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NFL Preview - San Diego (2-3) at St. Louis (2-3)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It is still October, so that must mean the San Diego Chargers are struggling again.
Off to their fourth straight 2-3 start, the Chargers will try to avoid losing on consecutive weeks for the first time since 2008 when they battle the St. Louis Rams Sunday at Edward Jones Dome.
Notorious for slow starts under head coach Norv Turner, the Chargers have dropped all three of their road games so far this year while picking up home wins over Jacksonville (Week 2) and Arizona (Week 4). This past Sunday saw San Diego fall 35-27 to the Oakland Raiders, who blocked a pair of Charger punts and snapped a 13-game series losing streak.
"We came in here and dug ourselves a hole," said Turner. "I thought we did a good job throughout the second quarter of getting out of it. It was a back- and-forth game. [The Raiders] made a number of plays. They were able to drive the ball and control the clock in the second half."
San Diego will now try to avoid losing on two straight weekends for the first time since a three-game slide from Nov. 16-30, 2008. The Chargers sandwiched a pair of losses around a bye week a season ago.
History is on San Diego's side, as the club has won its sixth game in each of the previous three seasons.
The Rams will hope to alter that trend on Sunday, one week after getting hammered, 44-6, at Detroit. St. Louis allowed three passing touchdowns, gave up a score on a kick return and also saw Detroit return an interception for a touchdown.
"All three phases had a hand in the disappointment in getting beat, and usually when that happens in all three phases, the score gets lopsided and it was," said Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
The Rams had won two straight prior to the setback, but have now lost 11 of their last 13 games overall.
St. Louis also lost dependable receiver Mark Clayton in the game due to a knee injury that will end his season. Clayton now joins fellow wideout Donnie Avery (knee) on injured reserve.
While Clayton's injury shakes up the Rams' passing game, the Chargers have also made some roster moves prior to this contest. While former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Marcus McNeill could make his season debut this weekend, linebacker Shawne Merriman was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday.
Merriman, who missed a pair of games this year, was placed on IR with a minor- injury designation. That means that when the team and Merriman agree he is recovered from a bothersome calf issue, he will be released and will be able to sign with any team as a free agent.
After tallying 39 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons, the former Pro Bowl selection has had just four since.
The Chargers replaced Merriman on the roster by signing linebacker Antwan Barnes on Wednesday.
McNeill, meanwhile, didn't sine his one-year tender with the Chargers until Sept. 25 and was on the roster-exempt list for the last three games. He could start in this contest after signing a five-year contract extension on Wednesday.
The Rams hold a 5-4 edge in their all-time series with the Chargers, but were 38-24 road losers when the teams last met, during the 2006 season. St. Louis won the previous two meetings, including a 28-24 triumph when the teams last met in the Gateway City, in 2002. The Chargers are 0-2 against the Rams in St. Louis all-time, with their last road win in the series coming at the then-Los Angeles Rams in 1991. San Diego is 0-3 in St. Louis all-time, including a loss to the Cardinals there in 1983.
Turner is 4-1 in his career against the Rams, with each of those contests coming during his tenure with the Redskins (1994-2000). Turner's final win as head coach of the Redskins came against the Rams on Nov. 20, 2000. Turner was an assistant with the L.A. Rams from 1985 through 1990. Spagnuolo will be meeting both Turner and the Chargers for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
Offense is not what is holding the Chargers back. They currently rank second in scoring (28.0 points per game) while also posting the NFL's best total offense (461.8 yards per game) and passing attack (337.8 ypg). Quarterback Philip Rivers surpassed the 400-yard passing mark for the second time this season -- both losses -- with 431 yards versus the Raiders. Rivers (1759 passing yards, 11 TD, 4 INT) completed 27-of-42 attempts and completed a pair of touchdown throws without an interception for a second straight week as the Chargers racked up 506 yards of offense versus the Raiders. Wide receiver Malcom Floyd (22 receptions, 3 TD) had a career day with eight catches for a personal-best 213 yards. He also hauled in a scoring pass, as did tight end Antonio Gates (29 receptions, 7 TD). Gates has caught a touchdown in nine straight games, the longest such streak in NFL history by a tight end and even with Lance Alworth (1963) for the longest run in team history. Gates ended with five receptions for 92 yards, but wideout Legedu Naanee (11 receptions, 1 TD) was held without a catch. Running back Mike Tolbert (292 rushing yards, 4 TD) carried the ball a team-high 12 times for just 11 yards, while rookie Ryan Mathews (218 rushing yards, 1 TD) had 59 yards on nine attempts. San Diego is 12th overall with 124.0 yards per game on the ground.
