NFL Nation: Danny Woodhead

Here are highlights from our weekly San Diego Chargers chat. You can check out the full transcript here.

Heidijoy (Iowa): How are Manti Te'o and Chris Watts doing?

Te'o
Eric D. Williams: Te'o looks faster now that his foot is fully healthy. But I want to see how he plays in a preseason game first before saying that he will be an impact player on defense. I think Chris Watt can be a fill-in guy at interior offensive line this season, and potentially a starter at center or guard in the next two or three years. Watt gets after it and appears to be picking up his assignments quickly.

Rashad (San Diego): Has the Brandon Flowers deal broke down with the chargers and why? Do you know his asking price?

Williams: I have no specifics on Flowers and the possibility he ends up in San Diego, other than he visited the team's facility Wednesday and Thursday. Flowers and his representation are likely listening to other potential suitors and weighing their options. The Chargers appear to be in a good position to land Flowers. He fits defensive coordinator John Pagano's system and would be an upgrade over anyone at cornerback on San Diego's roster as it stands right now. My only concern would be how having Flowers on the roster affects the playing time of Jason Verrett and Steve Williams. Those young corners have to play in order to get better. Flowers has to weigh scheme fit, opportunity for playing time and, of course, price.

Milwaukee Dan: What's the story on Woodhead .... a luxury that the Bolts will let walk after this year or do you see them making an effort to keep him?

Williams: Danny Woodhead is a productive player and a good fit in the locker room. I would be surprised if Woodhead is not on San Diego's roster in 2015.

LeAndre (Los Angeles): For some reason, WR Tevin Reese intrigues the heck out of me -- I've heard he's had a few drops here and there during practice, but you can't teach speed. What role might he fill this season OR do you see Reese having a legit shot at being on the field with Keenan, M-80, Vincent Brown/Eddie Royal?

Williams: I like his skill set. I thought Reese actually had his best practice that I watched Wednesday during the team's final minicamp practice. I think he needs a redshirt year to learn a pro-style offense and gain weight. He has an uphill battle to earn a roster spot. I think more likely he winds up on the practice squad, unless he can seize one of the return jobs.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In Dexter McCluster, Tennessee gets a player who will be cast in a role for which many of us thought Darren Sproles would be a great fit.

I imagine he will be like Danny Woodhead was for Ken Whisenhunt last season in San Diego, when Whiz was offensive coordinator and Woodhead caught 76 passes for 605 yards and was very much an extension of the running game as a pass-catcher.

McCluster
McCluster
McCluster is a listed as receiver, not a running back. Like Woodhead, McCluster is 5-foot-8. At 170, he’s 30 pounds lighter than Woodhead.

In 2013 for the Chiefs, McCluster caught 53 passes for 511 yards and two touchdowns. He also had eight carries for 5 yards.

I spoke in a video earlier today about positional versatility for new pieces of the defensive front. McCluster brings the Titans that on offense.

From Bill Polian’s scouting report :
Versatility may be McCluster's best asset, as he can play RB, WR and return kicks. Speed and explosiveness should be his trademarks, but he doesn't make as many explosive plays as you might expect. As good as he can be in space he tends to dance too much. McCluster is well-built and if he can improve his receiving skills he could really help an offense. He has a head coach in Andy Reid who seems to like his skill set.

I think Titans fans should be excited about McCluster as part of a Whisenhunt offense. I think it also chops away at the room and idea for Chris Johnson to be back and to be used more in the passing game.

Jake Locker, or whoever is quarterbacking the Titans, will now be throwing to Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, McCluster and Nate Washington. That's a pretty diverse group of four top targets.

Tennessee is also re-signing returner Leon Washington, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. Between McCluster and Washington, the Titans should have little worry with the return game, which plagued the Titans last season before the late addition of Washington.

W2W4: Broncos-Chargers

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have said many things this week as they moved toward Sunday's divisional round game against the San Diego Chargers. And they've tried not to say some things as well.


Words like "playoffs" or "postseason" have been replaced in and around the team's suburban Denver complex. Those words have been dumped, from head coach John Fox on down, in favor of something they believe fits the situation a little better.

The Broncos simply call it "the tournament."

"Because once you lose, you're out," running back Knowshon Moreno said. "It's a tournament. Once you lose, you're going home. No one wants to be that team to go home so you have to do everything you have to do throughout the week to make sure those things don't happen -- and see what happens on Sunday."

The Broncos' three losses this season have come to the three other teams remaining in the AFC bracket. That includes a Dec. 12 loss to the Chargers, the Broncos only loss in Sports Authority Field at Mile High this season. But to survive and advance in the tournament format, the Broncos will have to deal with important matchups.

First and everything: Last season's double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens came on Jan. 12, 2013, so the Broncos will have waited a year to the day for a second chance, an opportunity to make things right. For months, they have been asked to discuss, analyze, characterize and sift through that crushing loss.

