Rival Report: Chargers

The Vikings travel to San Diego to take on a team with far more questions than answers, just as it has far more losses than wins. Get the lowdown on the current state of the Chargers.

The Chargers turn the corner on their second half Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at Qualcomm Stadium. They do so by wearing an expression that screams: "What happened?"

This after entering the season with high hopes, with talk of reaching the playoffs, with whispers of mentioning Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and David Boston in the same breath as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

Instead, the team has been a Texas-sized disappointment.

Marty Schottenheimer's "damn good football team," has become a damned mess. General manager A. J. Smith's "push year" has transformed into him being possibly pushed out the door, if things are righted quickly.

While others look at the Chargers and figured them as a lost cause — they're right. But there's more to be determined than just how fast they can pack after the season-closing game against the Raiders.

Is Brees really the quarterback of the future, after getting yanked for backup Doug Flutie in last week's loss at Chicago?

Is Schottenheimer, the NFL's winningest coach, the right man for this team?

Is Smith, in his rookie year as a general manager after being the longtime right-hand man for the late John Butler, to blame?

What's with the coordinators, Cam Cameron (offense) and Dale Lindsey (defense)? They had never held such positions until being hired by Schottenheimer in 2002. Can they survive what could be some kind of coaching staff/executive staff housecleaning, something that always seems to follow a terrible season like this?

The Chargers have eight games to answer these and other questions. The answers might not be rosy considering among the final eight rivals are the Vikings, Packers, Chiefs and Broncos.

While this season may have circled the drain long ago, future decisions will be based on what happens these final two months. The talk is often that players are playing for next year. In the Chargers' case, that is true — but it also pertains to coaches and executives.

SERIES HISTORY: 5th meeting. The San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings have split the four previous games. But this is the first time since 1984 the Vikings have traveled to San Diego; the Vikings have swept the previous three games, all of which were in Minnesota. In the latest loss, 35-27, in 1999, Cris Carter (136) and Randy Moss (127) both had 100-yard receiving days.


NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
  • The Chargers have gone seven weeks between home games, the longest stretch since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Since losing to the Ravens on Sept. 21, the Chargers have played at Oakland, Jacksonville, had a bye, Cleveland at Arizona — the Monday night game with the Dolphins which was switched because of the wildfires.

  • Kudos to the Chargers for taking care of one of their own. John Hinek, the team's longtime business manager, lost his home in the San Diego fires. The day it burnt down, he had to make plans for the Chargers' trip to Arizona for the Dolphins game. On the way over, the players kicked in their per diem for Hinek.

  • George O'Leary, the Vikings' defensive coordinator, was with the Chargers from 1992-93 as their linebackers coach.

  • The Chargers have lost 14 of their past 17 games. A loss Sunday would ice their eight straight, non-winning season.

  • The Vikings have won five straight on the road.

  • Vikings LB coach Brian Baker got his first NFL job with the Chargers in 1996, when hired by Bobby Ross as the defensive line coach.

  • Kevin Ross, no relation, is the Vikings' assistant secondary coach. He was a Chargers DB in 1996.

  • Doug Flutie just shrugged when asked if he would be starting Sunday: "I just work here."

  • It's alumni weekend at the game, with numerous ex-Chargers being on hand. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the team's only championship, when beating the Boston Patriots for the AFL title.

  • Drew Brees has seven touchdown passes and an AFC-high 12 interceptions.

  • Marcellus Wiley was quite outspoken about the need to replace Brees with Flutie. No one asked Wiley about having but one sack in eight games.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 56,847 — Number of career professional passing yards for Doug Flutie.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was going to saying I wasn't going to be evasive, but I am." — Coach Marty Schottenheimer, as he declined to name Sunday's starting quarterback.


    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    One wonders if defensive tackle Jamal Williams, the team's best run-stuffer, is hurt more than the team is letting on.

    Williams strained a calf in Sunday's loss at Chicago, and is listed as questionable for Sunday. But he didn't work on Wednesday, and the Chargers made a roster move which might have tipped their hand.

    Defensive tackle Clinton Ballard was added to the practice squad; the team let defensive end Omari Hand go. If Williams is slow to recover, Ballard, 6-3, 308-pounder, could be added to the regular roster. If nothing else, Joe Salave'a, another big body at 310 pounds, will see more playing time.

    How the Chargers shore up the run defense could be critical, especially if Michael Bennett returns to form.


    PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES
  • WR Eric Parker (shoulder) was placed on IR. That might mean more time for rookie Kassim Osgood; he's yet to prove himself this year in limited action.

  • WR Micah Ross, a third-year pro, takes Parker's place on the roster. Ross hasn't caught a pass in 22 games with the Jaguars. It's doubtful he could be brought up to speed quick enough to play Sunday.

  • Rookie S Terrence Kiel continues to see more action in the passing packages.

    GAME PLAN: Despite their horrendous record, the Chargers have the personnel to possibly defeat the Vikings. Or rather, the person: RB LaDainian Tomlinson. The Vikings defense traditionally struggles against power backs and players with good cutback ability, traits Tomlinson has in spades.

    If Flutie plays, his height will come in to play. Many of the Vikings' 18 interceptions this season were the result of their defensive linemen getting their hands up when quarterbacks throw. The diminutive Flutie will likely be asked to bootleg and rollout on most pass attempts, playing to his strength and to a Vikings weakness.


    INJURY IMPACT: C Jason Ball (ankle) didn't practice and doesn't look like a go for the third straight week. Veteran Cory Raymer replaces him.

  • RT Solomon Page (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday, but he might go later in the week. If he can't go, rookie Courtney Van Buren would play.

  • DT Jamal Williams (calf) didn't practice and seems 50-50 for Sunday.

  • TE Stephen Alexander (groin) took some snaps; he's still a week away.

  • S Vernon Fox (groin) is fine.

  • WR Reche Caldwell (concussion) is fine. He'll be asked to contribute more with Eric Parker being put on IR. He's still not in game shape, after returning briefly last Sunday after being out since Week 2 with a dislocated wrist.







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