Here are five keys to the game heading into Saturday’s preseason opener between the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals:
1. Stop the Run – The Chargers boasted a historically good defense a year ago as their 17.0 points allowed per game was their fewest since 1992. The team ranked third in the NFL in both points against and overall pass defense. However, their run defense left a lot to be desired. In fact, they ranked second to last in the league, allowing 131.1 yards per game. Thus, stopping the run has been a major point of emphasis heading into 2018. The Bolts will get quite the test going up against a motivated David Johnson, who missed virtually all of 2017 after fracturing his wrist in Week 1. L.A. will also have their hands full with fourth-round pick Chase Edmonds, D.J. Foster and T.J. Logan.
2. Who Stands Out on Specials? – The third phase of the game will be under a microscope for several reasons on Saturday. First and foremost is getting a look at Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo, who look to solve the Bolts’ kicking woes from a year ago. In addition, the battle at kick returner is a wide open race. And last but not least are the new kickoff rules, which figure to drastically alter the play. There is a lot still up in the air when it comes to special teams, and the preseason opener will give us the best glimpse yet at how far the Bolts have come since the end of 2017.
3. Get the Tight End Involved – Virgil Green is the only tight end on the roster with an NFL catch. With Hunter Henry out with an ACL injury, the stage is set for one of the young, unproven options at the position to seize the opportunity. They’ll be in for a tough test against the likes of Deone Bucannon, one of the fastest linebackers in the game. Nonetheless, the Chargers need someone to step up at the position, and now we get to see who is ready to rise to the occasion.
4. The Geno and Cardale Show – It’s not often that Philip Rivers isn’t the Chargers’ quarterback to pay attention to, but that’s the case when the Bolts open preseason play in the desert. Geno Smith and Cardale Jones are locked in a heated battle for the backup QB spot. After a full offseason of going against the defense in practice, both signal callers finally get to match wits with an opposing defense. While L.A. clearly wants to get a win, watching how each of these two quarterbacks operate in hostile conditions is of the utmost importance as well.
5. Stay Healthy! – Coming out of the preseason opener as healthy as possible is the number one priority for the Bolts. If Head Coach Anthony Lynn stays true to his methods from a year ago, expect those dealing with minor bumps and bruises to be held out for precautionary reasons. As a result, less heralded players will get a chance to prove their worth in their quest to make the 53-man roster, similar to Austin Ekeler, Michael Davis, James Onwualu and others last year.