Chargers Game Day Primer

The San Diego Chargers open their season in the unfriendly confines of One Arrowhead Drive in Kansas City. To prevail, the Bolts must build not only upon the preseason, but on the previous year. A year of experience tucked under the belt for the offense and a green defense must take what the coached have given them and avoid mental mistakes.<br><br> Without further ado, <b>ARE YOU READY FOR OPENING DAY!</b>

Coach Vermeil said something that the Chargers need to apply:

"We have a chance to beat a division team (Chargers); we have a chance to win at home. Championship teams and playoff teams beat other 8-8 teams or winning teams, or at least break even. We have that opportunity this week."

Priest Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson will wage a head-to-head duel on Sunday. The young Chargers cornerbacks will face their first "live" test this weekend. And Drew Brees will tackle the Chiefs again as a second year starter for the San Diego Chargers. Those are a few of the key matchups for week one…

We already spoke of the most important key to the game when we mentioned not turning the ball over. That remains the top priority in the game, but that alone may not win the game if the Chiefs hold onto the ball as Coach Schottenheimer instilled in them years ago.

Holmes vs. Tomlinson

After racking up 181 ground yards in his first battle against the Chargers while wearing a Chiefs uniform (11/4/01), Holmes has been held under the 100-yard mark in his last two meetings with San Diego and was forced to sit out last year's contest at Arrowhead with a hip injury.

"He worked hard; he prepared hard; he obviously spent the whole off-season working hard to get himself in shape even though he wasn't able to have a normal off-season in terms of preparation," said Trent Green. "I think it's evident to everybody that he's really taken care of himself."

Meanwhile, Tomlinson has racked up 100-yard rushing games in each of his first two visits to Kansas City, getting 145 yards (12/23/01) and 131 yards (12/22/02) in a pair of losses at Arrowhead.

"LaDainian Tomlinson is among the best running backs in the league," said Dick Vermeil. "There's a group of guys when you speak about the best running back and you've got to include his name."

Dating back to '97, San Diego is 1-11 in games when it permits an opposing RB to enjoy a 100-yard day. The Chargers only win in such a circumstance was a 30-27 OT victory vs. Denver (12/1/02) when Broncos RB Clinton Portis racked up 159 ground yards in a losing effort.

The Chargers have always had trouble locating backs that come into the flat and Holmes is an excellent receiving back. With all the young guns in the Chargers secondary, we could see a bunch of four receiver sets to open running lanes for Holmes.

Tomlinson will also get his fair share of receptions. With the Chiefs secondary also among the worst in the league last year, the Bolts may attack it with a vengeance rather than rest on their laurels. Look for the team to try and match Eric Parker up against the Chiefs third and fourth corners and safeties.

The Secondary

While all eyes will be watching how Holmes performs in his first game that counts after surgery, quarterback Trent Green (26 TDs) will be eyeing the fresh meat in the Chargers' secondary.

It's no secret the Charger' pass defense last year was ranked dead last in the league. The blame may have fell on the secondary as it was entirely dismantled this offseason, but Marty Schottenheimer said improving the pass defense isn't only the job of the four new starters in the defensive backfield. San Diego needs more pressure up front from pass rushers Marcellus Wiley and Adrian Dingle.

Wiley is reportedly healthy and he needs to take his sack total up towards the 13 he had two seasons ago, rather than the 6 he had last year. Dingle gets the starting nod and gives the line some youthful energy. He needs to prove he belongs. The good news is Ray Lee Johnson will be fresh throughout the game and he could be a factor in the second half when the game is on the line.

The toughest part will be getting pressure against the likes of John Tait, a former No. 1 pick, veteran RG Will Shields, and Pro Bowl LT Willie Roaf. The KC line always seems to step up their play when facing the Chargers.

"Their front seven is very physical. They're big and they can run. They have good speed and have young first round picks invested. They brought some other guys in. I would bet that Marty feels he's got a better defensive football team than he had a year ago. It's like our football team."

