Chargers-Vikings Game-day Primer

The Chargers realize Sunday's game against the Vikings could make or break their season. A win puts them two-up in the win column for the first time all season and runs their second-quarter mark to 4-0. A loss drops them back to .500 with a showdown against the Colts on deck. Here's how the Chargers matchup in this pivotal affair.


LaDainian Tomlinson will need an amazing game to top the century mark against a stingy Vikings defense. The Vikings boast one of the top tackle tandems in the league with Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, making big gains up the middle impossible to come by.

Cory Withrow will start at the hub position for the second-straight week. He is familiar with the Williams tandem from his time in Minnesota, where he played for seven seasons (1999-2005). However, that does not give him an advantage. It only gives him first-hand information on the uphill battle awaiting him on Sunday.

Norv Turner will run mostly at the edges of the Vikings defense. The Chargers have a standout isolation blocker in Lorenzo Neal; an outstanding blocking tight end in Brandon Manumaleuna; sound pulling guards in Mike Goff and Kris Dielman; and a tackle in Shane Olivea who excels at collapsing the backside of plays.

The Vikings' defensive ends, Kenechi Udeze and Ray Edwards, love to get upfield. The Chargers will use this to their advantage and run around them once they lose contain. That will put a lot of pressure on Minnesota's outside linebackers, former Charger Ben Leber and 2006 first-round pick Chad Greenway.

The Vikings run defense ranks third in the league, allowing 74.4 yards per game. The Chargers rushing offense ranks No. 12, accumulating 123.4 yards per game. The struggle should be an epic one.

If the Chargers can't get Tomlinson untracked on the ground, look for him to get more chances to catch the ball in space. Tomlinson is on pace to finish the season with his most receptions since 2003, when he had 100 catches.

WR Legedu Naanee
Paul Connors/AP


Philip Rivers attempted 21 or fewer passes in every contest during this three-game win streak. He will have to buck that trend to deliver a win on Sunday. While the Vikings are stifling against the run, they are struggling against the pass. Minnesota's pass defense ranks last in the league, allowing 288.3 yards per game.

The pass defense is only getting worse for the Vikings. Quarterbacks averaged 42 pass attempts and 344 yards against the Vikings in the last four games. Compounding that issue is that Antoine Winfield suffered a hamstring injury this week and is questionable for Sunday's game.

Rivers will make his first career start in a dome but is no stranger to success on the road. Rivers boasts the NFL's fourth-highest road passer rating since the start of the 2006 season (100.6). He has completed 204-of-320 passes (64 percent) for 2,509 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 road games.

The key will be giving Rivers time to throw. The Vikings defense ranks in the top-10 in sacks with 18 on the season. However, the Chargers offensive line has allowed only ten sacks. In the last four games, the line has allowed just two sacks in 92 pass plays.

Although the Chargers will be without two of their projected top-three receivers (Eric Parker is on injured-reserve with a toe injury, Craig Davis will sit with a sprained ankle), Rivers still has plenty of targets who can light up the scoreboard.

Antonio Gates caught his first career touchdown against the Vikings in 2003. He will look to do even more damage in the rematch as he seeks his third-consecutive 100-yard game on the road. He already has 11 100-yard games in his career, second-most by a tight end in franchise history (Kellen Winslow, 26).

It took Chris Chambers just one game to score a touchdown for the Chargers after going scoreless in six starts for the Miami Dolphins. He will be complemented by Vincent Jackson, who looks to bounce back after his first game of the season without a reception.

With Davis out, fellow rookie Legedu Naanee will step in as the slot receiver.

ILB Matt Wilhelm
Doug Pensinger/Getty


The Vikings' running game is similar to that of the Chargers. The Vikes have an otherworldly running back in Adrian Peterson and a dominant left side of the offensive line (LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Matt Birk).

Peterson leads the league in rushing with 740 yards. Not only is he on pace to beat Tomlinson's rookie season numbers, but he is besting the reigning MVP straight up this season. Peterson's six runs of 20-plus yards are the second-best in the league, and his three runs of 40-plus yards are topped by no one.

The Chargers' run defense will get a boost with the return of Jamal Williams. The anchor of the 3-4 defense missed last week's game against the Houston Texans and it showed. The Chargers gave up 115 rushing yards to a Texans team that averages 85 yards per game and was without leading rusher Ahman Green.

The Chargers' run defense ranks No. 7 in the league due in large part to the play of inside linebackers Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm. Cooper averages 7.5 tackles per game. Wilhelm averages more than six per game, not including the game against the Patriots when he was injured on the opening drive.

Igor Olshanksy and Luis Castillo will have to win their battles on the edges and keep containment so that Shawne Merriman and Marques Harris can rush upfield without fear of Peterson running by them.

Shaun Phillips sat Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury before doing light running on Friday. Look for him to sit with Harris stepping into the starting lineup. Carlos Polk then becomes the top backup outside linebacker.

CB Antonio Cromartie
Donald Miralle/Getty


The Chargers get Tarvaris Jackson in his seventh career start and the inexperience is obvious. In his brief stint as a starter, Jackson has thrown for four touchdowns and nine interceptions. Additionally, his average yards per attempt (5.5) does not even rank in the league's top 32.

The Vikings' lackluster passing attack could be in big trouble on Sunday. No. 1 receiver Troy Williamson will miss the game for personal reasons as he handles the funeral arrangements for his grandmother.

Bobby Wade, who leads the team in receptions (23) and yards (272), missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a knee injury. His participation was limited on Friday and he will be a game-time decision.

The Chargers will blitz more than usual against the Vikings. The objective is to fluster the inexperienced Jackson and to force Peterson to stay in to block. The dangerous part of attacking like this is that, if Peterson gets by the first wave of defenders, the second line of defense will be hard-pressed to stop him.

Jackson is sacked once every 14 attempts. Merriman will certainly have his sights set on the second-year quarterback as he seeks his third multi-sack game of the season.

The secondary will look to capitalize on whatever pass rush they can get. The defense intercepted a season-best four passes last week and hopes to keep that momentum snowballing.

Antonio Cromartie has three interceptions, a fumble recovery and two touchdowns in the last two games. He is playing with a ton of confidence and could be a difference-maker on Sunday. Quentin Jammer, who is battling a hamstring injury, will play.

K Nate Kaeding
Joe Robbins/Getty


The Chargers' coverage teams are among the league's best. Opponents' average starting position after kickoffs is inside their own 20-yard line. The punt teams are excelling, too. Following Mike Scifres' five punts last week, the Texans started drives at their own 16, 6, 14, 4 and 1-yard lines.

Peterson will handle kickoff returns without Williamson out. Mewelde Moore will take over as the punt returner if Wade can't go.

Nate Kaeding has made 6-of-8 field goals this season, but his misses have been less costly than last year. In 2006, all three of the Chargers' losses came by three points and Kaeding missed a field goal in each of them. This year, the Chargers are 2-0 when Kaeding misfires.

Darren Sproles ranks in the top-eight in return average on both punts and kickoffs amongst players with more than a dozen returns. He will continue in both roles on Sunday despite pleas for Cromartie to get some touches.

LS David Binn will play in his 215th game as a Charger, extending his own franchise record.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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