Five things to watch: 49ers at Chargers

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
6:23
PM ET
Mike TolbertJody Gomez/US PresswireSan Diego will need to balance the offense by giving the ball to Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews.
The San Diego Chargers don’t want Thursday night's game to be their final home date of the season. So, they better be the same Chargers team that beat the visiting Chiefs, 31-0, on Sunday and not the San Diego team that lost to Oakland by 15 points at home Dec. 5. The Chargers must win-out, and hope the Chiefs stumble once, so San Diego can win its fifth straight AFC West crown.

Here are five things to look for in San Diego's regular-season home finale against San Francisco:

Can Rivers keep it under 30? It is clear the Chargers' best recipe of winning is to keep quarterback Philip Rivers’ pass totals down. San Diego is 1-6 when Rivers tosses more than 30 passes in a game this season. It is 6-0 when Rivers throws less than 30 passes in a game. That is resounding proof to the Chargers that they must have balance to win.

Chargers are using the shotgun well: When Rivers does pass against the 49ers, it won’t be a surprise if he uses the shotgun. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers completed 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown pass while using the shotgun against the Chiefs. I’m sure the Chargers will try to stay hot by using the same formation just four days after it worked so well against Kansas City.

Third-down madness: The San Diego defense was dominant on third down against the Chiefs, holding them to no conversion in 11 attempts. San Francisco has converted just 34 percent of its third-down attempts this season, tied for the fifth-lowest percentage in the NFL.

Getting it done, Cason: Focus on San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason. The Chargers’ top pick in 2008, Cason has ably taken over for the spectacular but inconsistent Antonio Cromartie, who was traded to the Jets in the offseason. Cason has played well the past several weeks opposite Quentin Jammer, and his pass-defense numbers have been among the league's best this season.

The Chargers may want to go up the middle again: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers ran the ball well up the middle against the Chiefs. I’d expect the Chargers to try to force the ball down the 49ers’ throat as well. More than a half of San Diego's 207 rushing yards against Kansas City were gained on plays up the middle. A running game that wears down a defense up the gut, plus the presence of Rivers, makes San Diego’s offense difficult to contain.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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