And quarterback Peyton Manning's 9-11 playoff record has been the topic of the week, both near and far, as has the weather, the wind, the Chargers' defense and anything else that has caused the Broncos' faithful to commence the hand-wringing.

That all certainly brings a lot of pressure to bear over the course of a year. How the Broncos gather themselves and execute early on could have a lot to say about how things go.

If the Broncos are tight and feeling the heat, the Chargers will have an easier time getting the tempo they want. When the Broncos have been at their best this season, they have jumped all over opposing defenses and given their own defense the luxury of playing with the lead. They have to find a way to lock in and get it done in front of a crowd that will have last season's loss in front of its collective mind, at least until the Broncos get another postseason win to push it out.

Left has to be right: Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget repeatedly created problems against the left side of the Broncos' offensive line -- tackle Chris Clark and guard Zane Beadles -- in the Dec. 12 game, including hitting Manning's arm on an interception.

The Chargers used a variety of looks in the rush in that game, bringing defensive backs from off the ball and dropping front seven players into coverage, but in the end Liuget was the disruptive player in the San Diego front and made it all work. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano created enough uncertainty with the variety that the Broncos had uncharacteristic assignment mistakes.

Linebackers in the forefront: Yes, both of Chargers rookie Keenan Allen's catches Dec. 1 against the Broncos went for touchdowns, but for the Broncos defense to have the kind of night they want linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard will each need a quality day in coverage.

Allen is the only wide receiver among Rivers' top three targets this year. Tight end Antonio Gates was targeted 113 times by Rivers in the regular season -- the most on the team -- and running back Danny Woodhead was third, having been targeted 87 times.

But when Rivers throws to Woodhead, he gets a high percentage of completion with a double-take worthy 87.4 percent of those targets being caught. When the Broncos go to their nickel look -- and they played the nickel more than any other personnel grouping in the Dec. 12 game (34 snaps) -- that often puts Woodyard and Trevathan on duty in the intermediate routes.

To keep the Chargers from grinding out drives they have to keep the ball out of the hands of Gates and Woodhead.

Play big when small(er): When the Broncos are in those smaller personnel groupings, they also have to defend the run with an edge. In the Chargers win, San Diego held the ball for 38 minutes, 49 seconds, and limited the Broncos' offense to a season-low 54 plays, including penalty snaps.

And they did it, at times, by finding just enough room to convert third downs against the Broncos' specialty packages when they had to, including Ryan Mathews' 23-yard run for a touchdown in the third quarter when the Broncos were in the dime. Champ Bailey's return to the lineup as the Broncos' nickel cornerback gives the Broncos a far more versatile look, especially with Bailey's sure tackling around the line of scrimmage.

Knowledge is power: Certainly plenty has been made of Chargers head coach Mike McCoy's familiarity with Manning's game, offensive coordinator Adam Gase's philosophy and the Broncos' playbook as a whole because of McCoy's time in Denver.

But the Broncos know McCoy just as well and in the end these two division rivals won't have many secrets unless they break out something they haven't done much, or at all, already this season.

So how things get done will matter far more than who knew what before kickoff.

But the Broncos may need a little curveball to shake things loose and Gase has shown some precedent already this season to break out a little something new.

When Gase had the Broncos open the Dec. 22 win over the Houston Texans in a three-wide receiver, two tight end set -- no running back in the formation -- it was a look Denver had played for just once previously this season. The Broncos played the first six snaps of the game out of the look and effectively moved the ball against the Texans' base 3-4 defense.

With Wes Welker back in the lineup -- he did not play in the Dec. 12 game -- the Chargers will face more difficult choices in coverage and the Broncos will have more options, particularly with Welker and tight end Julius Thomas in the slot. The Chargers can't double both, and San Diego can't play safety Eric Weddle everywhere. So look for Pagano to try to muddy the water in coverage, dropping seven or even eight players into the passing lanes and look for the Broncos to turn up the heat on the Chargers cornerbacks, especially in the middle of the field.


When the 2013 season began, the AFC West didn't really come up when the national conversation turned toward divisions that would provide the most playoff teams or Super Bowl potential from top to bottom.

Yet with four teams left in the AFC's postseason bracket, two of them call the division home, with the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos and the No. 6 San Diego Chargers set for the season’s third meeting on Sunday. They split the two games in the regular season, with each team winning on the road -- the Broncos by eight in San Diego and the Chargers by seven in Denver.

It will be the first time the Chargers and Broncos have met in the postseason, but San Diego is 2-0 in playoff games against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning with wins in the 2007 and 2008 postseasons.

ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric Williams and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss the matchup.

Jeff Legwold: Eric, there were some who questioned the Chargers’ playoff worthiness when all of the dominoes fell in the regular season’s final week and they earned the AFC’s No. 6 seed. But with the win in Cincinnati, how do they see themselves at the moment -- playoff underdog or a team with a chance for more?

