Part of the dominance of the AFC West this season, the San Diego Chargers have a chance to go 3-0 against the NFC East with a win over Washington on Sunday.
Heading into the 2013 season, most NFL observers expected the AFC West to be one of the worst divisions in the league. But through Week 8, teams in the AFC West (Kansas City, 8-0; Denver, 7-1; San Diego, 4-3; Oakland, 3-4) have a combined 22-8 (.733) record this season.
“I just feel like that whole division is playing well this year,” said Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, whose team is 1-1 against the AFC West so far this season. “Especially at the top with Kansas City and Denver, and then the rest of the division is playing well, too, despite what the records might say.
“So we know in this league whenever you step on the field, you have to be ready to play at a high level.”
Although most West Coast teams usually struggle in early games traveling East, the Chargers have been relatively successful of late, posting a 5-3 record in 10 a.m. Pacific Time games since 2012.
However, one area the Chargers have struggled is coming off of the bye week, which they are doing on Sunday. Since Philip Rivers became the team’s starter in 2006, the Chargers are 3-4 after the bye week.
That said, here’s five things to watch for today as San Diego attempts to remain in the AFC playoff hunt.
1. Create a big play on special teams/defense: Most folks know that Washington leads the league in defensive touchdowns with five. However, the Chargers are one of four teams (the Giants, Steelers and Saints are the three others) that have not scored a defensive or special-teams touchdown this season. That needs to change. But San Diego has to create some opportunities first. The Chargers' four forced turnovers is the lowest in the NFL.
2. Create some chunk plays in the run game: With back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the first time since 2011, San Diego running back Ryan Mathews has done a nice job of providing balance to his team’s up-tempo passing game with an effective running game. However, Mathews hasn’t created many explosive running plays. Through seven games, his longest run is 20 yards. And Mathews has a career-long run of 39 yards. He’ll face a defense that’s given up 123.4 rushing yards a contest, third worst in the league, including five running plays of 20 or more yards.
3. Hold onto the football: While the Redskins are giving up 32.7 points a contest (second worst in the league to Jacksonville), defensively they do a good job of getting after the football. Washington has forced 13 turnovers this season and the Chargers have not turned it over in the past two games. That’s needs to continue.
4. Score in the red zone: A point of emphasis during the bye week for San Diego was better execution in the red zone, where offensively the team has struggled of late. The Chargers are 48.1 percent in red zone efficiency, which is tied for 22nd in the league. However, Washington has a 63 percent red zone efficiency rating defensively, No. 28 in the league.
5. Get off the field: Even though they’ve been down a couple starters, San Diego’s defense has done a nice job, particularly on third down. The Chargers are an impressive 5 of 21 the past two games on third down and haven’t allowed a touchdown in 11 quarters. That type of effort on the road will be tough to duplicate against a dynamic Washington offense led by Griffin and running back Alfred Morris. But winning on third down will be critical for San Diego on Sunday.