Ken Whisenhunt returns to Arizona on Saturday after being fired as head coach of the Cardinals after the 2012 season. Now the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, he'll be hoping his Philip Rivers-led offense can light up the scoreboard against a Cardinals defense that has been dominant through two games of the preseason.
Week 3 of the preseason carries a lot more weight than the other three weeks of exhibition play. Starters play until halftime or beyond, and teams use the week of practice leading up to kickoff as a dress rehearsal for a regular season game. Though both teams have shown promise, the Cardinals are 2-0 whereas the Chargers are 0-2. Saturday will be San Diego's, and Whisenhunt's, chance to prove they are different from last season.
Meet the Cardinals
The Cardinals' biggest offseason splash was the addition of Carson Palmer to revitalize an anemic passing attack. Palmer has looked serviceable at quarterback through two games, which is a big upgrade over what Arizona dealt with last season. The Cardinals have yet to light up the scoreboard during the preseason, but they have had some success running and passing, and minimizing turnovers.
The offense may not need to put many points on the board this season given how well the Cardinals' defense has been playing. Through two games they have forced eight turnovers and have held two prolific offenses to just seven total points. There is still a question whether the Cardinals can effectively rush the passer--they have three sacks through two games--but the secondary has shined in coverage and the front seven has excelled against the run.
Meet the Chargers
While the Cardinals have excelled in the turnover battle, the Chargers have struggled. San Diego has given the ball away six times through two preseason games, including four times during last week's loss to the Chicago Bears. The miscues mask some significant steps forward for the offense. Ryan Mathews appears to be healthy, and has been running very well behind a revamped offensive line, and pass protection has been good enough to help the backup quarterbacks to big days in the passing game.
The Chargers' defense looked shaky against the Seattle Seahawks, but improved enough to hold the Bears to just 185 total yards last week. The run defense has yet to firmly stand its ground, but a much-maligned secondary played well against Russell Wilson and Jay Cutler. Perhaps most importantly, offseason acquisition Dwight Freeney has looked much like his old self. The Chargers may have gotten steal when they signed the veteran pass rusher to a two-year contract.
Local Takes: Arizona
Cornerback Patrick Peterson reportedly now has 60 (!) plays in his offensive package designed to take advantage of his unmatched athleticism. Jess Root of Cardinals blog Revenge Of The Birds breaks down the impact:
There are concerns about playing him so much, such as fatigue, but Peterson prides himself on being perhaps the fittest guy on the team and has said on multiple occasions that it isn't a thing to worry about it.
Do you think that we will see some PP time on Saturday? I would say this is likely. It is the preseason game the will most resemble the ones that count.
This could be the biggest story of the season. Will Peterson not only take the next step defensively, but also become a big offensive threat? If he does, watch out for his coming contract extension. That will cost the team a boatload.
Local Takes: San Diego
Kevin Grauel from Chargers blog Bolts From The Blue took an in-depth look at the Chargers' running game and asked the all-important question: Can the new look Chargers' offensive line fix the ground game?
With Mike McCoy calling the plays in Denver last year, the Broncos' rushing attack favored the right side. Excluding runs inside the tackle, they ran 107 plays to the right as opposed to 85 to the left. Even with star offensive tackle Ryan Clady on the left side, McCoy preferred to run the outside stretch runs and pitches behind right tackle Orlando Franklin. Expect the Chargers to make best use of Fluker's power and run behind him a healthy amount.
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Both Hawkins and McCann are bubble players, intensity high at this point. First cuts come by Monday.— Revenge of the Birds (@revengeofbirds) August 20, 2013
Dear everyone, Please stop trying to steal our writers. Seriously. I love them and I will cut you. Sincerely, John.— Bolts From The Blue (@BFTB_Chargers) August 22, 2013
@joshweinfuss - Cardinals beat writer
End of camp boredom? Cards are inventing games as they go. First it was hitting the goalposts on the fly. Now it's rolling closest to EZ.— Josh Weinfuss (@joshweinfuss) August 22, 2013
@UTgehlken - Chargers beat writer
This game should be a tight one if turnovers even out for both teams. That's a big if the first two games of the preseason are any indication. Factor in that the Cardinals are at home, and they should get their third win of the preseason.
Prediction: Cardinals 20, Chargers 14
The Cardinals are 4-point favorite across all sports books heading into the game, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Cardinals will travel to take on the Denver Broncos for their preseason finale next Thursday. The Chargers will return home to host the San Francisco 49ers.