Chargers vs. Houston Preview

This is for keeps. Finally the game that counts in the standings is upon us. The San Diego Chargers meet up with the Houston Texans in game one of the 2004 regular season. After a season of despair, the Bolts are looking to rebound and become one of the surprise teams of the year.

Chargers on Offense:

There is a healthy respect for LaDainian Tomlinson – and rightfully so. The Chargers will go as far as his talented body can carry them.

His presence alone makes the opposition cringe. Very few have been able to stop him and if he doesn't get his yards via the ground game, he will get it through the air.

"He's the best running back that I've ever seen in my football career," Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer reiterated. "I mean the guy is absolutely remarkable in everything that he does. He's got the skills you look for as a runner. He's an accomplished receiver. He's got the ability to take a short play and make it a long play."

It is that ability to break a play wide open that has the Texans on their heels. On any given play, Tomlinson can bust through the line and take it to the house. Fitting that the man that carries on the legacy of the initials L.T. has that ability.

Lawrence Taylor displayed the same kind of ability on the defense side of the ball – a rarer feat than what Tomlinson displays today. He is determined, as always, to lead the Chargers to greatness.

"You get very concerned about (Tomlinson)," Houston coach Dom Capers said. "He is the kind of player that controls games, you don't control him."

"I think he is the best all-around player in the NFL," Robaire Smith echoed.

Tomlinson, however, is a realist and knows he cannot do it alone.

"A lot of people are probably going to key on me, so it's important that we spread the ball around and get some other people involved," Tomlinson said.

It is vitally important that Drew Brees builds upon a solid preseason and takes the same edge and competitiveness he showed at times into the regular season.

His confidence waned for a game but he came back with a vengeance and has shown signs that he may be a different player than he was in 2003.

For the Chargers to win, he needs to be.

"He is definitely a threat back there," defensive end Gary Walker surprised when he complimented Brees.

Perhaps Brees is a threat but he will need receivers to throw the ball to. Currently, Antonio Gates is the only other player who figures to draw much attention. And he is just a second year tight end with a ton of promise yet unfulfilled.

Eric Parker and Reche Caldwell will line up as the starters and they will face a talented secondary in Houston. This could be the beginning of their resurgence or a sign that they are not ready for prime time.

"They have been very efficient with the first team out there," Capers said.

It is hard to define who in the preseason really is the first team. The unit has not had much time playing together in full. Tomlinson got two carries and his presence will open up lanes. Are the Chargers receivers talented enough to find the open space in the defense and if they do get open – will they catch the ball?

Chargers on Defense:

13 sacks and third in the NFL in stopping the run. Those are the preseason stats for the Chargers defense. Granted, many of those sacks did not come from the first team defense but it still tied for the league lead in that category.

Another intriguing stat from the preseason is the Chargers forced seven fumbles – the same amount they had in all of 2003. The new scheme seems to have paid off. They are far more aggressive than they were a year ago and it has enabled them to create turnovers via the fumble. Yet, they were only able to manage one interception. For such a talented young secondary, that number needs to increase exponentially.

The Texans have been built around youth on offense. David Carr has a nice supporting cast of receivers to throw to and they even sport some deep threats.

The emergence of Domanick Davis in the backfield has made them potentially dangerous. Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards in just ten games last year and could be in line for much more this year with his first full season. He is also a threat as a receiver.

"I knew he was a good player but he's an even better player than I imagined," Schottenheimer said of Davis.

Entering just his second year in the league, it would be easy to take him lightly. But the Bolts have had trouble containing the run and have had even more struggles in covering screens and swing passes.

The new alignment on defense should aid that cause. With an extra linebacker wary of such maneuvers they should sniff out some of those plays that went for long gains. At the same time they will be open for potential problems. Responsibilities are essential and one wrong move by the linebackers could open a pocket that produces big plays.

"The strength of their defense is their linebacking unit," Capers said, also acknowledged each linebacker individually.

With Carr, a former number one overall selection in the draft, emerging as a talent in the league, the Bolts will have their hands full on defense.

"His accuracy improved considerably and I think he's making the right decisions now," Schottenheimer said of the Texans signal caller.

Playing a smart game against the Chargers defense could put Houston, at home, in the advantage. They have the firepower to play with the top echelon of the league and limiting mistakes will be one of their keys.

They defense in San Diego has yet to prove it can capitalize on the big play. They were horrid on third downs a year ago and couldn't seem to get off the field. That has to change this season.

"They may be young but they are moving in the right direction," Carr said of the defense.

Summary:

"They are much improved from the team a year ago," Capers said of the Chargers as a whole.

It kind of makes you wonder who the expansion team truly is.

The Chargers were down by 24 in last year's opener – at halftime. That won't happen this year. They have increased the talent level of their team – first by acquiring players that want to be a part of the rebuilding and also by getting rid of the dead weight.

Will that be enough to put them over the top in close games?

Not likely. Schottenheimer will say they need to learn how to win. Coming off a 4-12 season there is no one on the club who knows how to win NFL games.

The games will be tight and they may pull out a few they shouldn't because of an improved special teams unit, but it wont be enough in the opener. The fans at Reliant Stadium promise to be rowdy and the Chargers don't have the energy to put them over the edge.

Prediction:

Houston 26
Chargers 17

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