merriman (calf) didn't practice again. Coach Norv Turner said the injury isn't serious but is painful. Counting on Merriman for more than a handful of snaps in any week is usually a long shot.
--RG Louis Vasquez (knee) won't be playing on Sunday. He'll be replaced by Tyronne Green.
--ILB Brandon Siler (foot) was limited on Wednesday and didn't participate at all Thursday. The Chargers might not rush him back with Stephen Cooper returning to the lineup after missing two weeks.
--S Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) was limited in practice. He could be down Sunday, even if he is healthy.
--OLB Larry English (foot) is out four-to-six weeks.
Game Preview: Cardinals @ Chargers
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