Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 3 match between the Chargers and Rams:
1. Trust the Passing Game – Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib are two of the best cornerbacks in the game. Philip Rivers is well aware of that fact, having gone up against both Pro Bowlers twice a year for the past several seasons when they were with the Chiefs and Broncos, respectively. Nonetheless, the Chargers must stay true to who they are, and that's the league's third-ranked passing offense. Rivers has been on fire to start the season, ranking third in the league in touchdowns (six), fourth in passing yards (680) and completion percentage (73.1 percent) and sixth in completions (57). Thus, while he's mindful of the Rams' talented secondary, he knows he has to trust his weapons to come through and make plays:
"We're not going in overconfident by any means, saying this is the corner we want to attack. We have great respect for those corners, but at the same time, I feel like our receivers and Keenan and all of our guys will have some opportunities….(Those are) two really, really good corners, obviously. Peters has had his share of interceptions the last handful of times we've gone against him. Talib is a heck of a corner. I've always thought going against him twice a year now for however long it's been, that I'd put him up there as one of the top corners in the league. Both those guys (actually)."
2. Gang Up on Gurley – Week 1 brought the NFL's reigning rushing king into town in Kareem Hunt. Last week, the Chargers had to face LeSean McCoy, who has the most total yards from scrimmage of any running back from the moment he entered the league. Well, it doesn't get any easier this week as the Bolts match wits with Todd Gurley. The Rams running back leads the NFL in carries thus far with 39 totes for 150 yards (3.8 ypc) and three rushing touchdowns. He also has six receptions for 70 yards and one score. The Rams have a bunch of weapons, and Gurley is as dangerous as any. Just ask Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley:
"What I think makes him special is that he can play very physical and he also has the ability to jump-cut. With that, it's not just one cut. In the zone-scheme, that makes him really effective. He has a really good feel for it. They play with the quarterback under center quite a bit, so he's in the dot, and it allows him to use his vision. He can make explosive plays at any time — not only in the running game, but in the passing game."
3. Establish a Ground Attack – The Rams barely give up an inch on the ground as the 74.5 yards per game they are allowing is the fifth-lowest mark in the NFL. However, they are allowing 3.9 yards per carry. Basically, the Rams have rushed out to such early leads that teams have been forced to abandon the ground game and attack them through the air. Thus, it's imperative for the Bolts to establish themselves on the ground. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler lead a potent rushing attack that is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt explained what's made the pair such an effective duo:
"Obviously, they've been very effective. So it's been a tremendous help for us because it opens up other things and other parts of your game. [For] the play-action game, it helps. We had some plays in that game because of the play to [TE] Virgil [Green]. A couple of those plays to Virgil earlier were because of play action, because we've been effective running the football. You've got a guy like Austin that can do a couple of different things and he's a great complement to Melvin [Gordon]; it helps you. The biggest challenge you face with that situation is how do you get them enough carries?"
4. Interior Protection – Pressure up the middle is a quarterback's nightmare. Teams covet having just one defensive tackle able to wreak havoc in the middle, let alone have two like the Rams boast in Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. If the Bolts want to get rolling on offense, they have to not only protect Philip from that two-headed monster, but also assert their will against them in the run game. You better believe the team will be mindful of where Donald and Suh are each time they're on the field. When it comes to Suh, the Bolts at least have a center in Mike Pouncey who is awfully familiar with him as the two went toe-to-toe each day at practice while with the Miami Dolphins. However, as Head Coach Anthony Lynn noted, it's not reasonable to think one man can stop either one of them alone:
"I don't think there's a blueprint for stopping Suh, man. He's a heck of a player. One of the most powerful interior linemen in this league. We just have to stay in front of him and protect our quarterback."
5. Ignore the Eye Candy – The Bolts stressed all week how the Rams distract and disrupt a defense with all they do before they snap the ball. It's aimed to confuse and disrupt the defense, and it's something Bradley admitted his defense struggled with against the Chiefs. Thus, as much as the Chargers must prepare for what's to come once the ball is snapped, they also have to weed through all the distractions the Rams will throw their way. With the success Kansas City had with it in Week 1, Bradley fully expects to see a ton of pre-snap eye candy come Sunday:
"We didn't play really well against Kansas City (with what they did pre-snap), so we have to play it better (against the Rams). I think you go back and you look at what you didn't do well in the season during the previous games. You have to get that corrected because it is a copycat league. If teams see that you have a weakness and you don't get it corrected, you're going to see it again."