The Chargers after all these years are still led by Phillip Rivers. Rivers has been strangely under the radar his whole career, always very solid, but never elite. This year is no different as he's putting together a pretty solid year so far, but nothing extraordinary. Rivers did have a very poor offensive line last year that led to an overwhelming abundance of turnovers, so he's prone to have horrific games from time to time. Jackie Battle and Ryan Mathews are the primary ball carriers and they split time in the backfield. Bruising traditional fullback La'Ron McClain typically leads the way for them. This is a traditional I formation offense in that sense, though they pass more than they run and will run multiple receiver sets as well. Robert Meachem has been quiet so far this season making his way back from injury, but you know he's amped to toast the Saints' underperforming secondary. Malcolm Floyd is the other receiver and he currently leads the team in receptions and yards gained. Antonio Gates is still their tight end after all these years but while he's still got skills he's aging. Rivers does do a fantastic job of spreading the football around and keeping most of the playmakers on his offense involved. This offense isn't as good or as scary as it used to be. For starters, the offensive line is still a work in progress and it features no outstanding players. The Chargers' line has held together so far slightly better than last year, but it's still a major liability. As bad as the Saints' pass rush has been, this is team they can get sacks against due to poor pass protection and Rivers' lack of mobility. But it all starts with stopping the run. For this reason, I think the acquisition of Brodrick Bunkley is going to need to bear it's fruits now more than ever. If he can control the line of scrimmage and limit the running game, it forces the Chargers to pass and become more one dimensional. You may call me crazy for saying this, but I genuinely believe this is a team the Saints can generate a pass rush against. The bad news is regardless of whether it's Roman Harper or a linebacker covering Antonio Gates, that's a gross mismatch that doesn't bode well at all for the Saints' defense. Eddie Royal is a speedster playmaker that can't be ignored, either. That said, the Chargers are 24th in total offense at the moment. Capable? Sure, everyone is against the Saints' porous defense. But not as good as they've been in years past by a long shot. The Saints can get some stops against this unit. The Chargers may have a 3-1 record but they've done so with an incredibly soft schedule and a pretty good defense.
The 3-4 base defense of the Chargers so far has been outstanding, but the Saints are arguably the best offense they will face to date with the possible exception of Atlanta. Prior to this they've shut down the Raiders, Chiefs and Titans. When they played the Falcons, the Chargers got blown out in embarrassing fashion. It all starts up front with what is a very stout run defense. You might remember a guy by the name of Aubrayo Franklin that's helped them stuff opposing runners. Youngster Corey Liuget, a guy I wanted the Saints to draft, has also played outstanding against the run. Veteran Takeo Spikes is still playing at a high level and a big part of why they have been so good against the run as well. That said, Spikes is a liability in coverage. The Chargers don't have an elite pass rush by any means and the Saints should be able to buy Brees some time, but Shaun Phillips is the one guy that still gets after it very well and must be accounted for. On the back end Quentin Jammer is still by far their best playmaker and cover man. Antoine Cason gets victimized more but he will make an occassional play, and safety Eric Weddle has good play recognition and while he's not the fastest player in the league he seems to be in the right place at the right time a lot. To me this is a defense that's actually very similar to the Packers in some ways. The Saints can exploit it in similar ways and I think this is a good matchup. That said, blocking well in the passing game and finding Shaun Phillips wherever he's blitzing from is at a premium. Most importantly the Saints need to try to get something going at least a little bit in the run game to keep the Chargers honest.
Nate Kaeding has been an extremely accurate and reliable kicker his whole career, but after spending 2011 on IR he's injured again with a right groin problem. He didn't practice yesterday so this makes it's likely the Chargers will have to go with Nick Novak again this week. Novak filled in for Kaeding last year and he's off to a 3 for 3 start again this year, so the Chargers trust him and there shouldn't be too much of a drop off if any. Punter Mike Scifres, from Metairie, has a huge booming leg but he has been known throughout his career to outkick coverage. Look for Darren Sproles to have some looks at returns if the Saints' defense can actually get a stop. The Chargers use a collection of guys in the return game: Eddie Royal (speed/explosiveness), Michael Spurlock (hands fielding punts inside 20), and Richard Goodman (explosive kick returner). None of the three have been able to do much so far his year. The coverage units for the Chargers has been woefully bad the last couple seasons, so while improving those areas has been an offseason focus, Darren Sproles may get some good looks in this one.