AFC West: San Diego Chargers

Good morning.

Robert Mays of Grantland examines the San Diego Chargers’ ball control offense, and how Philip Rivers moved the ball so effectively against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Mays: “San Diego built the second-best offense in football last year by staying on schedule. Only five teams ran the ball on a higher percentage of first-down plays than the Chargers, who did it 54.2 percent of the time. Ryan Mathews led the league in first-down rushes with 175, averaging 4.15 yards in the start of a process that helped build the offense into a study of efficiency.”

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter Mike Rodak says safety Da'Norris Searcy could be the key to containing Antonio Gates in this video.

According to Nate Silver of the Chargers have a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs.

In this ESPN Insider piece, ESPN NFL handicapper Dave Tuley ranks the Chargers No. 8 in his Vegas NFL power rankings.

Will Brinson of CBS Sports writes that the Chargers’ Super Bowl odds have moved from 40-1 to 20-1.

Ricky Henne of says that rookie running back Branden Oliver is ready if needed.

Jordan Beane of talks with Danny Woodhead about his expanded role in this video.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes the Chargers’ improved depth has shown up early this season.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego says the Chargers have improved their speed on defense through two games.

Michael Burland of Pro Football Focus reviews San Diego’s options at running back with Ryan Mathews out.
SAN DIEGO -- Exposed?

San Diego Chargers players I spoke with appeared unfamiliar with the term in reference to the team's performance against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

According to a report from U-T San Diego, multiple Chargers used that word to describe the vociferous cornerback's play over the weekend.

Chargers second-year receiver Keenan Allen publicly expressed the strongest sentiment on Sherman.

"He's just a normal guy," Allen said. "We can go at him. We are not going to shy away from him. He's not really a shutdown corner."

The Chargers completed five passes for 60 yards against Sherman a week after Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers failed to throw a pass to his side in the opener for both teams.

Sherman left the locker room after the game without talking to reporters, but responded in a conversation with reporters in Seattle on Wednesday.

"I played pretty well," Sherman said. "But it's really funny that two little Chargers say I was exposed. One had 50 yards [Allen had five receptions for 55 yards], and one had 60 [Eddie Royal had seven receptions for 69 yards]. It makes you laugh."

Before Sherman's comments were known on Wednesday, receivers in San Diego's locker room spoke glowingly about the most vocal member of the Legion of Boom.

"Richard's a great player," Royal said. "I don't think the game changed my opinion about him. It made me have that much more respect for him, and the way he competes. He's a physical player. He's a smart player, and I think he's as good as advertised.

"He's one of the best in the game, and there's no question about that in anybody's mind."

Added receiver Malcom Floyd: "I wouldn't say he was exposed. I don't know if that's the correct word to use. I just think we did better than the few teams that have played him, and made some plays on him. I think he's one of the best corners in the league. So I wouldn't say he's been exposed."

Safety Eric Weddle echoed similar comments about Sherman on the Jim Rome Show.

"He's going to be targeted every time you go out there -- we all know that," Weddle said. "He knows that. We got a couple catches on him, but like he said, he didn't give up any touchdowns or big plays -- maybe a couple of third downs. But you're going to have to do a lot more than that to be exposed."

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said heading into the contest that he wouldn't shy away from Sherman, and that was the case over the weekend. However, San Diego's veteran quarterback said he's ready to focus on his team's next opponent, the Buffalo Bills.

"We've moved on from that," Rivers said. "Keenan was great. And like I told y'all going in, I thought No. 41 (Byron Maxwell) on the other side was a heck of a corner also."
SAN DIEGO – Coach Mike McCoy said his team has moved on from basking in the afterglow of a big victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

According to McCoy, the San Diego Chargers are focused on the team’s next opponent, the Buffalo Bills.

“We played our style of football,” McCoy said about his team’s win over Seattle. “We won the time of possession, did a nice job and won the plays when we had to. It doesn’t matter when you play it; you have to go out there and play your best game. The big test now is to improve from last week.”

