Chargers look to bounce back against lowly Cards
The Los Angeles Chargers just couldn’t put away the Denver Broncos last week. Denver hung around long enough to snap the Chargers’ six-game winning streak despite L.A. out-gaining the Broncos 479-325. The reeling Arizona Cardinals will likely need to pull a similar trick to upset the Chargers this week.
Arizona also lost last week on a last-second field goal to the Oakland Raiders, but then the Cardinals have lost to everyone they have played other than going 2-0 against San Francisco this season. Arizona ranks dead last in total offense and rushing offense and second to last in scoring offense and passing offense. So good luck keeping up with Philip Rivers and company.
The Chargers still hold a two-game lead in the race for the top wild-card spot in the AFC, and with a win this week would pull within a game of the idle Chiefs in the AFC West. With a trip to Kansas City still on the schedule, L.A. can still win the division... if it doesn’t stumble again against a team it should beat.
Arizona at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 25 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Chargers -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Old man Rivers
At 37, Rivers is doing more while being asked to do less. Thanks to the Chargers averaging 4.9 yards per carry (fifth in the NFL), Rivers is on pace to attempt just 501 passes, his fewest since 2009. Yet he is still on pace to throw for more than 4,500 yards for the fifth time in his career, and his 23 touchdown passes has him on track for 36, which would be a career high. In fact, Rivers has thrown at least two touchdown passes in every game this season. He is also averaging 9.1 yards per pass attempt, on pace for another career best in a category in which he led the league for three straight seasons (2008-10). Add it all up and his 112.1 passer rating ranks fourth in the NFL and would be another career-high if he can keep it up.
2. Growing pains for Rosen
Arizona rookie quarterback Josh Rosen has not had the help Rivers has around him. The Cardinals rank dead last in yards per rushing attempt despite the presence of David Johnson in the backfield, leaving Rosen to fend for himself in plenty of long-yardage situations. The offensive line hasn’t been any better in pass protection, either, as Rosen has been sacked an average of three times per game in his seven starts. It should come as no surprise then that the rookie has thrown 10 interceptions, including eight in the last four games. But he has also thrown seven of his nine touchdowns over than stretch, so there are flashes of positives. The Cardinals are not lacking for weapons; Johnson is a very good receiver out of the backfield, Larry Fitzgerald is still reliable, and Rosen has quickly clicked with fellow rookie Christian Kirk. But if Arizona can’t protect him, the results will continue to be mixed at best.
3. No fly zone?
If Arizona can slow down Melvin Gordon and Chargers' running game, it can keep this game close thanks to its pass defense. The Cardinals rank fourth in the NFL in passing yards allowed, and no team has allowed fewer passing touchdowns (11). The Cards also rank fourth in sacks with 33, led by Chandler Jones and his 10.5 (third in the NFL). But again, can they stop the run and force the Chargers to pass? Los Angeles has stayed balanced all season, and as a result only three teams have given up fewer sacks.
After letting one slip away last weekend, the Chargers have something at stake in this one despite the mismatch on paper. A win keeps them in the AFC West race and firmly atop the Wild Card standings. A loss brings them back to the pack, not where they want to be after missing the playoffs on a tie-breaker last season.