Eric Williams: Veteran players emphasized this week that playoff opportunities are precious, noting the fact that the Chargers have not made the playoffs since 2009. So guys like Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle want to see how far they can take it. Both mentioned the Chargers are only eight quarters away from the Super Bowl -- unbelievable when six weeks ago this team was 5-7 and an afterthought at making the postseason. Giving players more confidence is the fact that San Diego beat the Broncos in Denver just a month ago. The Chargers understand the deck is stacked against them facing a well-rested Manning. But they are playing with house money, and I suspect they will play with a lot of confidence and urgency on Sunday.

How is Manning handling all of the questions concerning his so-so record in the playoffs? And will that serve as motivation on Sunday?

Legwold: If you had to make a list of questions that cause Manning to put up the verbal deflector shields the fastest, the glove, anything that includes the phrase “all the way back," cold weather and the playoff record would be among the top items. He handles most everything in the public domain with a professional mixture of grace and the ability to move the conversation on -- he’s got plenty of experience in front of people to be sure. But in the end, Manning is a driven player -- one of the most driven players to have worn a helmet -- and everything is motivation. He doesn’t often let people on the outside see all that, but offered a glimpse after his 400-yard day against the Titans this season on a frigid afternoon when he told the team’s flagship radio station people could take the Manning-struggles-in-the-cold narrative and “stick it where the sun don't shine." So, the lure of the Super Bowl is always powerful for him, but he certainly uses plenty of things to maintain his focus, and any sort of criticism is in that pile somewhere.

Rivers has always been a thorn for the Broncos, but he attempted only 20 passes -- completing 12 -- in the Chargers’ win in Denver on Dec. 12, and he went 12-for-16 passing in the Chargers’ win over the Bengals last week. Is relying on the run the best thing for the Chargers’ offense, and would you expect a similar approach Sunday?

Williams: It all depends on the health of Ryan Mathews. The Fresno State product probably does not get enough credit for San Diego’s resurgence this season. But the Chargers have morphed into a running team the second half of the year. San Diego is 7-1 when Mathews rushes at least 19 times in a game. His ability to get to the edge of a defense with his speed, along with his physicality, has created a nice balance to San Diego’s offense so that Rivers doesn’t have to make all the plays. Mathews has a lingering ankle injury. He’s expected to play on Sunday, but how effective Mathews will be remains to be seen. If Mathews can’t play, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown will pick up the slack. San Diego coach Mike McCoy has confidence his team can win in a shootout if they have to open the offense up.

You’ve talked about Denver’s inconsistencies on defense, which has been a problem all season. Will Champ Bailey play in this game? And if so, how will that help the secondary?

Legwold: Bailey played, essentially as the nickel corner, in the Broncos’ final two games of the regular season and will be in the lineup on Sunday. He played 35 snaps against the Houston Texans and 22 snaps against the Oakland Raiders. While those offenses had their fair share of struggles this season, the Broncos had two of their best outings of the year, surrendering 13 and 14 points to go with 240 and 255 yards, respectively, in those two games. Bailey hasn’t played out of the slot a great deal in his time with the Broncos, save for when the receiver he was matched with would line up there, but he has all the tools to be very good in there -- smart, plays with anticipation and has the ability, even in his 15th season, to change directions quickly and react on the ball. It has made the Broncos' secondary much better than what the Chargers have seen in the two meetings this year -- Bailey didn’t play in either game. The Broncos just have more options in how they deploy people in coverage and it gives them a top three at the position of Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris. That’s a quality trio that enables the Broncos to do a few more things to try to affect Rivers.

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has, for the most part, taken a page from the Bill Belichick manual for facing Manning -- coverage over pressure. How would you expect the Chargers to defend Manning and the Broncos’ offense? And how aggressive do you think they will be doing it?

Williams: I expect going in that Pagano will try a similar approach to what his defense executed so effectively in the last matchup: a mix of pressures and looks that force Manning to get the ball out quickly to underneath routes, and then rallying to the football. San Diego wants to limit big plays, keep the ball in front of them and tackle well. But one thing the Chargers have had success with is making in-game adjustments when things are not going well. The wild card here again is McCoy. Because he’s worked with Manning in the past, McCoy understands his strengths and weaknesses, and what he likes to go to in certain situations. And that will be used in Pagano’s game planning for Sunday.

San Diego surprised the Broncos a month ago by winning in Denver. What did the Broncos learn from that setback? And what are a couple key things Denver needs to accomplish in order to defeat the pesky Chargers and move on?

