Game Scout: Arizona Cardinals (2-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 9-4. It is the first time the Chargers have been the home team in this series since 2010, when they won in San Diego, 41-10. They did lose to the Cards the last time they faced them, dropping an 18-17 verdict on the road in 2014. But that snapped a three-game winning streak against the Cardinals and the Chargers scored at least 20 points in all of those victories.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers coughed it up twice last week and the dread would be if he did it again to let the Cardinals hang around. Instead the Chargers will run against the league's 29th run defense and keep the ball away from the Cardinals. When the team's best player, Patrick Peterson, is a cornerback, there's no need to force the pass if Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are able. Arizona's defense leads the NFL with 42 rushes that produced negative yardage. Still, Rivers will attack Arizona's secondary when needed so expect plenty of Keenan Allen. Defensively, expect the likes of defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to do all they can to make it difficult for rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
The Cardinals have finally got running back David Johnson going and they're going to want to keep maintaining what he's been able to do in the ground game. He rushed for 98 yards two weeks ago against the Chiefs and ran for 137 last week against the Raiders. For the Cardinals to have any chance at all for an upset over the Chargers, Rosen has to do a better job protecting the football and limiting his own mistakes. He's been intercepted more times (10) than he's thrown touchdowns (nine). To limit Rivers, the Cardinals will have to get under his skin and force him into mistakes and that can happen if edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden can get free often enough to make sacks and quarterback pressures.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: LB Deone Bucannon (chest), S Rudy Ford (heel), T D.J. Humphries (knee), WR Chad Williams (ankle)
--QUESTIONABLE: S Budda Baker (knee), K Phil Dawson (right hip), G Mike Iupati (back), DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf), DT Corey Peters (heel, back), TE John Phillips (knee), DT Olsen Pierre (ankle)
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Melvin Gordon (hamstring, knee), DT Brandon Mebane (not injury related), WR Tyrell Williams (quadriceps)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chargers pass rush, with DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, vs. Cardinals passing attack led by rookie QB Josh Rosen. Bosa got in enough plays last week to knock the rust off in his season debut after a lingering foot injury. Ingram was energized by his presence and that will be especially true this week going against a young quarterback in Rosen.
--Chargers passing game, with QB Philip Rivers vs. Cardinals secondary, which includes CB Patrick Peterson and S Tre Boston. Rivers is having a sensational season, and that said, he still had two picks last week and looked out of sorts. He'll likely rebound and it's easy to do with targets like Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates. But Rivers needs to be sharp, as the Cards' secondary has Peterson, who's among the league's best shutdown corners, and Boston, a former teammate of Rivers. The Cards are No. 4 against the pass.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chargers RB Austin Ekeler. The days of an NFL team leaning on a single running back are mostly over. That's certainly true with the Chargers with Austin Ekeler serving as a complement to Melvin Gordon. Ekeler will be in the mix against the Cardinals and that should be especially true on first down. Ekeler averages 8.7 yards from scrimmage per touch on first down, which leads the league.
FAST FACTS: CARDINALS QB JOSH ROSEN (rookie) threw career-high 3 TDs in Week 11. Aims for his 5th in row with TD pass. ... RB DAVID JOHNSON had 154 scrimmage yards (137 rush, 17 rec.) last week. Aims for his 4th in row with 100+ scrimmage yards. In his past 7 vs. AFC, has 909 scrimmage yards (129.9 per game) & 8 TDs (7 rush, 1 rec.). ... WR LARRY FITZGERALD had 2 TD catches in Week 11. Has 4 TDs in his past 4. Ranks 2nd in NFL history in rec. yards (15,975) & 3rd in receptions (1,276). ... Rookie WR CHRISTIAN KIRK had 77 rec. yards & TD last week. Ranks 3rd among NFL rookies with 495 rec. yards in 2018. ... LB CHANDLER JONES had 2 sacks last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with 2+ sacks. Ranks 3rd in NFL with 10.5 sacks this season. Since 2016, leads NFL with 38.5 sacks & 52 TFL. ... S ANTOINE BETHEA had 8 tackles, 2 TFL & sack in Week 11. Has sack in 2 of his past 3. Bethea (80) & S BUDDA BAKER (73) rank 2nd & 3rd among NFC safeties in tackles. ... DE ZACH MOORE had sack last week. Has sack in 3 of his past 4. Aims for his 5th in row with TFL. ... CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS passed for 401 yards with 2 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 91.3 rating last week. Is 1 of 6 in NFL history with 2+ TD passes in each of team's 1st 10 games of season. Ranks 4th in NFL with 112.1 rating this season. ... RB MELVIN GORDON had 156 scrimmage yards (87 rec., 69 rush) in Week 11. Aims for his 7th in row with 120+ scrimmage yards. ... WR KEENAN ALLEN had 9 catches for 89 yards & TD last week. Aims for 3rd in row with rec. TD. ... WR TYRELL WILLIAMS has 4 TD catches in his past 5. ... TE ANTONIO GATES had 80 rec. yards & TD last week. ... DE MELVIN INGRAM has 3 sacks & 2 PD in his past 4. ... Rookie S DERWIN JAMES aims for his 5th in row with 7+ tackles. ... LB JATAVIS BROWN has 10+ tackles in 2 of his past 3.
PREDICTION: Los Angeles was sloppy and let its guard down in blowing a 12-point lead in a one-point loss against Denver last week. This time, the Chargers know better and will be able to generate plenty offensively against one of the worst teams in the league.
OUR PICK: Chargers, 38-17