EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Two teams with identical records and predicaments will meet Sunday when the Giants clash with the San Diego Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium. Each team is 5-7 and must keep winning and hope for help elsewhere to make the playoffs. The Giants have won five of their last six games, while San Diego has dropped four of its last five under first-year head coach Mike McCoy. The series, which began in 1971, is tied 5-5, including 2-2 in San Diego.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS OFFENSE
The Chargers are ranked fourth in the NFL in yardage (401.6 a game), but are tied for 16th in scoring (23.3 points per game). They are fourth in the league with 292.4 passing yards a game and 21st with an average of 109.2 rushing yards. San Diego has converted 70 of 151 third-down opportunities, a 46.4 success rate that is the league's second-highest. The Chargers' 124 offensive possessions are the NFL's fewest…but so are their 46 negative plays and 19 three-and-out series.
McCoy, formerly the offensive coordinator in Denver, runs an offense that has quarterback Philip Rivers release the ball quickly and uses a lot of short and medium passes such as slants, screens and crosses.
Quarterback Philip Rivers – the Giants' 2004 first-round draft choice who was traded for Eli Manning – is playing the best football of his career. His 124 consecutive regular-season starts rank second among active quarterbacks to Manning's 147. Rivers, who is 26-6 as a starter in December, has thrown for more than 390 yards four times this year, joining Dan Marino and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to accomplish that in a season. A four-time Pro Bowler, Rivers has completed an NFL-best 70 percent of his passes, thrown for 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Rivers is a strong pocket passer with good anticipation. Backup Charlie Whitehurst has not thrown a pass this season.
Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead share running back duties. Mathews leads the team with 782 yards and three touchdowns and has three 100-yard games. He is an instinctive back with quick feet who can slam the ball inside or accelerate around the corner. Woodhead leads all NFL running backs with 61 receptions and has seven scores, two rushing and five receiving. He is a scrappy player who lines up in several different spots, always seems to make the correct cut and makes plays in space. Ronnie Brown gets some third down snaps.
Le'Ron McClain is a hard-nosed fullback. He is an instinctive blocker with very good receiving skills who is also a power runner in short yardage. McClain's role has been reduced in recent weeks because the tight ends are playing more snaps.
San Diego lost its top two receivers by Week 2 after Danario Alexander tore his ACL and Malcolm Floyd joined him on injured reserve after absorbing a vicious hit in a victory over Philadelphia. Without them, Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown have emerged as the starters. Allen is third on the team and first among the wideouts with 58 catches, and he has scored three touchdowns. A rookie third-round draft choice, Allen is a smooth mover who knows how to get open. He is improving each week. Brown missed the entire 2012 season with a fractured left ankle. He has good body control, is a hands catcher and is an effective receiver over the middle. Slot receiver Eddie Royal leads the Chargers with seven touchdown receptions. He is quick off the line of scrimmage and gets many of his receptions on crossing routes. Seyi Ajirotutu caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Chargers' upset victory in Kansas City. He has long arms and makes good adjustments on his routes. Lavelle Hawkins plays occasionally.
Eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is San Diego's most-targeted receiver and leads the team with 64 catches, including three touchdowns, one a 52-yarder. Rivers' security blanket, Gates is a savvy playmaker who is particularly productive on short and intermediate routes and in the red zone. Ladarius Green has been playing more and better of late. He is a playmaking tight end with a wide receiver's skill set. Green has the speed to go deep and must be accounted for whenever he is on the field. John Phillips is a solid blocking tight end whose playing time has decreased as Green has ascended.
Injuries have been a frequent calamity on the offensive line, where the Chargers have used 16 different combinations this season, including five left tackles. But they've had the same starting five each of the last three games. The one constant is center Nick Hardwick, who has started every game – though he has missed playing time in multiple games because of injuries. Hardwick, who has 63 consecutive starts, is an undersized center who is quick and smart and the leader of the line. D.J. Fluker, San Diego's first-round draft choice, started eight of the first nine games at right tackle and the last three on the left side. A star in the making, Fluker is big, athletic, physical, nasty and difficult to get around. Left guard Johnnie Troutman is essentially a rookie after missing the entire 2012 season. He is a 330-pounder with strong hands. Jeromey Clary moved from right guard to right tackle. He has a strong upper body and plays with good awareness and toughness. Chad Rinehart started the season at left guard, missed five games and now plays on the right side. He is an exceptional run blocker who is smart and explosive. Former Philadelphia Eagle King Dunlap started seven games at left tackle but has been plagued by concussions. Rich Ohrnberger is a versatile backup who has been a valuable contributor because of all the injuries.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS DEFENSE
San Diego's defense is the opposite of the offense. The unit is 29th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (386.6) and last in yards per play (6.4), but is 13th in scoring defense (23.1 points per game). The Chargers are 22nd in the league against the run (117.8) and 28th vs. the pass (268.8). San Diego has just 11 takeaways; only three teams have fewer.
McCoy retained defensive coordinator John Pagano and his 3-4 scheme. Seven defensive starters have three years or less of NFL experience. The Chargers have been relatively healthy in the front and back of the defense, but not so much at linebacker.
The most consistent defensive unit has been the line, where nose tackle Cam Thomas and ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes have started every game. Thomas is a strong two-down nose tackle and run defender. Liuget is the team's best pass rusher and leads the linemen with 40 tackles (28 solo) and sacks (4.0). Reyes has athleticism and long arms and, like Liuget, he moves inside in sub packages. Lawrence Guy and Sean Lissemore are tough, competitive backups who play about 20 snaps a game.
Inside linebacker Donald Butler, the defensive captain, missed four games with a groin injury, but has started the last four. An every-snap player, he still leads the unit with 69 tackles (49 solo). Weak inside linebacker Manti Te'o missed the first three games with a foot injury, but has started the last nine. Te'o is an improving rookie with size and speed. San Diego's top three outside linebackers – Dwight Freeney, Larry English and Melvin Ingram (a first round draft choice in 2012) – are on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list. The current starters are Tourek Williams and Reggie Walker. Williams is a high-energy rookie run defender who plays on first and second down. Jarrett Johnson would be the other outside starter if he was healthy, but he recently had left thumb surgery. He is a physical, nasty player, but is limited because he can't use his hand. Walker has started in his place and has impressed as a pass rusher (3.0 sacks). Thomas Keiser is a productive reserve on the outside. Andrew Gachkar and Bront Bird have also started games this season.
Free safety Eric Weddle is the only every-game starter and the best player in the secondary. He leads the team with 90 tackles (75 solo) and has a sack and an interception. Weddle quickly locates the ball and inserts himself into the play. First-year starter Marcus Gilchrist is smallish but athletic and has good cover skills. Shareece Wright is an aggressive press corner who often lines up against the opposition's No. 1 receiver. Derek Cox was the Chargers' big free agent acquisition in the offseason, but he was replaced at left corner last week by veteran Richard Marshall, who has press skills and deep speed. Johnny Patrick is a good blitzer from the nickel position. Safety Jahleel Addae plays in the dime. Darrell Stuckey plays in the quarters package, which employs no linebackers.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Nick Novak has made 23 of 26 field goal attempts, including all nine from 40 yards and beyond. Two of his misses were blocked. Punter Mike Scifres has done an excellent job pinning teams inside the 20-yard line; he did it three times last week vs. Cincinnati. Woodhead has averaged 23.6 yards as the primary kickoff returner. Allen has assumed the punt return duties from Royal. Ajirotutu leads the Chargers with nine special teams tackles. San Diego's punt (7.0) and kickoff (25.0) coverage teams are both ranked 26th in the NFL.
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