Legwold: That game came on a short week and you could see the table getting set for a Broncos' loss in the days leading up to the Dec. 12 win for the Chargers. Many of the Broncos players spent a great deal of time talking about how much they didn’t like playing on Thursday nights, how good the rest would be in the weekend that followed. And then they played like a team more concerned about just getting through a game than winning it. There have been no such issues this week. The Broncos will be focused on the task at hand this time. On the field, they have to keep the Chargers from converting third downs and putting drives together. San Diego repeatedly pounded away in the run game at the Broncos' lighter personnel groupings, particularly in the nickel, and the Broncos can’t allow that to happen again. The Chargers' defense was effective rushing Manning over the left side -- especially between left tackle Chris Clark and left guard Zane Beadles. This time, if the Broncos keep Manning cleaner on his blind side, they will move the ball.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 14

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesEli Manning threw two more interceptions, bringing him closer to a new career high.
Penalties a killer: The Giants were flagged for seven penalties for 72 yards. The worst may have been Charles James' offside penalty that gave Nick Novak a second chance at a field goal (he missed from 41 yards but then made it from 36), but that was just one of four offside calls against the Giants. "There's no excuse for that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Watch the ball. That's what you do all day long. If you watch us practice, we put a ball on the end of a stick, and the player doesn't move until the ball moves. There's absolutely no excuse for jumping offsides." It's easy to use a word like "undisciplined" to describe a team that gets called for too many penalties, but I think sometimes a team that feels overmatched can start jumping early in an effort to tilt the advantage back in its favor. The Giants have certainly felt overmatched at times this season, and Sunday was a strong example of such a game.

Chargers run wild: The Chargers rushed for 144 yards on 40 carries. Ryan Mathews had 103 yards and Danny Woodhead added 42. Justin Tuck grumbled that the total had more to do with San Diego's number of rushing attempts than anything special they did against the Giants' defense. But the 144 was the second-highest single-game rushing yardage total against the Giants this season (Carolina had 194 in Week 3), and Mathews found holes all day. The Chargers ended up possessing the ball for 36:56, which was the second-highest time-of-possession total against the Giants this season, just behind Dallas' 37:10 in the opener.

Third-down woes: The Chargers entered the game with a third-down conversion rate of 46.4 percent, which was second-best in the league to Denver, and they improved it, going 10-for-15 on third down Sunday. The Giants have struggled with third-down defense all season, and rank in the bottom third of the league in that department. But this was especially bad. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was 7-for-10 for 128 yards and two touchdowns on third down, and that was another huge reason for the time-of-possession edge.

Eli's rough year rolls on: Hakeem Nicks was able to make some plays down the field for a change, and ended up with 135 yards on five catches. But quarterback Eli Manning struggled again, missing some key throws and once again unable to get the offense into a rhythm. The Giants struggled to protect him early in the game, and he took two more sacks to raise his career-high total to 33 for the season. He also threw his 19th and 20th interceptions of the season, putting him five short of his career high in that department with three games to play. He threw a touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Myers for the third game in a row, but Nicks doesn't have a touchdown all season and Victor Cruz hasn't caught one since September.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Giants fell to 5-8 with three games left to play and therefore cannot finish with a winning record. Since the Eagles and Cardinals won, this loss eliminated the Giants from playoff contention. Obviously, they hung in longer than could have been expected after starting the season 0-6. But that 0-6 start meant they couldn't afford any more stinkers. And this was a stinker.

Stock watch: Run defense, DOWN. A Giants strength for much of the season, the run defense failed the Giants in this game. They went into the game concerned about Danny Woodhead because he and the manner in which the Chargers use him are different from any running back they'd yet faced. And Woodhead had a big game. But so did Ryan Mathews running between the tackles.

Nicks Watch: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, a nonfactor in the passing game for most of this season, had catches of 51, 37 and 28 yards in the game. The middle one was a Hail Mary short of the end zone at the end of the first half. The other two were deep downfield in traffic. Nicks was able to outfight defenders for the ball all three times but still isn't separating from them. He also had a couple of drops on shorter patterns, though each of those seemed to be thrown a bit behind him. And he briefly left the game in the second half with some sort of leg injury. Nicks will be a free agent at the end of the year and is likely in his final month as a Giant.

Tuck Watch: Justin Tuck, also a pending free agent, had two sacks after collecting four last week in Washington and is now up to 8.5 for the season. Unlike Nicks, Tuck appears to be making an inspired case to stay.

Turnover redux: Eli Manning threw his 20th interception of the season and had another potential pick overturned by replay review. The Giants are the only NFL team with at least one turnover in every game this year.

What's next: The Giants return home, where they will host the Seattle Seahawks in a 1 p.m. ET game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The Seahawks are tied with the Broncos for the best record in the NFL.

W2W4: Giants at Chargers

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
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SAN DIEGO -- The New York Giants are 5-7 and in third place, still mathematically alive in the race for the NFC East but needing a ton of help to make their hopes realistic. The San Diego Chargers are 5-7 and in third place, eliminated from their division race but still very much alive in the pitiful race for the final AFC wild-card spot. These two teams meet at 4:25 pm ET on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, and here are a couple of things to keep an eye on in the matchup.


Third-down terrors: The Chargers have converted 46.4 percent of their third-down attempts this year, second only to the Broncos in that department. Giants linebacker Jon Beason specifically mentioned third-down running back Danny Woodhead as a player for whom his group would have to account. The Giants have been good all year at limiting the production of running backs, but offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Woodhead is a different kind of back than they've faced, and that the way the Chargers use him presents different challenges. Woodhead leads all NFL running backs this year with 61 receptions and is second to the Saints' Darren Sproles among running backs with 482 receiving yards.

