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Chargers Begin Playoff Push Sunday Against Cardinals

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Welcome to Week 12.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of the Chargers-Cardinals matchup:

1. The time is now

The Chargers have been right there in back-to-back weeks, but have come up short in losses to the 49ers and Chiefs by nine total points.

The effort has been commendable, no doubt, but as the Bolts find themselves heading out on the road with a 5-5 record, the time is now to make a move.

The Chargers currently sit in ninth place and only one game out of a Wild Card spot in the AFC behind the Bengals and Jets, both of whom are 6-4. (The Patriots are 6-5 and in eighth place).

If the Bolts want to be in position in the final weeks of the season, a win on Sunday against the Cardinals could go a long way.

"We have the right guys on this football team," said Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. "What happened last week and the week before that, it's part of the league.

"You're going to have stretches like that where you have really tough ones that you feel like you are right there and you don't make them," Staley added. "It's what you do moving forward."

The Bolts have seven games left, but only two of them are against teams with winning records. The Chargers will see those pair of teams — the Dolphins and Titans — at home.

All that matters right now is Week 12 and Sunday's matchup against Arizona, where a win could move the Bolts into a playoff spot as the calendar turns to December.

"The good teams will start to emerge," linebacker Drue Tranquill said Friday in the locker room. "We've lost two games to two really tough teams, and I think myself, as well as everybody else, would say we're disappointed with the 5-5 start.

"That's not where we envisioned for ourselves and we believe we can play a lot better ball," Tranquill added. "Our best ball is still to come but we have to get it rolling these last seven games. Things are tight in the AFC and if we want to be there in the end, we really have to start making a push."

2. Slowing down Murray

If the Bolts get a win Sunday and can slow down Kyler Murray in the process, give some credit to Easton Stick.

The Chargers third-string quarterback has mimicked Murray in practice this week. Well, as best as he can, to help the Chargers defense prepare for the elusive former No. 1 overall pick.

Tranquill praised Stick but noted the Sunday will be a different test of speed.

"Easton has done a really nice job of giving us a good look," Tranquill said. "But whenever you have a quarterback that is that fast and that special, you can't really simulate the speed, the elusiveness.

"I thought Easton did a really good job though," Tranquill added. "It's going to be an eyes' game. They're going to do a lot of window dressing, misdirection. If we lock into our keys and have good eyes, I think we'll be alright."

Staley added on Murray: "Kyler is a rare player in the league. He's one of those guys that has difficult speed to replicate because there aren't very many quarterbacks that run as fast as he does. But we've Easton do a great job for us this week. You just try to simulate the plays the best that you can, and then the locations that you are going to need to be at, but until you get to the game, it's very difficult to simulate someone that is as good as Kyler is. It will be a team operation, for sure."

Murray has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury but is expected to start Sunday against the Bolts.

He's thrown for 12 scores and ran for two others in nine games this season.

3. An increased role for Woods?

The Bolts are a little banged up in the secondary entering Week 12.

Cornerback Michael Davis is questionable to play with a knee injury, but Staley said he'll go despite getting nicked up in Thursday's practice.

"He had something happen at practice yesterday," Staley said. "He was covering a play down the sideline and came up banged up, so we had to list it on the injury report."

Starting safety Nasir Adderley, meanwhile, is doubtful to play with a thumb injury he suffered against the Chiefs.

"Coming out of the game, he had a thumb injury that also impacts the middle of his hand," Staley said. "What we wanted to do was practice him Wednesday and Thursday, then see how it felt and see where it's at.

"He is going to be doubtful for this game because I don't think that he can grip his hand the right way to be able to tackle and get guys on the ground," Staley added.

Alohi Gilman, who already started once this season for Adderley in Week 5, will get the starting nod against Arizona.

But Staley noted that rookie JT Woods will likely see an increase role, along with Raheem Layne.

Woods, a 2022 third-round pick out of Baylor, played a season-high 14 snaps against the Chiefs. He's played 19 total defensive snaps all season.

"It's felt really good, you know," Woods said Friday. "Just being able to contribute to the team a little more and take a little more hands on role. It's really good.

"I've got to give credit to all the older guys, they've been putting their hands on me and teaching me and bringing me up," Woods added. "Whatever the game time decision is going to be, I'm ready for whatever role they have me in."

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Friday practice at Hoag Performance Center

4. Kelley excited for likely return

Joshua Kelley is usually a happy go-lucky guy, with a bright smile that lights up the locker room.

But the Bolts running back has been amped up a bit extra this week as he prepares to make his likely return to the field.

"Shoot, bro, I'm so excited," Kelley said. "Whatever my role is — offense, special teams — I just want to play.

"I've missed it so much. The hardest thing was learning to be patient because, with injuries, there's only so much you can control," Kelley added. "But you figure out that playing, being there with your teammates, it's special. It's not guaranteed."

Kelley has missed the past four games on Injured Reserve with a knee injury suffered against the Broncos in Week 6.

He's rushed for 104 yards and a score this year as the backup running back, while also helping out on special teams, too.

Both Staley and Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi said Kelley's presence would be a welcome one, both on and off the field.

"We miss his production because he was playing at a really high level, and doing a good job for us in the kicking game, too," Staley said. "It's going to be good to have him back. He's been working really hard. Looking forward to getting him back out there."

Lombardi added: "He brings a lot of energy. I think he was getting going before his injury. He had some production as a runner. It's good to see him going. He always runs hard and decisive. He's an energy bringer in the huddle and when he's out there, so it's been good."

5. A family affair

This isn't the first time Nick Niemann has seen his brother, Ben, on the opposing sideline.

Sunday will mark the third meeting between the two linebackers, including a pair of meetings a year ago when Ben was with Kansas City.

"It's still pretty cool, just as special as it was last year," Niemann said. "We're both just trying to treat it as a normal game, you can't get too caught up in that stuff.

"Hopefully we can enjoy it and talk some smack," Niemann added with a smile.

Nick Niemann said the brothers will have plenty of family in town for the game, although the whole crew won't be able to get together until afterwards due to the brothers staying at different hotels.

Nick and Ben each picked up a win in 2021, and both will be looking for bragging rights after Week 12.

"It's still definitely a rivalry within the family," Niemann said. "Still just as cool, still fun."

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