Game Primer, Week 6: Chargers-Rams

The Chargers look to end their streak of road implosions as they head to St. Louis to take on the 2-3 Rams. Norv Turner's team has some significant match-up advantages on offense and defense, but what about those pesky special teams? We break it all down in this phase-by-phase preview.

When the Chargers Run

This is not about proving this year's running game is better than last year's. It is not about settling which runner deserves more carries, Ryan Mathews or Mike Tolbert. The pressing issue here is: Can the Chargers hang onto the freaking football?

Tolbert lost a fumble at the goal line last week, the second time he has put the ball on the ground inside the red zone. He, Mathews and Darren Sproles have lost six combined fumbles. To put that in perspective, San Diego's three tailbacks have lost twice as many fumbles thought five games as LaDainian Tomlinson has in the last five years.

The St. Louis Rams allow 4.3 yards per carry, placing them in the bottom half of the league. Of course, the Oakland Raiders allow a league-worst 5.0 yards per carry, yet San Diego averaged just 3.5 ypc last week and failed to top the century mark in net yards rushing.

When the Chargers Pass

Philip Rivers is the man you want under center, unless your team is trying to punch in the winning or trying score with less than two minutes to play. All three of San Diego's losses have ended with the offense marching into scoring position and sputtering with the game on the line. In order for Rivers to be a legitimate MVP candidate, he must deliver in those tough situations.

Rivers should have an better time this week with Marcus McNeill back protecting his blindside. He also gets back OG Louis Vasquez, who missed the last two games with a knee injury. That should give Rivers plenty of time to throw against a defense with only 10 sacks (the Chargers, by comparison, have 18).

Rivers will be without Legedu Naanee (hamstring). He will need to get more from Buster Davis, who after a hot start to the season has just two catches for 11 yards in the last two weeks.

When the Rams Run

Michael Bush imposed his will on the Chargers last week, running 26 times for 104 yards and catching three passes for 31 yards. This week brings a running back with a similar skill-set and superior talent, as Steven Jackson is among the NFL's most powerful and dangerous backs.

The Chargers will have to slow Jackson without the help of Brandon Siler (foot), whose presence was missed last week, especially in the red zone. The entire linebacker corps will be tested, as San Diego's roster now includes two undrafted rookies (Brandon Lang and Kion Wilson) and two street free agents who signed in the last couple weeks (Antwan Barnes and Cyril Obiozor).

When the Rams Pass

The Chargers only have one good pass rusher, Shaun Phillips, but he has been a one-man wrecking crew this season (six sacks, one INT, one TD). He will have to keep that going in St. Louis, as nothing will help the Chargers' chances more than rattling rookie QB Sam Bradford.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft will not have a lot of help. His top receiver, Mark Clayton, was lost for the season after injuring his knee in last week's game. That is not good news going against a Chargers defense that has gotten superb play from starting cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.

It will be interesting to watch how things shake out at safety. Tyrone Carter may be active after spending the week getting acclimated to the defense. He could challenge Paul Oliver for playing time after Oliver had a rough go of it last week in Oakland.

Just for Kicks

Everything about San Diego's special teams is embarrassing. The Chargers cannot cover kicks; they cannot block for their kickers; and they cannot spring Sproles, who has a firm hold on his return positions only because of his inflated salary (it is very possible that Richard Goodman is a better kickoff returner and Patrick Crayton a better punt returner).

The good news is that the special-teams players know they are playing for their jobs. San Diego has made roster moves after every game this season aimed at improving the special teams. If Steve Crosby's unit is not up to snuff in St. Louis, that trend will continue after Week 6.

What are Chargers fans saying about the game? Find out in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

SD Super Chargers Top Stories