The turnover battle: The Chargers' defense has forced only 11 turnovers this year, which ranked them 29th in the league through Week 13. The Giants' offense, of course, has committed a league-leading 31 turnovers and at least one in every game. But while they turned it over 23 times and forced only seven while losing all of their first six games, the Giants have turned the ball over only eight times and forced 13 while going 5-1 in their last six games. So if the Chargers can't take the ball away (as they have not been able to do all year), they forego a significant potential advantage against the Giants.

Is this the week for Hakeem Nicks? This replaces our weekly "Is this the week for Eli Manning?" segment, since Manning was a cool 22-for-28 in Sunday's victory in Washington and obviously has overcome at least some of the comfort issue that arose early in the season due to the Giants' inability to protect him. What would help even more is a big game from Nicks, who was once Manning's top wide receiver but has been a shell of himself in his contract year. Nicks has yet to catch a touchdown pass this season and hasn't had more than 51 receiving yards in a game since Week 6. Fellow wideout Victor Cruz (who himself hasn't been to the end zone since Week 4) said he thought the Chargers' defense would offer the Giants opportunities to hit big plays in the passing game. What remains to be seen is whether Nicks can get open and catch the ball well enough to take advantage of those opportunities.

W2W4: Bengals at Chargers

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
9:30
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SAN DIEGO -- All week, the Cincinnati Bengals harped on the importance of winning out the remaining five games on their schedule.

They have a chance to do just that beginning Sunday when they make their only West Coast trip of the season, facing the Chargers in San Diego.

If they end up beating the Chargers and igniting a victorious five-game run to close out the regular season, not only will they experience a December truly worth remembering, but the Bengals also likely will have earned home-field advantage in the playoffs and a first-round bye.

With one or both in their possession, a long postseason run could be in the Bengals’ favor.

Before they can really begin thinking of playoff scenarios, though, the AFC North leaders have to take care of business against a club that knows what it takes to beat a division’s top team. Last weekend at Kansas City, the Chargers rallied in the closing minutes to earn a key division win.

When the teams take to Qualcomm Stadium, here are four things you’ll want to watch for:

1 .Third-and-long tendencies. Cincinnati has developed an uncanny knack in recent weeks for not only getting into, but failing to convert third-and-long scenarios. Generally speaking, third downs have been problematic for them since the 49-9 win over the Jets on Oct. 27. In the three games since going 6-for-11 on all third down, the Bengals are 16-for-53 (30.2 percent) on them. That includes a 10-for-20 showing against the Dolphins and a 1-for-14 effort against the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago. Thirty-seven of Cincinnati’s 53 third-down plays in the past three games came at times when the Bengals needed to 5 or more yards to convert a first down. They were 14-for-37 on those long conversions, but also 2-for-16 on third-down conversions of 4 yards or less. Even though they ultimately beat the Browns given their 1-for-14 rating, the Bengals know they won’t normally win with such shoddy third-down play.

2. Bernard vs. Woodhead. The Bengals’ Giovani Bernard and the Chargers’ Danny Woodhead are two players who have drawn comparisons coming into this weekend. Both are shifty, smaller-statured running backs who have played key roles in both teams’ passing games. Part of quarterback Philip Rivers’ resurgence for San Diego this season has been a byproduct of Woodhead’s steady play in the short passing game. His 59 receptions led all running backs entering play this weekend. Bernard’s seven total touchdowns are the most for all rookie running backs. Three of those scores have come off screen passes that his elusive play turned into longer touchdown receptions. Expect both players to have impact in space for their respective offenses.

3. Shifting secondaries. Be on the lookout for the ways the Bengals and Chargers adjust their secondary lineups. Late in the week, San Diego coaches hinted at possible changes coming to their defensive backfield after a somewhat uninspiring performance against Kansas City’s passing offense last week. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was within 6 yards of passing for 300, and he had three passing touchdowns. Kansas City also had three different receivers who caught passes of 20 yards or more. While San Diego will be looking to control the big plays downfield, the Bengals’ adjustments may come at linebacker. On Friday, Will linebacker Vontaze Burfict sprained an ankle and is questionable ahead of this game. If he ends up missing the game or having his playing time diminished due to the injury, the Bengals will have to adjust their linebacker rotation a bit. The timing of an injury is never ideal, but at the very least Cincinnati will be getting Rey Maualuga back from his own knee issue, and Vincent Rey has been playing well of late, too. Now is a better time than before for the Bengals to deal with an injury at linebacker.

