Bolts Geared Up for Road Trip

The ultimate road trip is about to get under way. The Chargers set off for Buffalo for Sunday's game against the 4-1 Bills, then to London to face the Saints the following weekend.

While few teams have ever faced such a daunting double-dip of away games, the Chargers are trying to separate the two.

The London portion will get here when it does -- the current focus is on the Bills, the surprising leaders of the AFC East.

"My biggest concentration is going to be on this week and keeping this week as normal as possible, getting our work done today, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and having great preparation for this football game," coach Norv Turner said.

"We have spent a lot of time planning and we spent this summer and we know exactly what we want to do in terms of after we play Buffalo. Really none of that is a thought for me and I just want to make sure that the things we have to do when you plan to go somewhere for an extended period of time, 11 days, that we don't let those be a distraction for this week. I think our guys will handle anything that they have to handle."


QB Philip Rivers
Lenny Ignelzi/AP

The Chargers were too hot to handle in blasting the Patriots on Sunday night, 30-10. And the hope at Chargers Park is that win will kick start a team that has had a slow start for the second straight year.

At 3-3, the Chargers have fought back to .500 and are only a game behind the AFC West-leading Broncos. A win Sunday in Buffalo, coupled with a Broncos loss at New England, would make for a jolly-good jaunt across the Atlantic.

But that can wait. The Chargers are well-aware of their last road game against an AFC East team -- it resulted in a sloppy 17-10 loss at Miami.

In that game, the Chargers were gashed time and again against the run. They know this Sunday that to stop the Bills, it starts with wrapping their arms around Marshawn Lynch, one of the AFC's better backs -- he runs behind the heaviest offensive line in the NFL.

"Know this: We're going to have to stop the run," Turner said. "We're going to have to work hard to stop the run and defend the run. That will be a big priority going into Buffalo.

"They've got an outstanding offensive line, an outstanding runner. That takes away some of that. You like to get a team in that (one-dimensional) situation. I'm sure they're going to do everything they can to stay out of (that)."

Can the Chargers stay hot? If nothing else, the team is more confident than it has been all season -- beating the Patriots by just a wide margin does that to a team.

But Rivers said the Chargers can't rest on smacking the Pats and forget about what lies ahead.

"We didn't all of the sudden change the season or accomplish something huge by winning that game," he said. "What we did do was give ourselves again a better chance as we move forward to accomplish everything we wanted to. It's obvious the division is going to be up for grabs late in the year but we certainly helped ourselves by winning."

Now, can they win two road games under circumstances that seldom face an NFL squad?

"As far as when you're getting on the plane, you're thinking about a 10-day trip," Rivers said. "You obviously have to separate the games, and I don't think it will be a problem doing that. I think when Buffalo is over and you're getting on that plane, rather than a four-hour flight back home, you've got a four-hour flight to your new seven-day home.

"I think we'll handle it just fine. I think really to me the distraction week is right now. It's getting practice, getting prepared to go and all that. This is the week of preparation that can get you, so I think it's going to be key that we zero in and not worry about when we're leaving Friday and all that.

"We need to treat it like we would if we were going to Miami and coming right back or just a normal week and let everything else take care of itself the following week."

The Chargers hope when they do return, it's with two road wins packed along with the rest of their souvenirs.

SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Chargers lead, 20-9-2, and have won the past two games, three of the last four and six of the last eight. In 2006, the teams squared off in Western New York with the Chargers claiming a 24-21 victory behind the running of LaDainian Tomlinson on a windy and cold day.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Like any good quarterback, Philip Rivers likes tall targets. And he showed why in the win over the Patriots, heaving high passes to Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd with regularity. Now, throw Chris Chambers back into the mix after he missed last week with an injury, and Rivers' eyes light up. "That would be awesome to have those three guys in there together," he said. "Then you throw (Antonio) Gates in that mix too. The four of those guys on the field at the same time, there's no telling. It's just a shame to only have one ball per play with all those guys running down the field. (Malcom's game) was big. I said it early in the week: That was Malcom's kind of game. I felt this was his kind of game because of the off coverage and his size and the way they single receivers up. Malcom has certainly earned everything he's got since he's been here. He's worked at it, so I was happy for him to come out and play the way he did."

