Trouble spot: San Diego puts a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and it comes from all over. Rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman leads the team with seven sacks, but 14 other Chargers have recorded sacks as well. The Redskins, as a team, have 15 sacks total. Washington also has struggled to protect against good pass-rushing teams or in obvious pass situations. They must be vastly improved this week or else.
Reason for hope: Any team can win at home in the NFL. The Redskins have played well against good teams, with the exception of the loss at New York. But they've been nearly even with Denver, Kansas City and Tampa Bay and have beaten Dallas and Seattle. That's not bad. So they've shown they can hang with the big boys. San Diego's secondary isn't the best and the health of All-World tight end Antonio Gates is a factor. Washington has resilient players, but that mindset will be tested this week.
Then again: The Chargers pose numerous problems. They play physical up front, making it difficult for Clinton Portis to find holes. They have a balanced offensive attack thanks to running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Drew Brees, and they're a desperate team. The Chargers can't afford many more screwups the rest of the season. A tough schedule has them at 6-4, but 10-6 might not be good enough to get them into the postseason.
Need to find: Another receiver. That means you, Taylor Jacobs. The Redskins can't survive with one good receiver and a bunch of mediocre one's. To do so they'd need to make more plays in the running game and they don't. We've heard how talented Jacobs is from teammates and coaches. Now, three years into his career, let's see it. He does care and he does work hard, but he's so soft spoken at times that you wonder about his confidence level. But the Redskins need him; David Patten wasn't getting it done as the No. 2 wideout, either. It's clear that defenses respect only one receiver on the roster and that's Santana Moss. This had better be a top offseason priority.
QB Development: Remember when Patrick Ramsey was supposed to be this year's Drew Brees? Or, at least, was hoping to be? Didn't work out that way. But Brees has the QB intangible that Ramsey lacks. Brees is so good at knowing when to throw the ball it compensates for any weaknesses in arm strength. He's great at keeping his eyes downfield in the face of a rush. And he's highly accurate. Brees completes 66 percent of his passes, but don't think he just throws short: his yards per attempt are second highest in the league, too.
All World: Tomlinson is the best back Washington will face this season. They've done a good job of stopping the run, even with Cornelius Griffin out. But the tendency has been to stop it in spurts. Tomlinson is a patient runner, willing to grind it out until he cracks through an opening. The Redskins ends -- actually the run support in general -- has done a nice job pinching the outside. And the linebackers have done well flowing to the ball, especially Lemar Marshall of late. Marshall has taken better angles to the ball and is tackling a little lower and therefore better. Too often early in the season he'd try to tackle at the shoulders and miss.
Unsung: Watch out for fullback Lorenzo Neal, who is the best blocking back in the league. It poses a different problem for the Redskins because they haven't faced someone like this. Not that San Diego can't be stopped, but it does make things more difficult.
Coming around: Rush end Chris Clemons is applying more pressure of late because he's developing deeper knowledge about the position. Give the kid credit. For instance, Clemons is better at reading the hands of the offensive tackles. He knows if the hands are too low, his speed rush to the outside will kill them. And he knows if they're too high, then the lineman is off-balance. Little things like that have helped him grow. The Redskins would like to see more of that growth this weekend. If Brees has time to throw, he'll have a ton of success.
Big game: The Redskins could use a huge game from safety Sean Taylor. I wonder how much his injured ankle has affected his play this season because he hasn't made many big plays. Those big hits he's had haven't produced turnovers, either. They're just big hits. Dallas' Roy Williams seems to jar the ball free on those hits. Taylor seems to still run pretty well, but they're holding him out of practice for a reason. And this week they need strong safety play, to help against Gates and to prevent Tomlinson from a huge game. I'll say this about Taylor: he's starting to feel more relaxed, at least among the media. In truth, who cares. His job is to make plays not to get chummy with the press. But sometimes it's a sign of somebody just getting more relaxed. And relaxed players make more plays.
Welcome back: Marty Schottenheimer. He still has fans on the team, including Jon Jansen and LaVar Arrington, both of whom thought the Redskins were headed in the right direction when he was fired. But it was never about his coaching, it was about control of the organization. It was a bad marriage from the start -- Marty needed to keep the owner more informed of the goings-on; the owner needed to realize he couldn't accede so much power. Both sides should have realized going in it wouldn't work. If you have to ask for all the power from an owner who wants it, guess what's going to happen? Joe Gibbs has succeeded in having all the power because he does keep Dan Snyder informed. Gibbs is masterful at making others in the organization feel like they have a big role, even as it shrinks (see Cerrato, Vinny). Personally, I enjoyed Schottenheimer because, unlike Norv Turner, he was fair in his access with reporters. Turner played favorites and was insecure. I hated his constant excuse-making, something Schottenheimer never did. I also put no stock in Darrell Green's or Bruce Smith's complaints about him; both had selfish reasons -- they knew they'd be cut if Schottenheimer returned. They were in a distinct minority when it came to the complaints. That said, Schottenheimer could be easily caught in fibs -- lying at times for no reason whatsoever. In the end, this was a bad fit. Schottenheimer did a good job managing the cap, removing the Redskins from their mess of the 2000 offseason. That's his legacy.
Prediction: I'd like to pick the Redskins because who the heck doesn't want to watch big games in December? After 12 years on the beat, I've seen a few meaningful games in that month. But when looking at this matchup on paper, it's extremely difficult to predict a win other than to say, 'Hey, you never know.' You're right, you never do know. And, after all, this is San Diego's fourth East Coast trip this season; maybe they're wearing down. It doesn't look like it. So there's no way I'm going against the Chargers. They're simply a better team. Chargers 27, Redskins 14.