The 4-5 San Diego Chargers leave the warm, sunny climate of southern California to travel to Chicago to play the 6-3 Bears. The game has a 4:15 ET kickoff on Sunday, and the temperature is forecast to drop into the 30s as the sun sets – not the worst of Chicago’s weather, but combined with the ever-present winds at Soldier field, the conditions will be challenging.
San Diego has moved the ball well this season, but they are primarily a passing team and have been victimized by turnovers. Quarterback Philip Rivers is averaging 305 passing yards per game, but is leading the league with 15 interceptions, and the conditions at Soldier Field won’t help.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith, when asked by San Diego reporters about Matt Stafford attributing some of his four interceptions to the wind in a game against the Bears last weekend, said, “As we look at it, our guys had a lot to do with those four interceptions. It’s normally windy in Chicago this time of the year.”
Then he added, “Make sure Philip [Rivers] knows that also. The wind can affect the passes here in Chicago.”
Rivers, a very accurate passer throughout his career, has struggled with interceptions all season and if the conditions bother him in Chicago, he could be in for a long night.
It might be a good time for the Chargers to re-discover their running game. The Chargers are averaging 108 yards per game on the ground, 18th in the league, but they have been averaging under 90 yards per game in their current 4-game losing streak.
The Chargers offense runs into a Bears defense that looked like the Monsters of the Midway again last week, as they dominated the Detroit Lions, getting six turnovers and running two interceptions back for touchdowns. The way the Chargers offense and the Bears defense have been playing over the last few games, it could be a long night for Chargers fans.
The Hester Factor
One interesting matchup in the game comes on special teams, where the Chargers much-improved punting team, among the best in the league this year, faces off against Devin Hester, the most dangerous return man in the game.
Chargers head coach Norv Turner said, “Their kicking game would keep you up at night.”
But he stopped short of saying they absolutely wouldn’t kick to Hester. “We have a great punter. He has a great ability to hang the ball up in the air and he’s getting very good at placing it,” Turner said. “Game situation, field position, all those different things would tie into [how we handle Hester].”
Chargers punter Mike Scifres, fourth in the league in net punting average, said, “It’s going to be a great challenge for the whole group.”
“Clearly you watch what the guy’s done in his career, he’s going to go down as the best returner to ever play in the NFL – to ever play football,” Scifres said. “As a punter, you’ve got to either hang it up and make him fair catch it or kick it out of bounds, neither of which are as easy to do as it is to say.
For Hester’s part, he exudes a quiet confidence in his abilities. Asked if he’d kick to himself, he responded, “Probably, yeah.”
He then clarified, “It’s the National Football League. It’s the highest level of any football in the world. Therefore a special teams unit is 11 guys trying to (let) one guy change up their whole game plan, the way they’ve been playing the whole season, that’s too much.”
Of course, that could just be Hester trying to goad them into actually kicking the ball to him. He returned his NFL record 12th punt for a touchdown last week against Detroit. He now has 18 special teams returns for TDs, and is one shy of tying Deion Sanders’ NFL record. Incidentally, Hester is in his sixth season, while Sanders played over twice as long, retiring after 14 years.
Asked if he thinks about scoring a touchdown every time he gets the ball, Hester responded simply, “Every time.”