Bolts vs. Birds: Intriguing Matchups Abound

The Chargers and Cardinals will clash for the second time in a 12-day span when the teams meet in the final game of Week 1. The rematch figures to have little in common with last week’s exhibition, as the players, venue and stakes have changed. Additionally, there is some bad blood being generated on the transactions page.

The season opener between the Chargers and Cardinals did not need any extra build-up; this was always a terrific matchup. San Diego comes off a 9-7 season in which the team overachieved and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Arizona actually finished with a better record in 2013, but just missed the playoffs at 10-6.

The way these teams match up is fascinating. The Chargers' biggest free agent acquisition, Donald Brown, was brought in to ensure Mike McCoy could lean on his running game more than ever. That will be tough to do against an Arizona outfit that finished last season with the league's top run defense.

Will the Chargers still rely heavily on the run and test a defense that lost Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby? Or will the Bolts opt to use short passes in place of runs, counting on Philip Rivers to extend his terrific run of accuracy (69.5 percent completions in 2013; 83.3 percent this preseason)?

On defense, new cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett will be challenged by Arizona’s outstanding receiver tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, who combined for 1,995 yards and 15 touchdowns a season ago.

Beyond these surface-level match-ups, there is no shortage of juicy subplots.

Earlier this week, the Chargers claimed QB Ryan Lindley off waivers from the Cardinals. The SDSU product spent all of last season and this preseason in Arizona, giving him a detailed knowledge of Bruce Arians’ offense. The Cardinals returned the favor, picking up OLB Thomas Keiser after he was released by the Bolts.

"I think Ryan probably knows a whole lot more about both sides of the ball than Tom does," Arians said. "He (Keiser) knows how to rush the passer. I don't know what he's going to tell me about Philip's (Rivers) offense, but Ryan knows a lot about both sides of the ball."

While Lindley talks the talk, Keiser will have a chance to walk the walk. Because unlike Lindley, Keiser will actually be on the field against his former team. And the pass-rushing specialist, who posted 4.5 sacks last season, is plenty motivated. He was buried on the depth chart this offseason, likely due in part to the fact he was arrested late last December after attacking a man in a nightclub.

There are other players who will be facing off against their former team, as well, including Arizona’s Antonio Cromartie and San Diego’s Reggie Walker and Richard Marshall.

Lightning Quicks

--The Chargers caught a break when they were able to sneak sixth-round pick Marion Grice onto their practice squad after releasing him on Monday. San Diego awarded the extra roster spot to DT Ricardo Mathews, a former seventh-round pick of the Colts who has 52 game appearances, 51 tackles and 1.5 sacks on his resume. Help was needed on the defensive line, as Sean Lissemore (ankle) and Lawrence Guy (shoulder) have battled injuries.

--The only one of San Diego’s six draft picks no longer with the club is seventh-round pick Tevin Reese, who struggled to run disciplined routes and showed inconsistent hands. The Chargers drafted Reese because the offense needed a deep threat, but that concern was somewhat alleviated by the healthy return of Malcom Floyd.

--Speaking of players coming back from injury, Dwight Freeney is one to watch on Monday. Freeney missed the final 12 games last season with a quad injury, but he is healthy now and will play in the nickel packages to ignite the pass rush. Freeney, who has 108 career sacks, is extremely motivated to show he still has something in the tank, especially under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.

"I'm excited," Freeney said. "[The game is] getting so close for me it's hard for me to sleep. And for me it's been since the end of September; that's the last time I actually played anything meaningful. I didn’t get to do much in the preseason, but I do feel like I should be revved up and ready to go."



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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.


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