Expect teams, especially early in the season, to attack the Chargers youthful secondary.

San Diego allowed 10 300-yard passing games last year. It can't get much worse? Can it?

"I think it's a good young group," Schottenheimer said. "Jammer is growing by leaps and bounds. There are going to be some headaches. But their makeup is such that given their competitiveness, they'll survive the day."

"Marty Schottenheimer is bringing a better football team here," Vermeil added. "They've rebuilt that defense. They broke down in the secondary last year. The defense wasn't last year what it was the year before and you know Marty as well as I do. It's going to be better. We already know the skill people they have on offense and what they've added."

Quentin Jammer, last year's first-round pick, starts at the left corner and Sammy Davis, the Chargers' top pick this year, was named the starter on the right side.

"I like his demeanor," Schottenheimer said of Davis. "He has the demeanor you need to have to be a good corner. He is confident without being arrogant. He has the ability to bounce back from adversity."

Expect Green to take many chances downfield that will test the mettle of the Bolts secondary. Until they prove worthy, they are the number one target for any team coming in.

Drew Brees

The Chargers are 2-0 in games when QB Drew Brees posts a 100.0 rating or better, getting a 34-6 win on Opening Day 2002 in Cincinnati (9/8) when he registered a 136.8 rating and recording a 27-21 OT triumph at Oakland (10/20) when his rating was 110.4.

The Chiefs have frequently made life difficult for Chargers QBs during KC's six-game winning streak over SD at Arrowhead. Last year, the Chargers were 1-6 when Brees threw more INTs than TDs, while going 7-2 when he did not.

The last San Diego QB to record a win at Arrowhead was Stan Humphries, who guided the Chargers to a 28-14 victory (11/24/96). Humphries is also the only Chargers QB to ever throw for 300 yards at Arrowhead, getting 315 yards in a 29-23 Chiefs OT victory (10/9/95).

The difference for Brees this year is the additions of David Boston and Lorenzo Neal.

"Both start with being great individuals and guys that are committed to winning,'' Schottenheimer said of the Pro Bowlers. "Of course, both have tremendous work ethics and great physical skills.''

"We know that (WR) David Boston is a big timer, big, big timer, about 245-pound wide receiver," Said Vermeil. "That's a man out there and Tim Dwight and the likes of Lorenzo Neal they've now added who is a great blocking fullback.

"Our coverage schemes are a little bit different this year than last. First off, someone's going to have to play him one-on-one. There's no defense in the National Football League that doesn't play man coverage or play some blitz man or all that kind of stuff. Secondly, there are schemes of doubling him without sacrificing the ability to stop the run. You've got to keep people in position to stop the run with LaDainian; it creates a problem, no question. And, their tight end is a good football player. I understand he hasn't practiced much but (Stephen) Alexander is a good football player. That's why Marty brought him with him from Washington. He's another threat."

Double Boston all you want should be the Bolts motto. Looking off Boston is just as vital to the air attack. Swinging coverage to his side will open up lanes elsewhere and we could be looking at big games from the Bolts other receivers. Brees must find them in his progressions.

The Chargers will look to balance their attack and use the new toys they have at their disposal in hopes of prosperous returns. Matchups could mean everything and Brees is the man who must dissect that at the line of scrimmage and use it to his advantage. There is something to be said about ball control, but early in the game Brees must utilize all his weapons and make Boston more than just eye candy.

"He's an absolute threat," Schottenheimer said of Boston. "We thought he would complement LaDainian. A team will have to decide whether to single-cover Boston and put eight in the box to stop (Tomlinson), or double David and play only seven against LaDainian."

"I wanted to come to a team with a really strong running game, where there were several weapons in the offense," said Boston.

The Last Word:

"Both the Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs were 8-8 last year," Vermeil said. "We played two games last year that were separated by one point: 58-57. We won by one point by the combination of two games. It'll be a tight, tough football game."

And so it begins…

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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