--Malcom Floyd had a scoring catch Sunday, his first in nearly two years. His 49-yard reception on the play was a career-long. Philip Rivers got his career off to a good start when hitting Floyd for his first touchdown pass in the NFL in 2004. But Floyd is looking forward, not back. "We have to go out there next game and not dwell on this win," he said.

--Chargers GM A.J. Smith spent 14 years in the Bills' player-personnel department.


RB Michael Bush
Jamie Squire/Getty

--There were reports Smith made a run at Raiders RB Michael Bush before Tuesday's trading deadline.

--CB Quentin Jammer is not letting up after his stellar showing in shutting down the Patriots' Randy Moss; Buffalo's Lee Evans presents quite a challenge as well. "I'm a football player -- I enjoy playing regardless," Jammer said. "I just like getting out there and I feel I can shut anybody in the league down."

--The Chargers delivered a message to the Pats and the rest of the league in the opening minutes of Sunday's game when Rivers went deep on a 48-yard completion to Vincent Jackson. That statement? "That we can start fast," Jackson said, of the notoriously slow starting Chargers. "As much as it caught the other team off guard I think that was more of a message to us. Everyone had been asking the same thing, 'What's wrong with your first halves.' I think the fact that we came out and did that boosted us and put everybody into a great groove."

--Bills C Duke Preston's father, Ray, played linebacker for the Chargers from 1976-84.

--Paper or plastic? The Chargers' linebackers have 10 1/2 of the team's 17 sacks. OLB Marques Harris is looking to get one in his fourth straight game.

--When Vincent Jackson collected 134 yards and a score on his five catches, it marked the most receiving yards by a Charger since David Boston went for 139 against the Bengals on Nov. 23, 2003. "Vincent just keeps growing, growing, growing," coach Norv Turner said. "He's having a great year."

--Just how healthy is LaDainian Tomlinson and his sore big right toe? "I can't really put a percentage on it," he said. "We have two more weeks until the bye week when I can get some rest."

--The Bills will try to make it 3-0 against the Chargers when coming off a bye under coach Dick Jauron. "It's an interesting thing and this is the second (time we've done it)," Turner said. "We played Miami after coming off a bye and they had great preparation for us and they had some things that were very affective. We know Buffalo has had an extra week. They'll be fresh. They'll be ready and we'll have to prepare for any new wrinkles they may present because they've had some extra time."

BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Days the Chargers will be away from San Diego as they travel to Buffalo, then London to face the Saints, on the longest road trip in team history.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't all of the sudden change the season or accomplish something huge by winning that game. What we did do was give ourselves again a better chance as we move forward to accomplish everything we wanted to." -- QB Philip Rivers, on the team's mind-set after beating the Patriots and heading out on the road for two games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The inside linebacker spot has depth and it should be on display in Buffalo. ILB Tim Dobbins is expected to get his second straight start, in place of Matt Wilhelm. Dobbins could see even more action than last week as the Bills will likely lean more on a running game than the Patriots did. But on passing downs, look for Wilhelm to be inserted. But another linebacker, Anthony Waters, was also impressive with his play last week -- albeit at the outside position, although Waters is an inside presence. This unit figures to get stronger with the expected return of OLB Jyles Tucker.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Buster Davis let an opportunity slip away when he wasn't able to go Sunday night with a groin injury. His stock is falling as he continues to be slowed by minor injuries.

--RB Darren Sproles continues to shine on special teams, giving the offense decent field position. With LaDainian Tomlinson's toe feeling better, that will likely limit Sproles' work in the base offense.


LB Derek Smith
Donald Miralle/Getty

--ILB Derek Smith was a starter the first four games with Stephen Cooper out. But now that Cooper is back, Smith has been passed over by others for a backup role and could be a healthy inactive for the second straight week.

--WR Legedu Naanee is versatile and always brings a smile to Norv Turner's eyes with the many ways he can contribute. But Naanee is having a tough time getting an extended look at catching passes - he has but one catch on the year for 6 yards.

--DT Jamal Williams is coming off his best game and seems to have his legs under him again. One can't underestimate how important Williams is anchoring the team's 3-4 alignment. When Williams is a force, he opens tackling lanes for the linebackers.

--LB Brandon Siler continues to make his mark on special teams, where he leads the team with eight tackles. Siler is taking advantage of team's double-teaming Kassim Osgood, a two-time AFC Pro Bowl special-teamer.

