Calm before the storm

On paper, the San Diego Chargers are the dominant team in this weekend's matchup. But the Saints are a team that has never quite played up to the expectations and can be a scary opponent on any given Sunday.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/07/04
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, J.C. Pearson
2004 RANKINGS: Saints: offense 16th (26th rush, 11th pass); defense 31st (29th rush, 31st pass). Chargers: offense 13th (9th rush, 20th pass); defense 14th (1st rush, 28th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Saints RB Deuce McAllister is hoping to rebound coming out of the bye week now that he doesn't have to wear the bulky brace he had sported since returning from an ankle injury. Still, the Chargers have the league's top-ranked run defense and their 3-4 alignment will test the Saints' blocking schemes. San Diego's weakness is a secondary vulnerable to big plays that could be without CB Drayton Florence. The Chargers are the league's highest-scoring team and bring balance the Saints might struggle with. WR Keenan McCardell has made an immediate impact, and TE Antonio Gates has a league-high 18 third-down receptions. The Saints have to contain RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who has a tender groin, and turn DEs Charles Grant and Darren Howard loose to pressure QB Drew Brees.

FAST FACTS: Saints: WR Joe Horn is on pace for 107 receptions. He has never had a 100-catch season. ... McAllister, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry entering the season, is averaging 3.4 this season. ... Grant has 24.5 sacks in his last 28 games. Chargers: Lead series 6-2. ... Have scored 31 points off turnovers in their five victories.

PREDICTION: Chargers 27-24

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Chargers:

Cornerback Sammy Davis is going to try to make it three games in a row.

The struggling Davis, who temporarily lost his job to Drayton Florence, will try to build on two decent performances when the Chargers take on the Saints on Sunday.

Davis has eight tackles and an interception in his last two outings. With Florence unable to practice and looking very doubtful for Sunday, Davis will again be in the line of fire.

"I think I have been doing pretty good," said Davis, a former first-round pick. "I just try to get better each week and each game."

The Saints will undoubtedly try to match up wide receiver Joe Horn, a three-time Pro Bowler who's fourth in the NFL with 47 catches for 570 yards and four touchdowns.

Saints:

Saints defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan has been in the coaching staff's doghouse since reporting to training camp overweight and out of shape in late July.

The sixth overall pick in the 2003 draft lost his starting job, has been relegated to practicing with the scout squad and even watched the team's entire last game from the sidelines. All of which left many to wonder if he's nothing more than a bust who cost the Saints two first-round draft picks.

But the former standout for the Georgia Bulldogs emphatically showed his teeth Wednesday, proving that he's got some fight in him -- literally and figuratively.

Saints coach Jim Haslett said Sullivan responded with some good practices when workouts resumed Tuesday after a bye week. His comments came just a few minutes after Sullivan and starting right tackle Victor Riley mixed it up on the practice field before teammate quickly separated them.

"Johnathan has actually practiced well the past couple of days," Haslett said. "He's really picked up the tempo the past couple of days, and I think it's good."

Sullivan certainly opened some eyes when he got a strong pass rush on Riley in team drills and Riley took exception to it. While Haslett said he doesn't like his players to fight, he seemed pleased that Sullivan showed a mean streak.

"He's just doing what we told him to do," Haslett said of Sullivan. "He's practicing hard and got a good rush on Victor. That's something Victor has to deal with. But I want our guys to practice hard, especially (Sullivan).

"I think he's got a little bit of laziness to him that he's finally getting over. I think he has finally lit a fire under himself, and that's what it's going to take for home to be a good player."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Chargers:
-- Don't look for Adrian Dingle to be active on Sunday, as his knee is still causing problems. Jacques Cesaire would replace him.
-- Backup S Clinton Hart could see the field more, especially in dime situations.
-- CB Drayton Florence (ankle) missed practice all week and he's not expected to go this weekend.
-- RB Jesse Chatman (toe) continues to log miles on the stationary bike. He'll take a shot and play on Sunday.
-- WR Tim Dwight (toe) didn't practice Thursday, and was on the bike on Friday. He'll go on Sunday, just like every week.
-- RB LaDainian Tomlinson (groin) was back in action on Friday. He was happy with his progress this week and will go on Sunday.

Saints:

--RDE Darren Howard, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 18, was able to practice Wednesday and Thursday.
However, Howard remained questionable for Sunday's game with the San Diego Chargers and coach Jim Haslett said after practice Thursday that he won't decide if Howard will play until Saturday.
--TE Boo Williams tested his strained hamstring on Thursday, but no decision has been made on if he'll be available for Sunday's game.
Williams, who has been the team's third tight end the last couple of games, is officially listed as questionable for the Chargers.
--MLB Courtney Watson, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee during the team's bye week to remove fluid and clean out the joint, was limited this week and is questionable for Sunday's game.
--RCB Ashley Ambrose missed the team's last game because of a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, returned to practice this week and is listed as probable for the Chargers.
--CB Fred Thomas, who has been slowed by injuries to his foot, shoulder and ribs, benefited from a bye week and will be ready for Sunday's game with the Chargers.


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