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Eye On the Chargers: Breaking down the matchup


*'s Michael Eisen breaks down the opposing offense, defense, and special teams: *

A look at the playmakers of the Giants' upcoming opponent

Two struggling teams each searching for their first victory will meet Sunday when the Giants host the Los Angeles Chargers for the first time in MetLife Stadium. Both teams are 0-4. The Giants trail in the series, 6-5, and have lost the last three and four of their last five games to the Chargers.

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The teams last met on Dec. 8, 2013 in San Diego, where the Chargers cruised to a 37-14 victory. Their most recent meeting in New Jersey occurred on Nov. 8, 2009 in Giants Stadium, where Philip Rivers' 18-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with just 21 seconds remaining completed an 80-yard drive and gave the Chargers a 21-20 victory. The infrequently-contested rivalry gained some intrigue when the Chargers drafted Eli Manning with the first overall selection in 2004 and soon dealt him to the Giants for a package that included Rivers.

What is the Chargers' biggest strength?

An outstanding defensive front. Ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa have combined for 8.0 of the team's 12 sacks, after accounting for 18.5 sacks in 2016. Although the Chargers didn't win a game in September, Ingram was selected the AFC Defensive Player of the Month. His 5.5 sacks are tied for first in the AFC and second in the NFL. Both Ingram and Bosa line up in several different spots, so an offense can never be sure where they'll be.

What player is key to the Chargers' offense?

It would normally be running back Melvin Gordon, who last year accumulated 1,416 yards from scrimmage and scored 12 touchdowns. He currently leads Los Angeles with 168 rushing yards, though he is averaging just 3.1 yards a carry. Gordon is also a very capable receiver (third on the team with 13 catches), but he has been slowed by a left knee bruise. Keenan Allen, the Chargers' best wide receiver, has emerged as the player opposing defenses are most concerned about. Allen played just one game last season because of a torn ACL, but he is a Pro Bowl-level receiver with two 100-yard games in the season's first four weeks, including 138 yards on just five catches last week against Philadelphia. The Chargers line up Allen in several spots as they look for mismatches. He leads the team with 24 receptions for 334 yards.

What is the strength of the Chargers' offense?

Their passing game. Rivers is an excellent quarterback who can still make all the throws.  This year, he has completed 63.3% of his passes for 1,107 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. When he does commit a turnover, Rivers and his teammates are completely unfazed, because they believe they are always in the game with him on the field. The Chargers trailed, 24-7, in their season opener in Denver before Rivers threw two touchdowns passes in 1:10 in the fourth quarter. He then led another late drive, and rookie kicker Younghoe Koo appeared to kick the game-tying field goal. But Denver had called timeout, and Koo's second attempt was blocked. Los Angeles has a collection of big-bodied wideouts who are 6-2 or taller, and two big receiving tight ends in Hunter Henry and future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates. And 6-4 Mike Williams, the seventh overall selection in this year's draft, might make his NFL debut against the Giants. He has been sidelined with a back injury.

What player is key to the Chargers' defense?

That would be Ingram, who is one of the NFL's best pass rushers. He takes advantage of mismatches up front, and has the potential to dominate any game. Ingram is an explosive player off the edge who creates havoc. He had a career-high 3.0 sacks in Week 3 against Kansas City.

What is the strength of the Chargers' defense?

The outstanding defensive front keeps them in every game. Ingram is a constant force. Bosa is a relentless power player who can blow up a run as well as sack the quarterback. Tackle Corey Liuget is a former first-round draft choice and stout run defender. Backup Chris McCain has 3.0 sacks. Linebacker Jatavis Brown is second in the NFL with 41 tackles (27 solo).

What is the strength of the Chargers' special teams?

Second-year punter Drew Kaser can change field position with his strong leg and directional kicking. He has placed nine of his 18 punts inside the 20-yard line. Punt returner Travis Benjamin has the speed to go the distance anytime he touches the ball.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

Protect Eli Manning from that excellent defensive front, take advantage of big-play opportunities, and limit long pass completions by the Chargers' offense.

Statistics you should know:

*The Chargers have lost nine consecutive games since defeating Houston last Nov. 27.

*The Chargers are the masters of close games. Eighteen of their last 22 games have been decided by one score. Los Angeles is 4-14 in those games. In the last two seasons, the Chargers have lost seven games in which they led in the fourth quarter.

*Allen's 11 receptions and 186 yards on third down are both NFL-leading figures.

*The Chargers were the only team in 2016 to have six players with at least 35 catches and 400 receiving yards.

*Cornerback Casey Hayward led the NFL with seven interceptions in 2016. He does not have a pick this season, but his six (five last week) pass breakups are tied for the league's third-highest total.

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