As they began preparation for the Bills, six San Diego players did not practice Wednesday: cornerback Brandon Flowers (groin), tight end Antonio Gates (hamstring), running back Ryan Mathews (knee) and outside linebackers Dwight Freeney (not injury related), Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) and Melvin Ingram (hamstring).

Out since the second preseason game at Seattle on Aug. 15, safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis. Offensive linemen Johnnie Troutman (back) and Rich Ohnrberger (back) also were limited participants.

Cornerback Chris Davis (ankle) and defensive lineman Corey Liuget (ankle) were full participants.

Mathews is out for an extended period of time with an MCL strain in his right knee. Flowers also could miss a second straight game with a lingering groin injury. If Flowers can’t play, rookie Jason Verrett would make his second career start. Freeney took a veteran rest day.

Gates named AFC Player of the Week

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
SAN DIEGO – For the first time in his 12-year NFL career, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was honored as the AFC Player of the Week.

Gates, 34, earned the award for his impressive performance in his team’s 30-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Gates finished with seven receptions for 96 yards, tying a career-high for touchdowns with three.

Gates now has 90 career touchdown catches, passing Don Maynard (88), Larry Fitzgerald (87), Andre Reed (87) to move up to No. 11 on the all-time list. Gates is second among all tight ends behind Tony Gonzalez (111).

Ingram, Freeney bring the heat

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
SAN DIEGO -- They swung and missed against the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener, letting quarterback Carson Palmer elude potential sacks on at least three occasions.

However, the San Diego Chargers’ dynamic duo of Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney finally connected on a sack each against one of the more elusive signal-callers in the NFL in Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

“Me and him, we just kind of talked to each other about finishing,” Ingram said when asked about the missed sacks against Arizona. “Just let’s got out and finish, finish, finish.”

San Diego’s game plan defensively against Wilson was to bring pressure, but also force Seattle’s running quarterback to make plays within the pocket. The Chargers held Wilson to just 18 rushing yards, with 13 of those coming on a scramble in the fourth quarter.

Mission accomplished.

“You’ve got a guy in Russell Wilson who likes to scramble, move around in the pocket,” Freeney said. “You don’t know where he’s going to end up, which means for us that you have to be somewhat disciplined in your lanes, but know that he can pop up anywhere. So don’t be surprised when you see him.”

Ingram said San Diego’s defense gained a stronger belief in their abilities by containing an explosive Seattle offense that boasts playmakers such as Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch and Wilson. Now, the Chargers hope to build on that performance by playing well on the road against the 2-0 Buffalo Bills.

“We got a big confidence boost from that, but we can’t let it make us too big-headed,” Ingram said. “We’ve got to still stay level-headed, and go out there and work on the Bills this weekend and try to get another victory.”

Like Seattle, the Bills have a quarterback who can run in E.J. Manuel, and an offense focused on running the football.

“They have a great offense,” Ingram said. “They’re 2-0. It’s the same thing -- they have a quarterback that can get outside the pocket, so we’ve just got to go out and play assignment football.”

WR Vincent Brown headed to Oakland

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, former San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Brown will sign with AFC West division rival Oakland Raiders on Monday.

According to Caplan, Brown signed a one-year deal.

ESPN NFL Nation beat writer Bill Williamson reports that Brown already has a locker in the team’s practice facility.

Brown was surprisingly waived/injured by the Chargers' during final roster cut downs. Brown suffered a calf strain on the second day of training camp, but was expected to return to the field early in the regular season.

However, general manager Tom Telesco said the organization liked the depth they had at receiver, and decided to go in a different direction.

Brown, 25, played all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career in 2013, finishing with 41 receptions for 472 yards and a touchdown. Brown had only one drop on the year.

The Chargers play the Raiders for the first time this season on Oct. 12 in Oakland.
SAN DIEGO -- Chargers coach Mike McCoy confirmed running back Ryan Mathews suffered an MCL sprain in his right knee against the Seattle Seahawks and will be out for "a little bit of time."

