Bolts Notebook: 11-5

The Chargers are limping towards their bye, but a win in Houston on Sunday will make the players feel better about their current lot. San Diego has yet to win a game in front of a live, local TV audience, but doing so in Week 9 would send a strong message that the race in the AFC West is far from over.

Houston, We Have Your Players

DL Travis Johnson and PK Kris Brown have a special interest in Sunday's game. Johnson was the Texans' first-round pick in 2005 and spent his first four seasons with the team. Brown's time in Houston dates back to the franchise's inaugural season in 2002. He remained with the team though this season's training camp before losing a battle to Neil Rackers.

Johnson is pumped for his return. He is as healthy as he's ever been halfway through a season and is enjoying the most productive stretch of his career, contributing to a defense ranked No. 2 against the run and No. 1 overall. He has 12 tackles and a sack through eight games.

Brown has connected on four of five field goals since signing with the Chargers, although his lone miss came on a 50-yard try that would have staved off a loss to the New England Patriots. One of the reasons he came under scrutiny in Houston was his crunch-time struggles last season, so it will be interested to see how he responds if called upon with the game on the line.

A Rivers Runs Through Them

Philip Rivers is putting up insane numbers regardless of who is catching the ball. He will be tested again Sunday with Vincent Jackson ineligible, Buster Davis on injured-reserve and Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee out with hamstring injuries. Even Rivers' security blanket, the red-hot Antonio Gates, is battling a series of foot injuries and will be extremely limited if not altogether unavailable.

The good news is that Rivers played with the same crew last week and still topped the 300-yard mark in a victory. That was against a Tennessee Titans pass defense ranked eight spots better than the Texans, who are last in the league and giving up nearly 300 passing yards per game.

The better news is that the bye is on the horizon. Floyd and Naanee should be back for the Week 11 game against the Denver Broncos while Jackson will be reinstated in time for the Week 12 clash with the Indianapolis Colts. If Rivers can deliver more magic in Houston, he will find his cupboards quickly restocked for the stretch run.

Nightmare on Reliant Park

Andre Johnson is a nightmare match-up for a lot of teams, none more so than the Chargers. Quentin Jammer is one of the few corners in the league who can match Johnson's physicality, but Jammer's lack of ball skills will hurt, as Matt Schaub will throw to Johnson even when he's covered. On the other side of the field, Johnson has 30 pounds on Antoine Cason, which will make it tough for Cason to limit Johnson's yards after the catch.

The Chargers will need a big pass rush to prevent Schaub from finding Johnson regularly. That seems doable, as the Chargers were tied for the league lead in sacks going into last week's action. However, the defense failed to post a single sack against the Titans. A second consecutive donut could stop San Diego's win streak before it ever starts.

Which former Texan will play better on Sunday? Discuss 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.

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