The Chargers will make the Saints prove they can do something in which they haven't all year: stop the run.
While giddy about QB Drew Brees' success of late, any Schottenheimer team is still build around a strong running game. And when he has a horse like Tomlinson -- and can point it at a run defense which is ranked No. 29 -- he is going to use him.
The only drawback might be if Tomlinson's groin acts up early in the game. That could force the Chargers to throw more than they might want. But Tomlinson is relatively fit -- especially with a bye week coming up -- and Schottenheimer won't be reluctant to run him early and often at the shaky Saints run defense.
"The most encouraging thing was that even though he has continued to play through this, it has, in fact, improved and not deteriorated," Schottenheimer said of Tomlinson.
The Chargers' pass defense, in particular CB Sammy Davis, vs. the Saints' passing game, led by QB Aaron Brooks and WR Joe Horn, will be a challenge.
Opposing offenses are getting smart, and not trying to force the running game on the Chargers. It is ranked tops in the NFL, and that part of the defense has acquired a taste for the 3-4 alignment much faster than the back end. The numbers are a little askew with teams abandoning the run so early.
A big key is how the Chargers will handle Brooks and Horn. Those two have hooked up for 30 touchdowns since 2000, including four this season. The Saints will try and get Horn matched up on Davis, who is back in the starting role because of Drayton Florence's bum ankle. Davis still has much work to do to prove he was worthy of a first-round selection. But in addition to Horn, Donte Stallworth delivers the big-play capabilities which can't be ignored.
Player of the Week:
The Chargers passing game, led by a resurgent Drew Brees, vs. a woeful Saints pass defense, which is ranked No. 31, is yet another favorable matchup for the Chargers. What's that about striking while the iron is hot?
Nothing and nobody is on fire like Brees, who set a team mark by completing 88 percent of his passes last week in winning Player of the Week honors.
Why not let him keep flinging it, especially with a new target in Keenan McCardell?
The Saints have to stop the run or the pass, but are having a little bit more trouble when the ball is in the air. Still, LDE Charles Grant has 7.5 sacks, and could cause some havoc by upsetting Brees in his timing throws. Grant will square off against rookie RT Shane Olivea, the toughest challenge the rookie has faced to date.
The walking wounded:
Drayton Florence (ankle) missed practice Wednesday and Thursday and will most certainly miss the game on Sunday, allowing Sammy Davis to start.
Jesse Chatman (toe) skipped practice the last two days, but may work on Friday. With Tomlinson ailing, his availability becomes more critical.
Tim Dwight (toe) didn't work Wednesday and Thursday, again. He won't work all week, but will go come Sunday.
Lorenzo Neal (stinger) got rocked pretty good last Sunday. It would be surprising if he didn't play Sunday and he was back in action on Thursday.
LaDainian Tomlinson (groin) has not worked out this week and he may go on Friday. He'll play Sunday.
Carney is the Chargers' all-time leading scorer with 1,076 points and 261 field goals.
Hart has been a pleasant surprise since being signed after his release from the Eagles in September. He has picked up the scheme and coverages quickly, and he picked off his first pass as a Chargers in last week's win over the Raiders.
Hart has already passed Hanik Milligan on the depth chart. It's doubtful he would unseat any of the starters, although he could be making a good case for next year. Hart is in only his second year, while free safety Jerry Wilson is in his ninth.