4. Another classic battle. Four of the last five Bengals-Chargers games have each been decided by eight points or less. Expect another highly competitive contest when these teams renew what has become a budding rivalry in recent seasons. Offense has been a key component to the series across the last five meetings, in particular. In the 2006 game at Cincinnati, the teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of total offense. At San Diego last season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for more than 100 yards, while Andy Dalton threw for a score and rushed for another. In their five meetings since 2003, the teams have played in Week 10 or later. Once again, they're going against one another with playoff berths still on the line for both. For that reason, expect another classic and close battle.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers41-38 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelKeenan Allen caught nine passes for 124 yards, and he drew double coverage that opened things up for teammates.
Allen is a No. 1 receiver: Yes, the Chiefs showed the ultimate respect for Chargers rookie receiver Keenan Allen. After he blistered the Chiefs for eight catches and 104 yards in the first half, Kansas City double-covered him, putting a safety over the top of the cornerback on his side. Allen finished with nine catches for 124 yards, but the double coverage opened up opportunities for teammates such as tight end Ladarius Green and slot receiver Eddie Royal. And it shows that Allen is emerging as a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Allen said he looked forward to playing against the Chiefs because the corners play so much press man coverage. “That’s when I’m at my best,” Allen said. “I can work a release off the line of scrimmage and make a guy miss.”

Woodhead the utility man: Running back Danny Woodhead did a little bit of everything for San Diego. He finished with an 11-yard touchdown reception and a 3-yard touchdown run. He made a block that allowed Royal to pick up an important first down on a scoring drive. And he finished with 137 kick-return yards, helping to give San Diego good field position. Woodhead has a career-high five receiving touchdowns this season, and he leads all running backs in receptions with 59 for 469 yards.

Time for Cox to take a seat: Cornerback Derek Cox was benched for a third time in four games after giving up a touchdown to Donnie Avery. Cox was replaced in the lineup by Richard Marshall, and did not return. Cox obviously feels pressure to perform because of the four-year, $20 million deal he signed in the offseason. But Cox doesn’t seem right physically; he doesn’t appear to have the ability to hit another gear and run with faster receivers. Maybe it is time for him to be placed on injured reserve, or at least benched for an extended period of time until he gets his confidence back. Both Cox and coach Mike McCoy maintain the cornerback is healthy.

Home cooking: Along with Philip Rivers leading the offense, one of the main reasons NFL observers are giving San Diego a shot to make the playoffs is because of the team’s schedule down the stretch. The Chargers finish with four of their last five games at home, and still have three games against AFC West foes. The favorable schedule gives San Diego plenty of opportunity to make the postseason for the first time since 2009.
 
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.

Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.

 

Brandon Meriweather didn't back down

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
11:55
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather didn't draw a penalty. At times he changed up the way he hit; other times he still went high -- albeit lower than he had in the past. Whether he'll continue this style will be answered in coming weeks. But for one game, Meriweather exited without any issues (though San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews didn't like one hit).

Meriweather
Meriweather did not head hunt or knee hunt, though he certainly tackled low at times (as do many defensive backs). Here's a breakdown of his tackles:
  • Second and 10, Redskins' 42-yard line, second quarter. Meriweather is about seven yards off the ball at the snap and runs up to tackle Mathews up the middle; Meriweather hits him under his pads and tries to wrap up as Mathews leans forward, bringing him down after six yards.
  • Second and 1, Chargers' 37, second quarter. Mathews bounces outside and Meriweather lines him up, sprinting from deep middle. Meriweather lowers his head on his approach but appears to first hit with his left shoulder, hitting Mathews just below his right shoulder pad as the Chargers' back lowers his head a little as well. It's a bit close for comfort. Mathews exchanges words with Meriweather after the play, pointing at him as officials separate the two.
  • First and 10, Chargers' 15, second quarter. Meriweather, playing deep half on the right side, reads a swing pass to running back Danny Woodhead in the left flat. Meriweather aggressively pursues and hits the 5-foot-8 Woodhead in his legs, just above the knees. It's his only tackle attempt that low. I wouldn't say he was aiming for knees considering this was his only tackle in that area.
  • First and 10, Redskins' 45, second quarter. Another pass to Woodhead with Meriweather in deep middle. Again, he pursues aggressively and hits Woodhead just under his shoulder pads.
  • Third and 3, Chargers' 30, fourth quarter. Rivers dumps a short pass over the middle to receiver Keenan Allen, with Meriweather about 10 yards downfield. Allen spins away from one tackle, running away from Meriweather. The Redskins' safety hits him between his waist and shoulder pads, wraps him up and tackles him. A good tackle.

Goal-line stand might have saved season

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
7:50
PM ET
LANDOVER, Md. -- Less than a yard dictated the future of the Washington Redskins' season. Three plays that could reshape a season-gone-bad. Or, perhaps, lead to an unofficial elimination loss, followed by weeks of frustration and speculation. Which is not what anyone in the Redskins' organization had in mind just two months ago.

Still, that's what the Redskins faced when the San Diego Chargers lined up with a first and goal inside the 1-yard line. Moments earlier, Danny Woodhead dove for the pylon, missing by inches as the replay showed. But with all sorts of momentum, San Diego was in good shape with 21 seconds and two time outs.

