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Preview: Chargers at Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE – Monday Night football and Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew await the Chargers.
Jacksonville (3-8) also has a stingy defense ranked fourth in the NFL, a rookie quarterback still trying to find his sea legs and an interim coach in Mel Tucker that hopes to breathe energy into a team which let go their head coach early in the week.
San Diego (4-7), though, feels its current six-game losing streak is more about itself than anything else. To get a win for the first time in 49 days, the Chargers need to generate a positive turnover margin – something they’ve managed just once this season – and keep those persistent, game-changing negative plays at bay.
Philip Rivers will try to guide a Chargers offense back to its usual self after failing to top 21 points in five of the last six games. The defense and special teams each have played well in certain areas but haven’t seemed to hammer down every nail and have allowed some costly gains.
The Bolts’ season still is alive mathematically, but the group faces ever-increasing odds three games back in the AFC West with five left.
“I think there’s no pressure,” said Rivers of a team that was once 4-1. “When you’ve lost six in a row, there’s no pressure of expectations on the outside. On the inside, everybody believes we can win the rest of them. But to win the rest of them, you’ve got to win the first one.”
The Chargers seem better equipped to play at their best than they have in a while. Malcom Floyd is expected to start opposite Vincent Jackson at receiver following a four-week absence. The pair of 6-foot-5 standouts along with Antonio Gates haven’t spent much time on the field together the last two seasons but surely will provide Rivers with a good compliment of players to throw to.
The left side of the offensive line has been a critical juncture since Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman, both Pro Bowl veterans, suffered season-ending injuries. Louis Vasquez should return to fortify right guard after missing two games, and it seems likely Tyronne Green will return to play one of the two positions on the left side after also missing two games.
With Brandyn Dombrowski doubtful, Wednesday acquisition Jared Gaither may play left tackle. Or, the Chargers could station Green there and let Stephen Schilling or Tony Moll fill in at left guard.
Ryan Mathews, off a career-high 137 rushing yards against Denver, could alleviate some burden from the pass offense with another strong day.
On defense, the Chargers plan to load the box against Jones-Drew, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, and make life difficult for rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.