Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 11 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo Bills:
1. Rattle Peterman – Buffalo shocked everyone earlier this week when they announced rookie Nathan Peterman would start at quarterback over Tyrod Taylor. The two have completely different styles, as the fifth-round pick out of Pitt is more of a traditional pocket passer while the veteran is a dangerous mobile threat. While there is limited tape on the Bills' new starter, the Bolts are impressed by what they've seen and know they must pressure Peterman in order to rattle the rookie. After all, what would get in the mind of a young passer more than Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge? Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley weighed in on how different it has been preparing for Peterman and Taylor this week, which makes getting pressure on the QB even more important:
"This week of prep has been a little bit different with the change in quarterbacks. But the way we're going about it, is we're making sure we are prepared for both, just like any week. You always have to know the first guy and the second guy. I guess what's unique this week is really completely different styles. So it puts a strain on us that way a little bit, but it's been going good thus far."
2. QB Confidence – The Chargers' QB situation is somewhat murky as well as Philip Rivers self-reported concussion symptoms on Monday and entered the protocol. After being limited in practice on Wednesday, number 17 was a full participant the rest of the week. Nonetheless, he still needs to be medically cleared in order to take the field on Sunday. If he isn't, his 185-game consecutive starts streak will come to an end as Kellen Clemens will take over. The Chargers insist they have full confidence in their game plan no matter who is under center. The backup QB is a savvy veteran who knows the system as well as anyone, which Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt mentioned when talking about the possibility of Clemens taking the field:
"Kellen is very involved with the game plan part of it (each week), interacting with Philip and how they prepare. He's been in the system for a number of years, so he's comfortable with it. You don't want to make him try to do too much. Maybe you cut it down a little. But from all the guys I've been around, especially in that role, Kellen is one of the sharpest as far as understanding what you need done and communicating that to the players. Executing it in a game is something he hasn't done a lot of in the last couple of years, but he's a pro, and I'm sure he'll be prepared."
3. Stop Shady – The Bolts may rank last against the run, but they've made marked improvement over the last few games. Also, it's an example of how stats can be misleading. For instance, while the Jaguars technically ran for 135 yards a week ago, 56 came on a fake punt when the defense was on the sideline. Removing that one play, the Chargers gave up only 79 yards on 27 carries against the number one rushing attack in the NFL. It also means the 5.0 ypc L.A. gave up according to the statsheet was actually 3.0 ypc. While the Bolts bottled up the powerful Leonard Fournette, they'll have an equally tough task against LeSean McCoy, who has a completely different running style. "Shady" is as shifty as they come, and with the Bills making a QB change, it only makes sense to assume they'll feed one of the NFL's elite running backs. To that end, safety Jahleel Addae weighed in on what it will take to limit McCoy's damage:
"That's kind of what it like (in the NFL). We've played a lot of good backs this year, but Shady, he's a top back in this league. He's shifty. He can make you miss in a phone booth. They get the ball to him outside of the backfield on swing routes or screens; whatever it may be. So I think we've just got to get all 11 hats to the ball this week. If we do that, we'll be fine corralling him."
4. Ride Gordon – Meanwhile, the Chargers will look to ride their own elite back in Melvin Gordon. While the Jaguars did an efficient job limiting his damage, the Bolts hope Gordon can gain traction against a Buffalo defense who has struggled recently against the run. The Bills have given up an average of 246 yards on the ground in each of the past two games. However, Whisenhunt was quick to point out success in the ground game isn't all on Gordon. It takes the entire team:
"It's not just Melvin, you know? If Melvin could beat 11 guys by himself, I'd give it to him every time, and it would be easy. Let's not forget, vs. Tennessee last year, there have been times we've been able to do it, and it's something we always strive to do. A lot of times, when you're going against a team like Jacksonville, who is very good up front, it's not easy to do that. We have been able to do that this year. Unfortunately, we weren't in that game. We're a work in progress."
5. Protect the Rock – Head Coach Anthony Lynn didn't shy away from what he considered the most important factor on Sunday – protecting the rock. Buffalo has thrived at creating turnovers all year. It doesn't matter what else the Chargers are able to accomplish if they aren't careful with the football. All the team has to do is look at last week, when Austin Ekeler's fumble started a chain of events ending in an unlikely defeat:
"Take care of the football. This game here is all about the ball. Buffalo, the games they've won, they've won the turnover battle. I think they've allowed very few on offense. I think on defense, they're No. 2 in causing turnovers. No. 3 in interceptions. They've caused 16 contact fumbles. For them, it's been taking the ball away. If we take care of the football, and we take some turnovers from them, I like our chances."