Despite getting tagged last week by the Lions, the Rams still rank 11th in scoring defense at 19.2 points per game allowed. The defense was on the field for three touchdowns and three field goals a week ago, while the special teams unit allowed a 105-yard kickoff return for a score early in the second quarter. In all, St. Louis gave up 322 total yards of offense and 233 yards through the air. That isn't surprising, given that the club ranks 20th (342.0 ypg) in total defense and 22nd against the pass (231.2 ypg). Corners Ron Bartell (13 tackles) and Bradley Fletcher (23 tackles, 2 INT) figure to have their work cut out for them, while the rest of the Rams' defense, including middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (33 tackles, 1 sack) and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (25 tackles), will need to account for Gates. Pressure by the front four would help, though end James Hall (16 tackles, 4 sacks) was held without a sack for only the first time in four games last weekend. Hall also has three forced fumbles over his last four games, while end George Selvie (9 tackles, 2 sacks) had the club's lone sack last weekend. Laurinaitis led the club with seven tackles, while Atogwe and Fletcher had six each.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford (1159 passing yards, 6 TD, 8 INT) had a rough go of it versus Detroit, throwing for 215 yards on 23-of-45 passing while getting picked off twice. The top pick of the 2010 draft also failed to connect on a touchdown pass for the first time in his five NFL starts. St. Louis ranks 27th in scoring (16.6 ppg) and 20th in total offense (318.0 ypg) and things don't figure to be an easier without Clayton, who led the club with 306 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 23 grabs. Without Clayton, Laurent Robinson (5 receptions, 1 TD), who missed the last two games due to injury before making one catch for 11 yards against Detroit, could see a bigger role, as could Brandon Gibson (8 receptions, 1 TD) and Mardy Gilyard. Danny Amendola (33 receptions, 0 TD) stepped up after Clayton's injury with a career-high 12 catches for 95 yards. Showing little sign of a groin injury that hampered him two weeks ago, running back Steven Jackson (398 rushing yards, 1 TD) ran for 114 yards on 25 attempts and became the second player in team history -- along with Eric Dickerson -- to run for over 7,000 yards in their Rams career. Tight end Daniel Fells (14 receptions, 1 TD) had three or more catches for a third straight game.
Though the Chargers are one of the top defenses in the league, they rank just 20th in scoring at 21.2 points per game allowed. San Diego held Oakland to just 279 yards of offense, but blocked kicks and turnovers helped the Raiders put up points. Still, the Chargers are the second-ranked defense in the NFL (246.2 ypg) and are holding teams to just 159.8 yards per game through the air. Antwan Applewhite (11 tackles, 1 sack) has started the last two games in place of outside linebacker Merriman, but made just one tackle last weekend. Strong safety Paul Oliver (17 tackles) led the way with eight tackles against Oakland and linebacker Kevin Burnett (29 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT) added five. San Diego was able to record three sacks versus the Raiders, getting two from Burnett and one by linebacker Stephen Cooper (12 tackles, 1 sack). Burnett has posted a pair of sacks in two straight games and has never faced the Rams before. San Diego will look to force Bradford into making some mistakes after failing to come away with an interception last weekend. The Chargers picked off a pair of passes in their Week 4 game versus Arizona and have seven as a team this year. Cornerback Antoine Cason (21 tackles) leads the way with two.
San Diego's offense features a plethora of fantasy starters, including Rivers, Floyd and Gates. Things are a little less certain in the running game, as the Chargers are working Mathews back from a previously sprained ankle. Though points are never a problem with San Diego's offense, split duty between Mathews and Tolbert lowers both of their values significantly. Mathews can make plays, he just needs the opportunity. The Chargers defense is an excellent play this weekend given its matchup with a rookie quarterback.
While Bradford is showing signs he can be a solid NFL starter, he hasn't reached the must-start fantasy level. The loss of Clayton doesn't help his case, nor does his inability to rack up yards or make big plays. Amendola is the St. Louis receiver to start, though it is uncertain who will take over Clayton's catches. Jackson's groin is no longer a concern, but the Chargers' run defense is. He could be in for a long day this Sunday and it might not see much production. Avoid St. Louis' defense.
This is around the time the Chargers start to get going, and a matchup against the still-rebuilding Rams comes at a great time. St. Louis was dealt a reality check last weekend and should come into this game more focused, but that might not matter given the opponent. San Diego is the better team on both sides of the ball and even though it has struggled on the road this year, the club should have more than enough firepower to down St. Louis. The Chargers will use the Edward Jones Dome as a gateway to their usual midseason hot streak.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 31, Rams 13
10/14 16:41:57 ET