Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 12 match between the San Diego Chargers and the Houston Texans.
1. Finish in the Red Zone – While San Diego boasts one of the top offenses in the NFL, ranking second in the league averaging 29.2 points per game, struggles in the red zone have cost them dearly. That was never more apparent than the last time they took the field in Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins. The Chargers have reached the red zone a league-high 46 times this season, yet have only scored a touchdown on 23 occasions. Their 50% conversion rate ranks 22nd in the NFL. Head Coach Mike McCoy acknowledged red zone efficiency has been disappointing; stressing it is a focal point heading into the final six games:
"I thought it would be a lot better. We're only at 50% scoring touchdowns. We've had 46 possessions and only scored 23 touchdowns. I think we could be a lot higher. It's just some little things from week to week that we haven't executed the right way. And there's certain things teams have taken away. But the way we've been going up and down the field, I'd like (red zone scoring) to be higher. It's been a point of emphasis all year."
2. Rock Brock – The Bolts faced Brock Osweiler in last year's season finale, forcing the then Broncos' quarterback to the bench after a handful of first-half turnovers. Now with the Texans, the young QB is 216 of 363 (59.5%) for 2,061 yards, 12 TDs and 10 picks for a 74.9 passer rating. San Diego will likely look to last year's blueprint when pressure forced the quarterback into making a number of mistakes. McCoy weighed in with how much their past experience facing Osweiler will help now that he is on a different team:
"It does help because you've played against him, but it is a completely different system and team. So I think our players know what type of player he is and what he can do. Obviously you look at the film and what he did the other night. Any player on any new team, the more you play with him, the better you are going to be. The receivers will have more comfort with the quarterback. He has a bright future in this league."
3. Don't Let Miller Roll – The Chargers recent string of facing tough running backs continues in Houston when they face Lamar Miller. In his first year with the Texans since signing as a free agent, the former Dolphin has 192 totes for 824 yards (4.3 ypc) and three touchdowns. San Diego has faced Miller numerous times over the past few seasons, so Defensive Coordinator John Pagano knows how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands:
"He's really explosive (and) dynamic. The style doesn't change much from how he runs the football downhill. He sees it well. He's catching the ball really well out of the backfield. They're getting him the ball in different ways. He looks a lot better even playing him last year. He didn't play the whole game because he got hurt. He's somebody that does a lot. He's a good running back."
4. Clowney No Laughing Matter – Jadeveon Clowney was one of the most hyped prospects coming out of college when the Texans made him the first overall pick in 2014. Although injuries slowed him earlier in his career, he's more than lived up to the hype in his third NFL season. The defensive end has been a destructive force for one of the top defenses in the league, as his impact has gone beyond his 39 tackles and three sack stat line. McCoy noted how the Chargers can't let Clowney wreck the game:
"This is the player that you watched all through college and early on in his career, (you knew) what he could do. Consistently this year, you've got to worry where number 90 is every single play. It doesn't matter if it's a run play, if it's something in protections; he's someone you have to account for all the time… he's moving around, playing left and right, inside outside and all over the place. That's what you've got to do with the good players."
5. Need Right Road Mindset – The Texans are a perfect 5-0 at home this year. Meanwhile, the Bolts have only one road victory thus far this season. In order to improve to 5-6, the Chargers will need to overcome a hostile environment in Houston. According to D.J. Fluker, it's all about having the right mindset:
"That's all it is. A mindset. A mentality that we won't be denied wherever we are. It is tough and harder on the road, but that is no excuse. We are ready for a battle. So we need the right mindset when we take the field that we won't be denied even if we are on the road."