Mathews is expected to be out four-to-five weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain (partial tear).

“He’ll be back out there as soon as he can,” McCoy said. “So, it’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game. Knowing the way he works, and the way he’ll rehab, he’ll be back out there as soon as he’s ready.”

McCoy said running back Donald Brown will take on an expanded role in the offense with Mathews out. The Chargers signed Brown to a three-year, $10.4 million contract during the offseason as insurance in case Mathews was out for an extended period of time.

Brown finished with 537 yards and six touchdowns for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013, averaging 5.3 yards a carry. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is confident in Brown’s ability to make plays, and he knows Brown understands the offense. But in two games with the Chargers, Brown has 19 yards on nine carries, averaging 2.1 yards per rush.

“Donald’s played a ton of football,” McCoy said. “The number of snaps he got in Indy, in a very similar system when he was with Peyton [Manning], so coming here we knew exactly what he could do. So he played a lot of football, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

McCoy also said that rookie Branden Oliver also will take on a larger role in the offense with Mathews out.

The Film Don't Lie: Chargers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Chargers must fix.

The San Diego Chargers travel to Buffalo on Sunday for a Week 3 contest against the 2-0 Buffalo Bills. San Diego offensive coordinator Frank Reich will have to devise some plays to create space for his running backs. And he’ll have to manufacture those runs against a pretty good Buffalo defensive front that’s holding teams to an average of 83 rushing yards per contest, No. 6 in the NFL.

The Chargers ran the ball 37 times for 101 yards. Last season, the Chargers finished 10-1 when they ran the ball at least 27 times. Throughout his career as a coach and offensive coordinator, teams led by Chargers coach Mike McCoy have finished 36-14 in games they have run the ball at least 27 times.

Still, through two games the Chargers are averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, which is tied with Jacksonville for the worst in the NFL. And bringing that number up will be made harder by the fact that every-down running back Ryan Mathews will be out four to five weeks with an MCL sprain in his right knee injury. At 3.1 yards per carry, Mathews leads San Diego’s stable of running backs.

videoSAN DIEGO -- He’s not exactly a speed demon, but San Diego Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers was not shy about pulling the ball down and getting a few yards with his feet in his team’s 30-21 victory against the Seattle Seahawks.

Rivers said he worked on improving his conditioning during the summer with interval running. That offseason conditioning regiment certainly helped the 32-year-old make it through the 118 degree field temperatures on Sunday without any issues.

And when Rivers couldn't find a open receiver, he made plays with his feet.

Rivers almost finished with more rushing yards than another quarterback known for running the football, Seattle Seahawks signal caller Russell Wilson. Rivers ran the ball 11 times for 17 yards, while Wilson finished with 18 yards on two rushing attempts.

“A lot of those scrambles were hitch, hitch, hitch then leave,” Rivers said. “It wasn’t like there was pressure, and that was the reason I had to get out of there. I thought our offensive line did a heck of a job protecting.”

Rivers’ ability to improvise and move the chains helped San Diego dominate time of possession. The Chargers finished with a 42:15-17:45 edge in time of possession. San Diego also finished an impressive 10 of 17 (59 percent) on third down, essentially playing keep away from Seattle’s offense.

One thing San Diego did effectively was get positive yardage in early downs so that they had a lot of third and short situations against a tough Seattle defense.

“It’s just a matter of doing what’s best,” San Diego head coach Mike McCoy. “We’re going to play some teams that are going to cover things. And if it’s not there, and he can take advantage of it by getting four or five yards on first or second down, take advantage of it instead of trying to throw something away and be second and long.”

SAN DIEGO -- Don't print those retirement party invitations for Antonio Gates just yet.

Contrary to popular opinion, Gates isn't ready to be put out to pasture. Just ask young linebackers on the Seattle Seahawks' defense such as K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bobby Wagner.

Matched up in single coverage against Gates most of the day, the 34-year-old tight end constantly shook loose from defenders a decade younger than him, tying a career-high for touchdowns in a game with three.