GAME PLAN: Defensively, the Chargers are bent on selling out against the run. If they can do that -- slowing down Marshawn Lynch isn't easy -- that could in the end deliver good field position to a revved offense. The thinking is the Chargers' attempt to stop the run is at the best it has been all season, with ILB Stephen Cooper having two games under his belt after his four-game suspension and DT Jamal Williams' knees finally allowing him to dominate in the middle. Tim Dobbins, who starts opposite of Cooper inside, will be making his second start. Add it all up and if the Chargers can slow Lynch and force Trent Edwards into obvious passing situations, the pass rush which has shown up of late could deliver some sacks and/or turnovers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Chargers pass defense, which is coming off a solid game against the Patriots, vs. Bills passing game, which features QB Trent Edwards and WR Lee Evans.

Against the pass, the Chargers are ranked next-to-last. But they also shut down Randy Moss and crew Sunday night and are hoping to ride that momentum into the game against the Bolts. Quentin Jammer had one of his better games of his career and he needs to duplicate against Evans, who is among the NFL's best at stretching a field. Evans' 27-yard per catch average is second in the league. Plus Evans could be more effective with the return of Edwards from a concussion. Evans already has seven catches of at least 25 yards this year, which means the corners must be stout but also that they will need help over the top from safeties Clinton Hart and Eric Weddle to contain Evans. Weddle is a little banged-up with a bum shoulder and Hart broke his hand last month and is playing on. But all eyes will be on Jammer and CB Antonio Cromartie as they try and limit the damage Evans does.

Chargers running game, with a resurgent LaDainian Tomlinson, vs. Bills run defense that is ranked 18th in the league.

Tomlinson has rushed for 100 yards but once this season, slowed by a sprained big toe. And while he didn't reach the century mark in the last game, he did show a burst and quickness which has been missing of late. In that he was able to carry the ball 20 times and still feel good after the game tells a lot about his injury. But he will face a revamped run defense that was shored up by adding DT Marcus Stroud, LB Kawika Mitchell and DT Spencer Johnson. The run-blocking for the Chargers opened some decent holes against the Pats and appears to be back on track. One thing worth watching is the health of FB Mike Tolbert who is nursing a sprained ankle. Although in Norv Turner's offense, the fullback role is often minimized.

--Chargers passing game, with WR Chris Chambers returning vs. a Bills secondary that is battling injuries.

QB Philip Rivers was dynamite in his late game, and that was minus Chambers -- he was out with a sore ankle. But he is expected to play in Buffalo, giving Rivers yet one more weapon to utilize. Chambers' contributions -- especially on touchdown passes -- is a constant and now Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd are riding a wave of confidence after stepping up with Chambers down last week. Buffalo CB Terrence McGee suffered a knee injury in the Bills' last game and his availability for Sunday is to be determined. Even if he plays, the Chargers will still attack him with the threesome of Chambers, Jackson and Floyd --especially with the downfield routes after completing three passes for at least 40 yards against the Pats. Not only McGee hurting, but hard-hitting S Ko Simpson is nursing a tender hamstring. Further, Buffalo's beast of a pass-rusher, Aaron Schobel, has a foot injury which could limit how much pressure he can place on Rivers. If Rivers has the required time -- like he did in the last game -- he can wait for his receivers to complete their double-moves or get deep on the streak patterns for some big gains.

INJURY IMPACT

--OLB Jyles Tucker (hamstring) is likely going to start Sunday, but his leg is worth watching when it becomes fatigued. Marques Harris could play more than usual to keep Tucker fresh.

--FS Eric Weddle has a sore shoulder, which could limit his physical play when contributing on run support. Weddle had an MRI on his shoulder Monday after hurting it Sunday and he could wear a shoulder harness against Buffalo.

--RB Darren Sproles (ankle) is bouncing back and will play Sunday. If he aggravates his ankle, Antonio Cromartie and/or Cletis Gordon could replace him bringing back punts and kickoffs.

--DT Jamal Williams (knees) will play Sunday.

--FB Mike Tolbert is still nursing a sore ankle, but he'll play on Sunday.

--DE Luis Castillo has a strained biceps but he's a go for Sunday.


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