Chargers Game Day Primer: Jacksonville

There is a maturation finally happening on the Chargers offense. They are leaning on two receivers – besides their star running back. On defense they are defending the run and hope the pass defense will catch up. Two young special teams kickers are performing as veterans. And now they face the 3-1 Jaguars.

Last year the Chargers were losers of the fifth straight game to open the year against Jacksonville. After another round of wholesale changes, they meet again on Sunday.

"We were fragile emotionally," quarterback Drew Brees said of the 2003 season. "Guys, maybe, started turning on one another. Fingers were starting to be pointed and that is not the case this year.

"It's a different team. It's a different attitude."

On offense:

The Jaguars defense is a force that coach Marty Schottenheimer has proclaimed as the best they have faced to date. That kind of pressure and label could make the Chargers offense hesitant.

Schottenheimer has said he will not forego LaDainian Tomlinson. In last year's matchup, Tomlinson had one of those rare games where he was a non-factor. This year the promise is to see Tomlinson carry the rock for all four quarters.

Tomlinson has that rare ability to break one against any defense – no matter what is thrown at him. It has been one tackle breaking side-step from happening. It won't last much longer – and this is the week he wants to see it.

"They will present a good challenge for us," Tomlinson said. "They are a very disciplined in their assignments."

The Chargers will have to be equally disciplined. The offensive line, with Jason Ball manning center, must know where there help is against the big boys up front.

"You just have to have communication with the guys playing next to you," Roman Oben said.

The Chargers would like to run outside, specifically to the left where Toniu Fonoti can turn the blocks inside and seal the bodies inside from getting through.

The Chargers also want to target Reche Caldwell against the Jags secondary.

Reche is taking his game to a new level," Brees said. "We are relying on him to carry a lot of the weight on offense. Reche Caldwell is a big part of our offense and he knows that. He is stepping up to the challenge."

There is also talk that Kassim Osgood could get an expanded role with Eric Parker faltering as a starter.

"We think we have pretty good receivers," Schottenheimer said. "They are guys that fit certain roles."

Unfortunately, the roles they are playing a big part in is contained to special teams. While Caldwell and Antonio Gates have 37 receptions between them, Parker, Tim Dwight, Osgood and Justin Peelle have just nine receptions combined.

Someone needs to step up.

On defense:

The Chargers will again focus on the run. They have been able to stone the past two teams they have played and figure it gives them the best chance to win, especially when they can't stop the pass no matter how you slice it.

The running game is a little bit different than they have faced in the past. They have faced zone blocking and power blocking but against the Jags they will see a different game.

"They try and change you up with personnel," linebacker Donnie Edwards explains. "Not so much with formations and run the ball – all over the place. You really don't know what play to expect when they change personnel so much."

The Chargers defense will therefore be forced to recognize the play early and work towards swarming the ball. The swarm is something the Chargers have been aspiring to do all year.

"From day one, we've been trying to get the second and third guys to go to the ball," linebacker Ben Leber said.

The secondary will again be under fire. They have allowed a league high 70.9 completion percentage and are third worst in the league in yards allowed per game at 258. They are on pace to allow 24 touchdowns through the air, far less than the 36 they gave up last year but the yards are still high.

"If you are not quite sure what you are doing…," Schottenheimer said with a hint of frustration. "Not just the secondary quite frankly."

The linebackers have been a problem in covering the shorter passes. It is one of the known flaws of the 3-4 defense. New England proved it a few years back when they decimated Pittsburgh with short passes – over and over again.

With defensive ends being converted to linebacker, the adjustment to dropping back into coverage on a regular basis has to be refined.

"That is something I had to deal with when I came out," Steve Foley said. "I was a defensive end. It is tough. It is hard I know."

The Jaguars will try and setup the deep ball by laying some dumpoffs to their talented running back, Fred Taylor.

The Chargers can't allow 38 completions again. They will need to play close to their receivers and chance the deep ball.

The plan is simple:

"Play physical and try and get a victory this week," Shaun Phillips said.

On Special Teams:

Youth versus youth.

Each team rolls out a rookie placekicker. Nate Kaeding is a perfect 5-for-5 with a long of 51 and Josh Scobee, replacing the injured Seth Marler, is 5-for-6. With the game on the line, the money is on Kaeding to pull through. He has the storied past and has the added pressure of being a third round pick – what some called a waste and we called a gem.

Mike Scifres has proved to be a weapon as a punter. Only five of his 18 punts have been returned. That 28 percent of returned kicks is the lowest total in the league.

Fearless prediction:

Jaguars 23
Chargers 17

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