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Scouting Report: Chargers vs. Texans
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On Offense for the Chargers
The Chargers brought in a new offensive coordinator in Ken Whisenhunt, who spent the previous six seasons at the helm of the Arizona Cardinals. Leading the attack is Philip Rivers, the venerable quarterback entering his 10th season under center. In 2012, he recorded his fifth-straight 3,500-yard season, throwing for 3,606 yards and 26 touchdowns. Also returning are last year’s leading rusher, Ryan Mathews as well as eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates. The biggest change offensively is to the offensive line as only two holdovers (Nick Hardwick and Jeromey Clary) from last year’s front five are back, though Clary is moving to a new position (right guard). The line features three newcomers, including right tackle D.J. Fluker, the team’s top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
On Offense for the Texans
The Texans have a dynamic, balanced offense that is led by quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw for 4,008 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012. His main weapon is wide receiver Andre Johnson (112 catches, 1,598 yards and four touchdowns) as well as tight end Owen Daniels (62 catches, 716 yards and six touchdowns) and their first-round draft choice out of Clemson, rookie DeAndre Hopkins. Perhaps most notable is running back Arian Foster, who has emerged over the past few seasons as one of the top all-around running backs in the NFL. Last season he rushed for 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns.
On Defense for the Chargers
John Pagano returns for his second year as defensive coordinator, looking to build upon an impressive 2012. Some of the brightest young defensive linemen in the league constitute the front three in the form of Corey Liuget, Cam Thomas and Kendall Reyes. At inside linebacker, the team’s second-leading tackler each of the past two seasons returns in Donald Butler. At outside linebacker, veteran strong-side linebacker Jarret Johnson is joined by future Hall-of-Fame veteran Dwight Freeney, the Indianapolis Colts’ all-time sacks leader. In the secondary, Derek Cox and Shareece Wright man the cornerback slots while 2012’s leading tackler Eric Weddle anchors the safety position alongside Marcus Gilchrist.
On Defense for the Texans
Houston boasted one of the top defenses in the NFL last season, ranking seventh in total defense. The unit is anchored by reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. The defensive end was the NFL’s sack leader with 20.5 quarterback takedowns in 2012. Fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, safety Ed Reed anchors a steady Texans secondary, although he was only activated off the PUP list on Monday after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on August 13. Meanwhile, inside linebacker Brian Cushing will be returning from a season-ending ACL injury last October. Calling the shots on defense is former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The longtime coach with 37 years’ experience took over in 2011, which also coincided with the Texans rise to a powerhouse defense.
The Chargers are undefeated against the Texans, boasting a perfect 4-0 record.. They have defeated the Texans twice at Qualcomm Stadium and twice down in Reliant Stadium. This is the second time these two teams have locked up in a season opener as they opened the 2004 season in Houston with a 27-20 victory.
By the Numbers
In 2012, the Chargers ranked 31st in total offense (297.2 yards per game), 24th in passing (205.9 ypg), 27th in rushing (91.3 ypg) and 20th in points (21.9). The Texans ranked seventh in total offense (374.6 ypg), 11th in passing (239.4 ypg), eighth in rushing (132.7 ypg) and eighth in points (26.0).
Defensively, the Bolts ranked ninth in total defense (326.4 ypg), 18th in passing (230.1 ypg), sixth in rushing (96.4 ypg) and 16th in points allowed (21.9). Houston ranked seventh in total defense (323.2 ypg), 16th in passing (225.8 ypg), seventh in rushing (97.5 ypg) and ninth in points allowed (20.7).
Milestones on the Horizon
The Chargers have 399 all-time regular-season wins and need just one to reach 400. San Diego’s all-time regular-season record is 399-394-11.
Antonio Gates has scored 498 career points and needs just two to reach 500. He’d also pass Lance Alworth (500 points) for fifth place on the team’s career scoring list.
Gates has 640 career catches and needs 23 to pass Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome (662) for fourth-most by a tight end in NFL history.
Gates (8,306 career yards) currently ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards by a tight end. Two of the players ranked ahead of him are still active, including Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, who owns the most yards by a tight end with 14,227 and Dallas’ Jason Witten, who’s third with 8,892 yards.
Ryan Mathews (2,476 career rushing yards) heads into 2013 ranked ninth on the Chargers’ all-time rushing list. He needs 44 yards to pass Dick Post (2,519) for eighth.
Mathews (564 career carries) also moves into 2013 ranked 10th on the team’s career rushing attempts list and needs five to pass Dick Post (568), nine to pass Mike Garrett (572) and 10 to top Keith Lincoln (573).
Eddie Royal begins 2013 with 4,988 career all-purpose yards, needing just 12 to become the 53rd active player to cross the 5,000-yard threshold.
Philip Rivers heads into 2013 having made 112 consecutive starts, the NFL’s second- longest streak among active quarterbacks behind Eli Manning’s 127.
Rivers and Antonio Gates have combined for 56 career touchdowns, most in NFL history for a quarterback-tight end tandem.
Nick Novak (45 career field goals) ranks sixth on the team’s all-time field goals list and needs six more to pass George Blair (1961-64) who is fifth with 50.
Mike Scifres will begin 2013 with the NFL’s highest career percentage of punts landed inside the 20 (min. 500 attempts). Of Scifres’ 573 career punts, 227 have landed inside the 20 (39.6%).
Chargers running back Fozzy Whittaker is a native of Houston and was a standout runner at Houston’s Pearland High School.
Other Chargers with ties to Texas include linebacker Bront Bird (Odessa, Tex. and Texas Tech) and right guard Jeromey Clary (Mansfield).
ESPN (Simulcast on KSUI-TV Channels 9/51 in San Diego) – Chris Berman (play-by-play), Trent Dilfer (analyst) and Sal Paolantonio (reporter)
Dial Global Radio Network (National) –Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Dan Fouts (analyst) and Tim Ryan (reporter)
Rock 105.3 FM, XTRA Sports 1360 (San Diego) and AM 570 KLAC (Los Angeles & Orange County) – Josh Lewin (play-by-play), Hank Bauer (analyst) and Mike Costa (sidelines)
Spanish Radio –XHFG 107.3 (San Diego) and KWKW 1330 AM (Los Angeles) – Jorge Villanueva (play-by-play) and Dante Lazcano (analyst)