Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 4 match between the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints.
1. Reignite the Ground Game– The Bolts rushed for over 150 yards in their first two games before struggling to establish the run last week against the Colts, mustering only 37 yards on 17 carries. Reigniting their ground attack led by Melvin Gordon will be top of mind entering Week 4. They also happen to be facing a Saints team who has struggled thus far against the run, ranking last in the league giving up 149.3 yards per game. Still, the Chargers have a lot of respect for New Orleans defense and believes it will be tough sledding to pound the rock. Melvin Gordon best described the team's mindset when explaining how he's preparing for the Saints:
"I'm just going to take what they give me. It's the NFL. I don't expect to go out there and run for 200, this or that. You can't have a set number in your head, because if you do, you'll be disappointed if you don't' reach it. So my goal is to go out there with the unit and see what happens. Get those guys to do what they do up front, and create big plays. That is all we can count on. You can't say they've been struggling against the run. They can come out and be the best defense that week. That's just how things go, and you learn that early. We're going to go out there and we're just going to ball."
2. Batter Brees– The Chargers know as well as any team what Drew Brees is capable of as their former quarterback returns to Qualcomm Stadium for the first time since joining the Saints a decade ago. Brees leads the NFL in completions (93), passing yards (1,062) and touchdowns (eight), and has thrown just one interception for a 105.1 passer rating. Brees didn't hide the fact that it will be an emotional return; however, he stressed he must remain focused and keep his emotions in check. He says it won't be easy facing a Chargers defense rife with playmakers:
"I think they have some really good players in the secondary. I think they have a really good pass rush. Melvin Ingram is an extremely impressive player. Really, that whole defensive front…a lot of guys who can make plays on the ball (in the secondary). We have our work cut out for us. I think we have to be ultra-efficient in everything we do; run and pass. We need to have a good protection plan. I have a lot of respect for (Defensive Coordinator) John Pagano."
3. Contain Cooks– Brees' top weapon is WR Brandon Cooks, who is one of the fastest players in the NFL. The speedster already has a 98-touchdown under his belt this season and will be looked at early and often. Through three games, Cooks has caught 15 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano detailed why the third-year wide receiver is so dangerous:
"(A) fast speed guy (who is) getting better every year. You see the big plays, (especially) the big play he had against Oakland. The ability to run away from people after the catch. You see how they match him up in certain areas to be able to get him open the way he runs routes."
Meanwhile, Jason Verrett has lined up against the opposition's top weapon all season long. This week, that would mean also facing one of his closest friends who worked out together this summer. Verrett explained how he must flip a switch come kickoff:
"It's going to be fun just because I know when we are out there, there is going to be an 'I hate you' mentality. We've got to beat each other. I know we are going to dog it out, and after we'll swap jerseys and show love."
4. Big Play Benjamin – San Diego has its own speedy wideout in Travis Benjamin, who has burned defenses for a number of big plays already this season. In fact, he's caught a pass of at least 43 yards in his last two games. One more against the Saints and he'll be the first Charger since Bobby Duckworth in 1984 with a catch spanning at least that distance in three straight games. Benjamin will go against a Saints secondary that has been hit hard by injury, but one that Philip Rivers says he has a lot of respect for:
"They've had a lot of injuries in the secondary, but the guys who have been in there are a scrappy bunch of guys. They (have) young guys in some spots and veteran guys in other spots. In the safety spot there is a handful of veterans and Pro Bowlers….It's going to be a challenge. They are a team that obviously we know is going to be hungry for a win. We are as well. It's a huge game for both teams:
5. Wrap Up Ingram – While New Orleans' passing attack gets most of the headlines, the Chargers know they are in for a tough test on the ground facing Mark Ingram. The Alabama product is off to another strong start, carrying the ball 36 times for 165 yards to average 4.6 yards per carry. He is also tough as nails to bring down with an intense running style. Pagano offered a scouting report of the Saints' top ball carrier, emphasizing a need to match his intensity:
"He's a one cut, slashing, downhill runner. Sees the hole, takes what he gets and lowers his pad level. You've got to have a pad level to be able to match his intensity coming through the hole to be able to tackle him. He's smart; has got great vision. They do a lot with him."