Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 5 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants:
1. TACKLE! – It may sound simple, but fixing their tackling woes is of the utmost importance. The Bolts lead the NFL with 54 missed tackles, which is the most by a good margin. The Cleveland Browns have missed the second-most with 46, followed by the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers with 37. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley weighed in on the issue earlier in the week, explaining how the team has to be prepared for all types of ball carriers:
"It's such a personnel driven league too, and matchups. We talk about having a tackling plan every week. Well, the type of back that's in the backfield, what's your tackling plan for a guy that's 240 pounds versus a guy that's 198? I mean, there's different guys that will come in the game, and you've got to be able to understand that. They're so good at that position, and so specific based on their size and their strengths, that you've kind of got to in the moment know the guy that you're going against. So I think that part, he's learning. That you've really got to study these running styles. You've really got to learn if I'm going to be involved in this run fit, and be involved in this, I've got to be on that."
2. Don't Let OBJ Wreck the Game – Odell Beckham Jr. is going to make his fair share of plays. The key is to not let him singlehandedly wreck a game. After missing the first game of the season, the perennial Pro Bowler is up to his usual tricks, catching 20 passes for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Safety Tre Boston has played against OBJ during his time with the Panthers, and knows he's the straw that stirs Big Blue's offense:
"He's a talented guy. You see it day in, day out. The guy is explosive. If you find a way to stop him you can kind of contain the offense. (We) have to find a way to make sure when the ball gets to him, the yards after catch are limited."
3. Something's Got to Give on the Ground – The Giants own the second worst rushing attack in the NFL, averaging a meager 59.2 yards per game. On the flip side, the Bolts rank second to last in stopping the run, surrendering 163.5 ypg. Something's obviously got to give. Whether the Chargers can improve against the run likely goes hand in hand with their ability to improve in the tackling department. Despite New York's struggles on the ground, and the fact their number one running back in Paul Perkins will miss the game, Bradley knows his unit can't ease up:
"We're in no position to take any running game lightly. First and foremost, that's been a big attention for us this week. To try and get those things taken care of. Some of the things we're asking our guys to do, and making sure we're on the same page. But it still comes back to our fundamentals of leverage and tackling. Understanding that part of the plan."
4. Get Rhythm – The Chargers offense has been out of rhythm all year long, failing to sustain drives. In fact, they rank last in the league when it comes to time of possession (25:40). Meanwhile, they've also run the fifth fewest plays on offense (170). Not only does that limit opportunities to put points on the board, but it can also exhaust the defense. Both sides of the ball play a role when it comes to time of possession. Still, Philip Rivers knows the offense must find a rhythm in order to right the ship. He also knows it won't be easy against New York's defense:
"This defense is a defense that flies around and presents tons of different looks. Spagnola's a heck of a coordinator and he never lets you get comfortable. There are guys blitzing from all over the place. They're lining up in all kinds of fronts. They're very multiple in what they do. They have a lot of Pro Bowlers on that defense and it's going to be a heck of a challenge going there. I don't think it's your typical 0-4 matchup."
5. Finally Force Turnovers – Since forcing a pair of takeaways late in Week 1's loss to the Denver Broncos, the Bolts have gone 12 straight quarters without forcing a turnover. That must stop this week. The Chargers maintain they aren't worried about their failure to produce takeaways, stressing when they come, they come in bunches. Still, as Bradley explained, it's something that's been front and center all week:
"We've had opportunities. We had two last week that we felt like we could have had. Casey (Hayward) tried to jump an out route, and it was thrown a little bit behind. So we're seeing some of the technique things. A lot of times we're looking at attempts. Are guys going after the ball? Do they have the mindset to go after the ball. We're seeing that get better. It's not at the level it needs to be yet, but sometimes that just comes with a comfort of understanding everything about the defense to where we play more freely. And now you're taking advantage of those opportunities. We're not quite there yet, but I'm a big believer that they come in bunches. You get one, then you get two, and they usually stack up like that. So as long as we're seeing it in practice, I just believe that they'll come."