Here are five keys to the game heading into Saturday’s preseason game between the Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints:
1. Limit the Big Plays – Drew Brees will finally be under center as he’ll make his preseason debut when the Saints run onto ROKiT Field at StubHub Center. With multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons under his belt, the 39-year-old isn’t afraid to rip the ball downfield. The Chargers were one of the best in the league a year ago at limiting big plays, and they’ve picked up this preseason where they left off, giving up the third-fewest yards in the air through two games (197.2 yards per game). That being said, Head Coach Anthony Lynn noted after the Cardinals game that the defense let a few balls over their head, which was uncharacteristic of the unit. They shored up that area a week ago against the Seahawks, and now they’ll be tested all over again against one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL over the last decade.
2. Control the Clock – The Bolts offense has given the opposition fits over the first two games with long drives to wear down their defenses. In fact, the Chargers have dominated time of possession, controlling the clock for 35:05 to 24:55 against the Cardinals, and then 37:21 to 22:39 against Seattle. Now, winning time of possession isn’t only on the offense; it also requires the defense forcing quick punts and three-and-outs. However, the offense has done their part with long drives engineered by Philip Rivers and company. That shouldn’t surprise anyone as it’s been a staple of Ken Whisenhunt’s offense ever since he became the team’s offensive coordinator. More of the same against a Saints offense loaded with playmakers is paramount to not only get the win, but also set the tone heading into the regular season.
3. Bottle Up Kamara – The Chargers will attempt to do something no defense was able to a year ago; bottle up Alvin Kamara. The 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year had the sixth-most total yards from scrimmage (1,554), accounting for 728 yards on the ground and 826 through the air. Tackling is always an area teams hone in on throughout the preseason since it’s the players’ first opportunity to lay the lumber in eight months. There’s arguably nobody harder in the league to bring down than Kamara, so it should be a good litmus test to see where the Bolts are midway through the exhibition slate.
4. Tough Test for Run D – Speaking of Kamara, he was part of a one-two punch with Mark Ingram that averaged 6.1 yards per carry. It’s no secret that improving against the run has been a major focal point for the Bolts heading into 2018. So far, they’ve had mixed results. While the first-team defense allowed 28 yards on two carries against the Cardinals, they’ve been stout overall. In fact, the Chargers have given up the fewest yards on the ground of any team this preseason (57.0). However, going up against the likes of Kamara and Ingram, not to mention Shane Vereen, Terrance West and Jonathan Wilkins among others, will be a major challenge for Gus Bradley’s defense.
5. One Last Chance – The fourth preseason game is all about players fighting tooth and nail to make their NFL dreams come true. It’s one final chance to prove your worth as the roster must be cut down from 90 to 53 less than 48 hours after taking the field. It marks those players’ best chances at making an impression as they’ll get an extensive run as nearly every team in the league rests their starters in the preseason finale. Thus, this Saturday night will be the starters’ final chance to prepare in a real game setting before the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Head Coach Anthony Lynn said the starters will likely play the first half.