[+] EnlargeDanny Woodhead
AP Photo/Alex BrandonWashington's goal-line stand may be a turning point for the Redskins' season.
Here's how the Redskins responded: stopping Woodhead – really? – for no gain; defending a fade route to tight end Antonio Gates; leaving no one open for Philip Rivers on a sprint rollout to the right.

Yes, San Diego punctuated the drive with a field goal to send the game into overtime as the Redskins blew a 10-point lead.

But.

The offense responded with a 78-yard drive to win the game in overtime, a 30-24 victory that left them at 3-5 and with a pulse.

“That was a big-time stand and a big-time drive by the offense,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. “You know it can be some momentum for us, big-time momentum for us. It says there's a lot of fight in this team.”

And it might have saved the season.

“Maybe. We'll see,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “This was a must win. We're not going to say that [before the game] but it was a must win for us. We needed this game. It was remarkable the way our guys fought.”

They needed to fight, with a game that had slipped away and a season that was in danger of doing the same. The Redskins can point to last year all they want, but had they fallen to a 2-6 record they would have been alive only mathematically. Now? They still need to win consecutive games before they can think they're back in any race.

But the goal-line stand and subsequent overtime drive gave them a chance. "The way we won the game, that can be a turning point for us," Griffin said. "It’s definitely a team bonding type game."

Woodhead went nowhere on first down and the fade to Gates, whose route was thrown off by a hard jam from corner DeAngelo Hall, was too long. On third down Rivers sprinted right, no one was open and he threw incomplete to the back of the end zone to Keenan Allen. The Chargers tied the game; the Redskins celebrated. Or, at least, exhaled.

“It's a confidence builder, definitely,” Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “It was do or die man. Guys stood up man and everyone did their job. That's why we were able to be successful.”

“A character building situation,” Hall said.

It needed to happen. Perhaps what the Redskins needed was a game in which they were tested this way, forcing a prove-yourself moment. They made plenty of mistakes on this drive, miscues that could have cost them the game. They came through when needed.

“Anybody else would have folded,” Orakpo said. “Your first and one on the goal line. They converted big play after big play. Momentum was swinging to their side. You could hear the gasps in the stadium with our fans and everybody really not sure. We looked in each other's eyes and just made sure that, look they do not score; they will not cross the goal line. It was remarkable, one of the best situations I've been in in a while.”

It kept their season off life support. They're still alive.
SAN DIEGO -- Can Danny Woodhead tote the rock 20 times a game in Mike McCoy’s offense?

We could find out this week when the Indianapolis Colts travel to San Diego to take on the Chargersin a Monday night game.

McCoy said the team’s starting running back, Ryan Mathews, suffered a concussion in the early portion of his team’s 27-17 loss at Oakland. Mathews appeared to suffer the injury on a 5-yard run in the second quarter, taking a knee to the head from an Oakland defensive player. McCoy said that in order for Mathews to return to the field, he will be subject to passing the NFL’s protocol for concussion testing.

“He had limited snaps until he got dinged, and then he came out,” McCoy said, when asked about Mathews’ injury.

Even with Mathews available against Oakland, Woodhead started the game at tailback. He finished with 13 rushing yards on nine carries (1.4 per carry), and caught another nine passes for 58 yards.

The Raiders stopped Woodhead short of the end zone on fourth-and-1 from Oakland’s 1-yard line in the first half. And Woodhead fumbled in the second half after a hard hit by Oakland linebacker Kevin Burnett jarred the ball loose, which resulted in a 25-yard fumble return for a score by Charles Woodson.

Woodhead, 28, carried the ball a career-high 97 times for 547 yards in 2010 for New England. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry that season, and caught 34 passes for 379 yards and a score.

With Mathews unavailable, McCoy said that he believes the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Woodhead could be a 20-carry guy in his offense.

“He’s done that before -- I think he can,” McCoy said. “We’ve got him and Ronnie, and Ryan will split the load as time goes on. There’s games where guys will get more touches than others, depending on the flow of the game. And you’re going to do whatever you think is best to win the game.”

McCoy said he’s fine with the team’s depth at running back if Mathews is unavailable this week. Ronnie Brown is the team’s only other tailback on the active roster.

Fullback Le'Ron McClain also could be used to spell Woodhead. And Miguel Maysonet was added to the team’s practice squad last week.

San Diego has a couple other injured players that will have to heal up this week. Chargers left tackle Michael Harris appeared to suffer an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Harris was replaced by Nick Becton.

“He’s getting some treatment now, and he’ll be day-to-day,” McCoy said about Harris.

Another injury concern is edge rusher Jarret Johnson, who limped off the field in the second half with an apparent leg injury and did not return. Johnson was replaced by Thomas Keiser.

Johnson is San Diego’s leading sack man with four sacks on the year. And with Dwight Freeney already done for the season with a quadriceps tear, the Chargers can’t afford to lose another frontline starter at that position.