“I'm 24,” joked Gates, when asked about his age. “One thing that I have learned from being around is outsiders tend to have their own perspective about players, but it never bothered me one time. If I could make this team, which is a very good football team, I feel like I have something left in the gas tank.

“The coaches always believed in me, and I never really once thought about what others had to say, because I'm really not sure what critics or the professional experts are going off of, because last year I was No. 3 in the NFL at the tight end position. My main focus is to just try to help us win football games every single Sunday.”

The Seahawks finished with the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL last season. Three of the four members of the team's Legion of Boom -- cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas -- went to the Pro Bowl. Yet Gates appeared to get open whenever he wanted, exposing what could be the Achilles' heel of the best defense in the NFL: Seattle's inability to blanket tight ends.

“Those two guys were just phenomenal today when they needed it,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said about Gates and San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. “That was really a big, big element in this game, just the chemistry between those two guys. We couldn't figure out how to stop it.”

Added Chancellor: “They have that bond -- that quarterback-tight end bond. And he is very crafty. He is a crafty tight end.”

Gates was targeted seven times by Rivers. He finished with seven catches for 96 yards and three TDs. Rivers and Gates have now combined for 65 touchdowns, the most by a quarterback-tight end combo in NFL.

Gates now has 90 career touchdown catches, passing Don Maynard (88), Larry Fitzgerald (87), Andre Reed (87) to move up to No. 11 on the all-time list. Gates is second among all tight ends behind Tony Gonzalez (111).

Gates now has 13 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns in two games this season. But he was no slouch in 2013, leading San Diego with 77 catches for 872 yards and four touchdowns.

Gates' most important catch was perhaps his most spectacular in San Diego's win over the Super Bowl champs. Singled-covered on the left side of the field by Wright, Gates managed to shake loose again in the second half.

Rivers moved inside the pocket to buy some time, lofting a perfect strike to Gates that he reeled in with one hand with Chancellor closing in. Gates raised his arms in celebration while still on his back in the end zone. The catch gave San Diego a commanding 27-14 lead with a little over three minutes left in the third quarter.

“I knew it was man coverage,” Gates said. “I wanted to sell something else, and I was able to get on his up-field shoulder and the rest was history. I stuck my hand out, and I was able to make the one-hand grab.

“That just shows tremendous confidence in what the call was, from the offensive coordinator on down to the quarterback, because it's a progression. And he stayed with the progression, and it was up to me to make the play.”

Rivers said Gates' one-handed catch was just another example of the chemistry developed between the two during their decade of playing together.

“It's just two guys who have been together a long time,” Rivers said. “I read him. He felt probably what I was seeing and thinking. Those ones are really gratifying, when you make plays together like that.”

Added Gates: “He's great at reading my posture and knowing what I'm trying to get done. But I think the biggest thing is that he trusts me.”
SAN DIEGO -- A few takeaways from the San Diego Chargers' locker room after the team's 30-21 victory against the Seattle Seahawks:
  • Keenan Allen discussed going against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman on Sunday. The Green Bay Packers did not throw to Sherman’s side in Seattle’s season-opening victory. However, the Chargers did not avoid Sherman, throwing to his side a handful of times with Allen matched up against the Pro Bowl cornerback. Allen finished with five catches for 55 yards. The Chargers completed five catches for 60 yards to Sherman’s side. “We took some shots at him,” Allen said. “We won. We were able to convert whenever we wanted to.”
  • Antonio Gates talked about facing single coverage for most of the game against the Seahawks, a favorable matchup for the 34-year-old tight end. “The Legion of Boom is what I’ve been hearing about all week,” Gates said. “Obviously, they believe in their skills to cover. It was a situation where fortunately I was matched up on linebackers at times, and I was able to come away with the win, and Philip Rivers was able to put the ball basically where no other player could get it.”
  • Rivers was emotional talking about teammate Nick Hardwick not being on the field against the Seahawks on Sunday. The 11-year veteran center was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a neck injury this week. The injury could mean the end of Hardwick’s career. Rivers paid tribute to Hardwick by wearing his No. 61 on the back of his helmet. “I thought about him quite a bit out there today,” Rivers said. “Especially pregame and the national anthem, thinking he may not be back out there again. He may not put on that helmet again with that No. 61 sticker.”
  • Reserve center Rich Ohrnberger was solid playing in place of Hardwick. He also helped take down a fan who had made his way onto the field in the second half, chest-bumping the fan onto the ground so security could subdue him. “He just started grabbing onto someone, and that’s when it crosses the line,” Ohrnberger said. “So huddle-bouncer/center, the more you can do is my philosophy. So we got him on the ground, and security did a great job.”


Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' surprising 30-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the team’s home opener.

What it means: The Chargers avoid going 0-2 with an impressive win over the defending Super Bowl champs. San Diego showed some resiliency, leading for a second straight game heading into the fourth quarter. The Chargers gave up an 11-point lead in an opening-season loss to Arizona, but managed to hold onto a 27-21 advantage heading into the fourth quarter against the Seahawks.

Stock watch: Antonio Gates, the 34-year-old tight end, showed that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. Gates scorched Seattle’s "Legion of Boom" defense with seven receptions for 96 yards, tying a career high with three touchdown catches.

Chargers controlled tempo: San Diego’s offense controlled the tempo of the game by dominating time of possession, holding a 31:08 to 13:52 advantage over Seattle through three quarters.

Defense throttles Seattle run game: The Seahawks ran for 207 yards in the team’s season-opening win against Green Bay. However, San Diego’s defense held the Seahawks to 108 rushing yards on just 13 carries.

Qualcomm crowd brings it: With a large contingent of Seahawks’ fans making the trek from the Pacific Northwest, San Diego fans were loud and proud at Qualcomm Stadium, giving the Chargers a distinct home-field advantage for the first home game of the season.

Game ball: Philip Rivers rebounded from a poor performance in the season opener against Arizona, shredding one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. Rivers finished 28-of-37 for 284 yards, throwing three touchdowns to Gates and finishing without an interception. Rivers also ran 11 times for 17 yards, including a long of 12 yards.

What’s next: The Chargers travel to the East Coast to take on the Buffalo Bills in a Week 3 contest on Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

W2W4: Seahawks at Chargers

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
SAN DIEGO -- Can the San Diego Chargers hang tough against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday?

Really, that’s the one question anybody interested in this Week 2 matchup wants to know. The Chargers, of course, are 0-1 and looking to get to .500 in the team’s home opener. Meanwhile, Seattle is coming off an easy win in the Seahawks’ home opener against the Green Bay Packers.

It will be a hot one, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees at game time, so conditioning could be an issue at Qualcomm Stadium. But ultimately, I think the team that is more effective running the football will win Sunday, and the arrow points to Seattle in that category.

One stat working in San Diego’s favor is this: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been 10 games since 2010 in which one team played Thursday night the prior week and the other team played Monday night the prior week. The team that played Monday night in the previous week is 6-4 in those games.

However, the Seahawks have won five of their last six games at Qualcomm Stadium.

Here are five things to watch for in San Diego’s matchup with Seattle.

Control the line of scrimmage: If you want to beat Seattle, or any team for that matter, you have to win the battle in the trenches. And that means holding Marshawn Lynch to less than 100 yards defensively and running for more than 100 yards as a team offensively. The Seahawks finished 12-1 in games in which they ran the ball at least 25 times last season. Seattle is 2-14 under head coach Pete Carroll when rushing 22 or fewer times.

Start fast: The Chargers need to get off to a fast start and grab a lead, making that ball-controlled Seattle offense get out of its comfort zone. If Russell Wilson has to throw 35 to 40 times, that’s a good sign for San Diego’s defense.

