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Keys to the Game: Chargers vs. Bills

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Here are five keys to the game heading into Sunday’s game between the Chargers and the Bills.

1.  Jolt Josh – The Chargers face a relative unknown at quarterback for the second-straight week after Buffalo named seventh-overall pick Josh Allen their new starter. The rookie out of Wyoming made his NFL debut in the second half last week, completing six of 15 passes for 74 yards. Allen made waves in the lead up to the draft with his powerful arm and ability to carve teams up with his mobility as well. The key for the Bolts will be to pressure Allen, which is something they struggled with against the Chiefs. Derwin James recorded the team’s lone sack, so L.A. will need to return to form from a year ago when they were among the best in the league at bringing down the passer. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley admitted how last week’s pass rush was not what the team envisioned, stressing a need to get after Allen while also explaining how to do that:

“I think we look at it based on how many drop-back passes and play-action passes (are there), and do we affect the quarterback? We would always like that number to be a little higher (than we had last week)… You do see that on tape where (Allen) has the ability to run, extend plays and get yardage — and he'll do it any time. He'll do it on first and second down. They have a run play designed for him, they have two-minute, he'll take off and run. So, he's just a big, strong guy that when you see him step up in the pocket, you see a quarterback that has really good poise. You can tell he's big on tape and he stands up there, but if he doesn't like something, he has the ability to extend the play and using his legs. So, I think you just have to have great awareness with the defensive line.”

2. Marked Improvement on the Money Down – A trademark of the Chargers’ offense in recent seasons has been their ability to move the chains on third down. It got lost in the shuffle last week with the team racking up a league-leading 541 yards of total offense, but the Bolts struggled in that area. In fact, they converted at only a 27.3 percent clip (3-of-11) against the Chiefs. Thus, Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt stressed this week a need to improve on the money down against the Bills:

“It's hard to say that you're happy. Obviously, in third down we weren't as good as we need to be. I think if we can do better there, we'll certainly be more pleased. We missed an early opportunity on that third-and-one, and that hurt us because when we punted, they returned it for the touchdown. That certainly affected the momentum. I still think our team is mature enough that we can recover from that, but we kept plodding. It was hard. We missed a couple of shots, but overall I think we did a lot of good things and I think certainly there's a lot to build off of.”

3. Shut Down Shady – LeSean McCoy had an off day in the Bills’ debut, running just seven times for 22 yards while catching one pass that went for negative yardage. The Bolts know better than to expect that type of performance again on Sunday. McCoy has been one of the most dangerous weapons in all of football from the moment he entered the league in 2009 as his 13,491 yards from scrimmage are the most by any player over that span. The 30-year-old has had marked success against the Chargers over the years, including last season when he had 113 yards on the ground and two total touchdowns. McCoy is also on record this week saying he has to do everything he can to make Allen’s job easier in his first career start. Thus, it’s safe to assume the Bolts will see a steady dose of Shady. Head Coach Anthony Lynn coached McCoy for two seasons in Buffalo, so he knows better than anyone what makes the running back a nightmare for opposing defenses:

“His elusiveness (is special). His will to compete. He's one of the best that's played the position in our game…. He's one of the best players on the team, so you have to think they're going to run a lot of things through him. Last week it didn't work out. He didn't get a lot of touches, but this week I fully plan on seeing a lot of LeSean McCoy. He's going to go down as one of the best to play our game when it's all said and done. He's a special player. Y\ou have to get a lot of hats to the ball with LeSean, no doubt about it.”\

4. Beware of Speedy Secondary – Philip Rivers has seen all types of secondaries in his Hall of Fame career, and he noted how fast Buffalo’s defensive backs play the game. He also explained that the scheme they play is drastically different than the one the Chargers went up against last week. Watching the tape, Rivers sees all types of playmakers in the backend:

“I would describe them as football players. They seem to have a real knack for how to play. They tackle. They play the ball. They're just solid players. Again, this scheme, when (Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott) was in Carolina, it's a sound scheme that the guys played that allows them to play fast. They play fast and they fly on the ball. It's one thing that jumps out is guys going for the football. It will be totally different scheme-wise from last week for us. We'll get dialed in and be ready.”

5. Road Warriors – The Bolts’ first round test of the year is a doozy as Buffalo’s fans are notoriously rowdy. It’s always hostile territory when opposing teams play at New Era Field, but that will be compounded by the fact this is the Bills’ home opener. Having spent two seasons coaching in Buffalo before taking over the reins of the Bolts, Lynn explained what it’s like to play in that environment:

“It's going to be loud. There will be 69 (to) 70,000 people there. It will be really loud. The way the stadium is made, the fans are kind of on top of the field. It's a fun place to play a football game, and they appreciate their Bills…. (The road always brings) distractions, communication, fan noise. There are a lot of things that happen when you're on the road that you have to overcome. Then you've got to go play the opponent. We've handled that well in the past. I don't see that being a problem. I see it being a fun game. It's going to be a great environment to play football and I'm looking forward to it.”

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