“He was in this morning for some treatment and stuff,” McCoy said about Johnson. “And we’ll give you an update later this week as the days go on.”
OAKLAND -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers27-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: The Chargers dropped into the AFC West cellar with a loss to the Raiders in the team’s first divisional game. San Diego was the favorite heading into a contest for the first time this season but failed to play with the urgency needed to win on the road.

Blunders and miscues reign: The Chargers turned the ball over five times, and the Raiders converted those miscues into 17 points. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw three interceptions, including one on the opening series, which Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor quickly converted into a 44-yard touchdown pass to Rod Streater. Eddie Royal's muffed punt was recovered by Oakland’s Chimdi Chekwa and converted into a 47-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal in the second quarter. And Charles Woodson scored a touchdown on a 25-yard fumble return when linebacker Kevin Burnett jarred the ball loose from Danny Woodhead on a big hit in the third quarter. The Chargers also had a field goal try blocked. San Diego’s defense failed to contain Pryor, who finished 18-of-23 passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns.

Offense sputters: San Diego’s offense had been purring through the first quarter of the season heading into Sunday’s contest, but Rivers and the rest of the offense sputtered against the Raiders. The Chargers were shut out in the first half for the first time this season. They finished with more than 400 yards of offense but just 32 rushing yards. The Chargers played most of the contest without their leading rusher, Ryan Mathews, who left the game in the first half with a concussion.

Young receivers play well: Vincent Brown has his best game of the season, finishing with eight receptions for 117 yards, including a long of 51 yards, and rookie Keenan Allen had his second straight productive game, finishing with six catches for 115 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown.

What’s next: The Chargers return home to Qualcomm Stadium to face the Indianapolis Colts next Monday night.
SAN DIEGO – When it comes to getting carries, an offensive coordinator is never going to satisfy everyone in the running back room.

Everyone wants their touches. And when a running back is playing in a pass-first offense, those touches can be few and far between. But through four games, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has done a nice job of managing the workload between his stable of running backs.

“A lot of it is package-driven,” Whisenhunt said. “We go in there with a lot of different personnel groups, and we have different guys playing in different spots within those groups. If we’re having success with that group, then whatever the rotation is, those guys are going to get more plays on any given Sunday.

“We’re certainly conscious of the fact that Ryan [Mathews] is running the ball very well and we’re trying to get opportunities for him to do that. But Danny [Woodhead] has been playing well for us. Ronnie Brown has been playing well for us. It’s really a good problem to have to be honest with you.”

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsRyan Mathews is the Chargers' top rusher and every-down back, but his role changes near the goal line.
San Diego is running the ball only 41.5 percent of the time (148 passing plays vs. 105 running plays). But when the Chargers have run the ball, they've been pretty effective, averaging 105 yards a contest.

Mathews is the team’s every-down back. The Fresno State product has a team-high 226 yards on 64 carries, a 3.5-per-carry average. His longest run is 20 yards. Mathews also has seven catches for 66 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown. But he has not scored on rushing touchdown this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mathews has only one carry inside the opponent’s 10-yard line this season, and only four of his carries have come inside the 20-yard line. Brown has handled both carries for San Diego from the opponent’s 1-yard line this season.

Even though he has not received touches near the goal line, Mathews said he’s comfortable with his team’s new offense, and his role in it.

“We've got a bunch of great running backs here that can all make plays,” he said. “If the personnel is called up, and your number is called up, then you go in the game and do your best on every play.”

Woodhead has been used mostly in passing situations and in the red zone. The Chadron State product is the second-leading receiver for the Chargers, with 22 catches for 162 yards. Woodhead had his first, two-touchdown-reception game against Dallas last week, twice beating Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter on wheel routes.

Woodhead also has 90 yards rushing, and is the closest player in terms of skill set the Chargers have had since losing Darren Sproles to New Orleans in free agency in 2011.

The unselfish Woodhead said that whenever his number is called, he’ll be ready.

“That’s the last thing I’m concerned about is how many touches I get,” Woodhead said. “I don’t want to get into that, because then the focus would be on myself. I want to focus on what we have to do to win the game. And when I’m out there, if I get the touch, I’m going to try and do the best I can with it. But you’ve got to realize that there’s 10 other people helping me if I get yards.”

Brown has been used mostly in goal-line and passing situations. Brown has 55 yards rushing, including a 1-yard touchdown. And then there's Le'Ron McClain, who at 6-foot and 260 pounds remains one of the most bruising lead-blocking fullbacks in the business.

The diversity of runners the Chargers have on the roster allows them to attack opponents in a lot of different ways, keeping defenses from just focusing on Philip Rivers and the passing game.

“I know Ryan would like to get the ball 20 times, but every back would,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “Every receiver wants 10 catches. It’s a team game. There is going to be games from week to week where certain guys are the best guy for the situation.

“Ryan is the guy we are going to pound the ball with. That’s what we put him in there to do, and he did a good job with it running physical and making the most out of his opportunities. We’re going to play a number of guys. We not worrying about giving this guy this many touches, we’re going to do what’s best to win.”

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