The Bolts offense is full of potential Pro Bowlers. From the offensive line to the receivers, the running back to the quarterback, everyone is contributing in some fashion.
The key, especially if it begins to rain, will be the running game. A rainy day favors the Saints because of injuries to the Chargers' backs. LaDainian Tomlinson will have a tough time running on soggy ground with his groin injury. It wouldn't surprise if they kept him out entirely if such a scenario pops up.
If the skies remain clear, the Chargers offense may prove the better. They are the equivalent of a firing squad, no one knows who the gunman is but he gets the job done. The arsenal increases from week to week and the Bolts are the top scoring offense in the league.
Quarterback Drew Brees, and not Tomlinson, has been the catalyst. He is the number one rated quarterback at home with a 129.8 rating.
"He's more experienced now," says Tomlinson. "I can say that this is his third year in the system, so he's seen every coverage, every blitz, everything that you can possibly see and as a young quarterback, you're going to go through the rough times and Drew went through his rough times. Now you're seeing him get more mature and experienced and it's helping him out a lot."
In the who would have thunk it category, Brees is second in the league when the team lines up in a three wide receiver set with a 116.6 rating. That is a tribute to the offensive line.
"They're on fire, the quarterback looks great to me; he was 22 of 25 last week," Saints coach Jim Haslett marveled. "They've got two running backs, (LaDainian) Tomlinson might be as good as anyone in the league, if not the best, and that should be a pretty good battle between him and Deuce (McAllister) this week. (Jesse) Chatman is a good player, they've got a couple of guys who are unknown; Eric Parker is a good football player, and everyone knows (Keenan) McCardell. And their line is playing real well, so our defense will have its work cut out for it."
Shane Olivea figures to get the toughest assignment with Charles Grant rushing the passer. Grant is turning into a superstar and has 21.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in his last 28 games. Grant is at the top of his game right now and though Olivea has had success against other talented ends, Grant can be a difference maker.
"He's been a lot more consistent than he has been in the past; he's playing the run extremely well," said Haslett. "I think he's really only played one bad game - for him but, we've got a lot of high expectations of him also. He's a very talented kid and he can get a lot better and better; the sky's the limit with him athletic-wise."
If Brees has time to pass, Gates and McCardell will be the top options. So far, they have proven to be tough to cover.
The goal is the same this week as it was last week. Stop the run. Deuce McAllister is a different breed of runner and the type that has given the Bolts trouble this year. Not only is he fast, but he is a powerful runner that can bust through tackles and get into the secondary. The Chargers have not had an inordinate amount of success against this type of back.
Jamal Williams will be asked to deny McAllister running lanes in the middle of the field. Williams has taken on double teams all year and allowed his linebackers to make plays.
"In a 3-4, you really need a good nose tackle to hold the point," rookie defensive end Igor Olshansky said. "He is the center of this defense."
Odds are McAllister will be asked to run to the outside and the tackling of the linebackers could come into play. The unit has proved to be mobile but they also have over pursued on occasion, especially on Ben Leber's side. That could create gaping holes off-tackle.
"I think that the 3-4 is very difficult to run the ball against because you have a lot more speed in a linebacker type than you do in a defensive lineman type, so I think that a lot of it has to do with being in the 3-4," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "Wade (Phillips) and that defensive staff are doing a terrific job in putting that together."
The secondary will be tested by the one-two punch of Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth. Sammy Davis in particular will be picked on by Aaron Brooks. Davis has played better the last two weeks but Horn and Stallworth also represent the best competition this team has faced arguably all year.
Horn, coincidentally, is tied with Gates for receptions in the NFL and Horn has a game on Gates.
"Joe's been big on third downs, he's been consistently catching the ball and he's working hard," Haslett said.
The confidence factor of Davis could take a severe hit if he is not up to the task on Sunday. Horn poses serious problems for Davis since he is fast, runs crisp routes and takes advantage of the tiniest openings. Matching up with Stallworth could also prove detrimental without help over top. Stallworth can burn rubber and if he overcomes some of the drops he has had the youngster could be a Pro Bowler as well.
"They are good and real quick," Davis said. "It is going to be a challenge for us."
On Special Teams:
"Probably the thing we're doing as well as everybody is in the kicking game," said Schottenheimer. "Our young kickers have preformed well and we've been able to do a pretty good job creating decent field position opportunities."
Schottenheimer offers weekly praise of his kicking game. Nate Kaeding continues to perform well by getting hang time on his kickoffs, if not depth. Rarely is a punter such a stud as Mike Scifres has proven to be. The return game has gotten a couple sparks from Eric Parker and Tim Dwight and is gaining confidence weekly while the coverage team is one of the better ones in the entire NFL.
The Chargers can't afford to look past the Saints as they head into their bye week. The talk around Murphy Canyon centers on their record and playoff aspirations, all great thoughts, but the price of a loss could pummel any notions of the playoffs.
"Guys believe," said Brees. :"It is a win we definitely needed with the bye week coming up. We have New Orleans coming up this week and if we can get this win we go into the bye week at 6-3. Then we go back to Oakland.
"It is nice that we are winning. We have high expectations for the season and hopefully we can achieve those lofty goals."
Talk does not mean they will win this week. They need to back it up with consistent play. Keep the penalties and turnovers down and play some clock control. Schottenheimer has preached all week about the need to stay focused and if they can win this week he may have them poised for a playoff run.
And the veterans want that more than anything.
"Our goal is the playoffs," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "We are looking forward to New Orleans."
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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