Get Gates and Green going: One matchup San Diego could look to get to is tight ends Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates in the middle of the field against the second level of Seattle’s defense. According to ESPN Stats & Info, since the start of the 2013 season the Chargers have run the fifth-most snaps in the NFL out of two-tight-end sets. We know what the Legion of Boom can do in the secondary, but perhaps Philip Rivers can get something going with some quick passes in the middle of the field to loosen up that Seattle defense.

Tackle: Yes, it’s a simple concept. But when you are facing playmakers like Percy Harvin, Lynch and Wilson, the Chargers have to get guys down on the ground and be relentless in pursuit of the ball carrier.

It’s all about the ball: Carroll’s Seahawks are 27-4 when they win the turnover battle. The Chargers did a nice job creating turnovers in the team’s season opener at Arizona, finishing with two turnovers and a blocked punt. That effort needs to continue in order for San Diego to have a chance Sunday.
SAN DIEGO – Cornerback Brandon Flowers was a limited participant in practice Thursday and did not practice for the San Diego Chargers on Friday because of groin injury. He is listed as questionable for Sunday’s contest against the Seattle Seahawks.

Flowers said he’s preparing for Sunday as if he’ll play, but ultimately that decision will be left up to Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and the team’s training staff. The 28-year-old cornerback played well in his regular-season debut for the Chargers, finishing with seven tackles and playing all 70 defensive snaps.

“Everybody gets their bumps and bruises out here,” Flowers said. “I'm preparing like I'm going to play Sunday and we'll see when we get to the game.”

There had been concerns about Flowers’ injury history when the Chargers signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal over the summer.

During the 2013 season with the Chiefs, Flowers played with a knee injury but still made the Pro Bowl. Flowers also missed a portion of training camp this year and the first preseason game against Dallas with an undisclosed leg injury.

If Flowers can’t play, Jason Verrett likely would make his first career start at cornerback. A first-round draft choice for the Chargers in May, the former TCU player was impressive in his first regular-season action, finishing with four tackles and a pass breakup in 43 plays against Arizona.

“We saw what kind of player he’s going to be,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said about Verrett. “He’s still young. He’s still learning certain things. He works extremely hard. He had a great offseason and does a nice job. We took him where we did for a reason.”

Verrett rotated into the game in obvious passing situations, with Flowers moving inside to work as the slot defender. But again, if Flowers is not available, the Chargers could look at playing strong safety Marcus Gilchrist, or reserve cornerbacks Richard Marshall or Steve Williams as the slot defender in obvious passing situations.

Along with Flowers, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring) and cornerback Chris Davis (ankle) did not practice all week and have been ruled out.

After missing Thursday’s practice to rest a lingering hamstring injury, tight end Antonio Gates was a full participant in practice on Friday and is probable for Sunday’s game.

Defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle), defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (ankle), tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle/knee), and receiver Keenan Allen (ribs) all were full participants on Friday and are listed as probable.

After opening the regular season with a disappointing loss against the Arizona Cardinals, the San Diego Chargers want to avoid starting 0-2.

And for good reason. Since the NFL expanded its postseason to 12 teams in 1990, teams that began the year 0-2 have reached the playoffs 12 percent of the time. And San Diego is a veteran team with playoff aspirations for a second straight season.

But standing in the Chargers’ way Sunday are the Seattle Seahawks. San Diego plays host to the defending Super Bowl champs in the home opener at Qualcomm Stadium.

Seattle manhandled the Green Bay Packers 36-16 in the NFL season opener. Making matters worse for San Diego, the Seahawks had 10 days to rest and prepare for Sunday’s contest, while the Chargers are getting ready on a short week after a loss to the Cardinals on Monday night. Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams take a closer look at the matchup:

Blount: Eric, I think most people know that you covered the Seahawks and know them well. With that in mind, what would you say is the No. 1 thing the Chargers must do well Sunday in order to win this game?

