(San Diego): QB Phillip Rivers - Most of the blame this year for the Chargers struggles offensively has been unfairly put on the shoulders of Rivers. Granted he has not performed consistently as we are accustomed to seeing, but key teammates around him have been in and out of the lineup with various injuries all season. Rivers is completing 61% of his passes, has passed for over 2,700 yards, and thrown 13 tds which is not bad. The area of concern is his turnovers (has thrown 15 ints.) especially in key situations. Team chemistry is a big part of any unit of a football team. It seems that Rivers is missing that with the departure of offensive assistant, Rob Chudzinski, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Rivers needs to protect the ball better and make plays in this game for the Chargers to have the chance at victory in Chicago.
(Chicago): RB Matt Forte - Mr. Versatility does it all for the Bears. He leads the NFL with yards per game from scrimmage at 145.3. He can run the ball between the tackles and get the tough yards, can bounce it outside and has enough speed and elusiveness to take it the distance, and can run pass routes out of the backfield like a wide receiver. He leads the Bears in several offensive categories: rushing yards(869), receptions(42), receiving yards(439), and tds(4). He will be facing a Chargers defense who has been vulnerable against the run lately. Forte will have his opportunities to make plays and when called upon he needs to deliver against San Diego so the Bears can keep their wildcard playoff hopes alive.
Chicago Offense vs. San Diego Defense: The Chicago offense is centered around RB Matt Forte. He leads the Bears in most offensive categories. When he is involved heavily in the game plan and produces big plays the Bear's offense can put points on the board. The problem comes when they have to rely heavily on QB Jay Cutler's arm to stay in games. Cutler can make all the throws with his cannon arm, but he does not have that elite number one wide receiver he can depend on in key situations. Also, the offensive line, though they have played better, is inconsistent in protecting Cutler and give up too many sacks. San Diego has some key players out with injuries on the defense. DE Luis Castillo, a former 1st round draft pick, is out for the season with a broken tibia and OLB Shaun Phillips will miss the game with a foot injury. These two losses have affected both areas of the defense. The Chargers are ranked 24th against the run allowing 127 yards per game and not having Castillo's presence is a big part why. Then on pass defense, Phillips is the team's best pass rusher, the Chargers don't get consistent pressure on the opposing team's QB. Players like OLB Larry English, OLB Travis Laboy, and DE Jacques Cesaire needs to elevate their game to replace the production lost by Castillo and Phillips.
Chicago Defense vs. San Diego Offense: The Bears defense has played well lately. They have been aggressively forcing turnovers and making key stops. The two leaders of the defense is MLB Brian Urlacher and DE Julius Peppers. They both have been making huge plays when the defense needs it the most. They are tough to run on with Urlacher in the middle chasing plays down sideline to sideline. The main area of concern is pass defense where they rank 29th against the pass. The Bears run a lot of zone blitz concepts and cover 2 scheme. The Chargers would be wise to exploit the soft spots in those zones. If healthy, TE Antonio Gates could have a huge game attacking the seams in the middle of the defense. QB Phillip Rivers has not been his usual consistent self this season. He leads the league with 15 interceptions thrown. The biggest concern in this game for the Chargers will be the play of their offensive line. They have 3 starters likely out for the game. San Diego will probably have to use more multiple tight end sets and bunch sets to help out in pass protection on obvious passing downs. Losing LT Marcus McNeill last week with an injury is huge for the entire offense. WR Vincent Jackson has been hampered with a lingering hamstring injury and only had one catch against Oakland last Thursday night. The Chargers will more than likely rely more on the running of RB Ryan Matthews and RB Mike Tolbert who have a combined 7 rushing tds.
San Diego (NFL Rank & Yards) Chicago (NFL Rank & Yards)
Rush Off. 18th - 108.0ypg 13th - 119.6ypg
Pass Off. 4th - 288.7ypg 21st - 208.2ypg
Rush Def. 24th - 127.0ypg 13th - 106.7ypg
Pass Def. 8th - 203.4ypg 29th - 269.7ypg
Total Offense: 7th 17th
Total Defense: 10th 25th
Points Per Game: 24.0ppg (13th) 26.3ppg (6th)
Chargers Offensive Line (versus) DE Julius Peppers: San Diego may be without 3 starters on the offensive line. LG Kris Dielman is out for the season with a concussion, LT Marcus McNeill is out with a neck injury he sustained in last Thursday night's game against the Oakland Raiders, and RG Louis Vasquez is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. QB Phillip Rivers may be in for a long day with Julius Peppers lined up on the other side. The Chargers will have to lean more on their running game and keep their tight ends and backs in to help block on passing downs. Peppers can disrupt any team's offense with his ability to get after the opposing QB and make plays in the backfield. He leads Chicago with 6 sacks and the Chargers should look for him on every snap to adjust their protection and give Rivers time to throw.
KR Devin Hester (versus) Chargers Kick Coverage Team: Hester already is considered the all-time best kick returner in NFL history. He has returned 12 punts and 5 kickoffs for touchdowns in a 6 year career so far. He has blazing speed, elusiveness, agility, and great vision that allows him to see a hole and quickly accelerate through it. Once he gets a step on you, forget about it. He is one of only a few who can out run a defender who has an angle on him. San Diego had problems last year covering kicks and it cost them some games. This season they have done a better job but are still vulnerable to big returns. The Chargers kickoffs and punt coverage teams will need to stay in their lanes and then make the tackle on Hester. The best way to neutralize Hester is to not kick it to him. So Chargers kicker Nick Novak needs to consistently kick the ball through the endzone and punter Mike Scifres needs to angle kicks toward the sideline and get real good hang time to allow the coverage unit time to get quickly downfield.
Final Word: These two teams are like the Dow Jones stock market. Chicago is on a four game winning streak while San Diego is on a four game losing streak. Chicago needs this win to stay in contention for a playoff wildcard spot. San Diego needs a win to stay in the race for the AFC West division title trailing Oakland and Denver. Chicago is winning games coach Lovie Smith's way and that is playing tough defense that forces turnovers and good special teams play. The defense is led by two All-Pro's in DE Julius Peppers and MLB Brian Urlacher. QB Jay Cutler has done the best he can without a true go to receiver. Fortunately, he has the best all-around running back on his team in Matt Forte. He is trying to get a new contract done which the Bears would be wise to get solved by the end of the season. The Chargers will need to produce in the running game and give the Bears a heavy dose of RB Ryan Matthews and RB Mike Tolbert. QB Phillip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates will get opportunities to make plays in the passing game against the Bears zone blitz schemes. San Diego's defense got hammered by Oakland's RB Michael Bush last week and will need a better effort against Matt Forte. The Chargers special teams coverage units may be the deciding factor between winning or losing. They will need to contain KR Devin Hester and not allow him to dictate field position for the Bears. If anything, try not to kick it to him -period