Williams: From watching Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s teams perform over the last five seasons, the one thing San Diego must focus on is not letting the Seahawks dictate tempo on both sides of the ball. That means bottling up Marshawn Lynch and Seattle’s potent running attack on defense. And offensively, the Chargers must control time of possession by running the football, moving the chains and scoring touchdowns -- not field goals -- in the red zone. Carroll’s teams are so effective because they usually don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to win games on a consistent basis. San Diego must counter that by getting the Seahawks out of their comfort zone to have a chance to pull off the upset.

Terry, the Seahawks will have had 10 days to prepare for San Diego leading up to Sunday’s contest at Qualcomm Stadium. How has Carroll approached having that time off? And is there any chance the Seahawks will be lulled to sleep during the early moments of the game, particularly after Seattle’s dominant performance in the preseason against the Chargers?

Blount: After talking to some of the players this week, I just don’t see them coming out flat, despite the layoff and the big win in preseason. They get it and realize judging any team off a preseason effort is a big mistake. I think the layoff helped them after all the hype surrounding the Thursday night game against Green Bay. But more importantly, the players talked about how much of an asset it was to be able to watch the Monday night game and take some notes. Earl Thomas said he planned to watch Philip Rivers’ eyes in the close-ups on TV. The funniest response came from wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, who said, “I’ll be watching everything, even the water boy.”

Eric, I’ve heard so many people talk about wide receiver Keenan Allen and predict big things for him in the future. How good can he be, and do you see him as one of the elite receivers in the NFL?

Williams: Allen’s not there yet, but he has the potential to develop into one of the elite pass-catchers in the NFL. He was surprisingly productive in his rookie season, finishing with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. What makes Allen so effective is at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, he has elite short-area quickness, which allows him to separate at the top of the route. Along with that, Allen is great running with the football after the catch. I’m interested to see how Allen matches up with Seattle’s lanky corners in Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell.

Terry, everyone knows what Lynch and Russell Wilson mean to Seattle’s offense. But can you talk about how the addition of a healthy Percy Harvin creates another dimension for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell?

Blount: It’s even more than I imagined it would be, Eric. Other than maybe Gale Sayers, one of my childhood heroes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player with the quickness and burst that Harvin has. I’m not talking about pure speed, which he also has. But Harvin’s ability to get by defenders off his first step is uncanny. They just can’t catch him. And the jet sweep has become the new “it” play of the NFL, but Harvin is what makes it special for the Seahawks. Defenses have to account for him coming across the backfield, and when they focus too much on Harvin, Wilson hands it to Lynch or rolls out and throws. It’s the new triple option.

Eric, the Chargers seemed to have some issues with the no-huddle offense in Arizona on Monday night. The delay penalty on the final drive really hurt them. Do you think they can shore that up, and will they try to use it to keep the Seahawks from subbing out defensive linemen on every play?

Williams: With new offensive coordinator Frank Reich calling his first game and Rivers shouldering more of the load on making calls at the line of scrimmage, San Diego appeared to have some issues with the mechanics of making play calls. But Arizona is a defense that uses a lot more exotic looks and blitzes up front, which caused more adjustments for Rivers. That will not be the case with Seattle, which relies more on a four-man rush to create pressure. I’m sure there will be instances where San Diego tries to keep Seattle’s base defense on the field using no-huddle, but I don’t think that will be a main focus of the team’s strategy Sunday.

Terry, lastly, how are the Seahawks handling being the defending Super Bowl champions? Do you believe this team has a chance to repeat, and what will have to go right in order for Seattle to accomplish that goal?

Blount: I predicted them to break the trend and win the Super Bowl back-to-back. They’ve shown zero signs of getting fat and happy, so to speak. They’re still a young team with key players who likely will continue to get better. And they probably still are the most talented team in the league, but two things will determine their fate. First, they will have to get it done with much younger depth. The Seahawks lost 10 players off the Super Bowl roster who had a combined 58 years of experience. And two, the schedule down the stretch is brutal. The last seven games include four against 2013 playoff teams (the 49ers twice in three weeks) and two others against the Cardinals, who won 10 games last year. If the Seahawks stay healthy, I believe they can overcome it and get back to the big game.