The anticipation for the start of the 2013 NFL Season is at its highest, and San Diego Chargers’ fans will have the highest built up tension. The Chargers will host the final game of week 1 on a National Stage as the Houston Texans come to town for some Monday Night Football. The scene at Qualcomm Stadium will be the brightest point in all of San Diego, as the Chargers plan to come out ‘White Hot’ to maximize homefield advantage, and Quarterback Philip Rivers tells us how this will factor into the team’s success.
“I think it’s exciting. I know, just as a fan, when you watch college games, or pro games, you notice the atmosphere. For us to be in all white and the whole stadium in white, I know it will be pretty impressive on TV and I imagine that atmosphere will be awesome. Over the years, we’ve been really good at home, and a lot of that has been with our crowd, when they get going. So we’ll need it to be one of those night games like I can remember. The Colts playoff game years back or Cincinnati a few years back, those games stand out as being true home field advantages. So hopefully it will be the same on Monday.”
This marks the second consecutive year the Chargers open ‘White Hot’ at home. Last years atmosphere help boost them to a win against the AFC West rival Oakland Raiders. This year will be more of a test to see how Philip has adapted to the new offensive schemes and playbooks.
“I think I’m there. I think I have to be, right? We have to go play a game. I think it will even continue to improve as far as all of us. The more games you play, the more reps you play, just like anything. The more you can do it in live action, the better off you’re going to feel and be. But I feel good and confident about where we are and the understanding of what we’re trying to get done. Understanding everything that will be in the game plan. There’s not a lot of translating going on anymore. There’s times when (Antonio) Gates and I or Malcom (Floyd) and I will communicate in old terms, just in talking. But I’m not having to visualize it in a different language anymore. When I hear what we have, what we do, and when we talk, it’s all the stuff we have now. And that took a period of time, but I feel ready to go.”
We have had glimpses of how the franchise quarterback has been able to execute the high tempo style of play on a few drives in preseason, but when they play the Texans, they’ll be playing for keeps. There is potential for him to return to Pro Bowl form and play like he did in 2008 where he lead the league in passer rating of 105.5 and touchdowns. But most importantly, he showed his ability in crunch time with 5 game winning drives. The Chargers lost many heartbreaking games last year where they gave up early leads and seemed to be predictable under Norv Turner’s play calling, so Rivers got to work early in preparation for this season and Head Coach Mike McCoy can attest for that.
“From the first time we talked to him and kind of talked about the base of our offense, how we were going to change things, how are we were going to call things, he was always a step ahead. He’d always come back in, or he’d call Frank (Reich) later that night and say, ‘What about this? Can we get to this? And this is that.’ And that’s the way he’s been. He’s the leader of this organization. Any quarterback in the league, the organization is always on your shoulders. I think he’s a great quarterback in this league.”
Even with the success of the team riding on his shoulders, he will need some help from the revamped offensive line. Last year, Rivers was sacked at a league high 8.4 percent on dropback plays and 2nd most overall with 49 sacks. Considering how poor pass blocking was last year, he still was able to make reads and see over the trenches when given a little bit of breathing room, and only had 4 batted passes at the line which is lower than 29 other starting quarterbacks last year. If the line can buy Rivers a bit more time to go through his progressions, he certainly can move the chains. That’s still easier said than done against a J.J. Watt lead defense.
“When you watch the tape, obviously 99 (JJ Watt) jumps off the tape, 56 (Brian Cushing), 24 (Johnathan Joseph), 25 (Kareem Jackson), it’s a good defense. 38 (Danieal Manning) there at strong safety. They fly around. And they’re sound. I think the biggest thing I can say if you watch their defense is they’re sound. You don’t see a lot of busted coverages or people running wide open. They really make you earn what you get. That shows to their record last year, 12-4 with pretty much, for the most part, everybody back.”
And the mastermind behind their Texans’ scheme is the Chargers former Defensive Coordinator, Wade Philips, that once made San Diego one of the most formidable defense in the league.
“One thing that’s always been characteristic of a Wade Philips defense, he was obviously here and now he’s there, is, they play physical, they play fast, and they’re very sound. There are some weeks where we go into it and you say, ‘Man that’s not a sound defense, or this isn’t a sound front, or when they line up this way, how can they defend this?’ And when you watch these guys, you can’t really say that. They’re very sound in what they do. Their players know what the scheme is, where the weaknesses may be on a defensive call, where you may try to attack them offensively. One thing I always remembered when Wade was here, and it seems like wherever he’s been is, you have to earn everything you get. He won’t give you anything. So it’s definitely going to be a challenge. We’re going to have to be very good to score points.”
The Texans were a terror for opposing Quarterbacks last year, and now converted outside linebacker Brian Cushing is fully healthy to add to the pass rush. Not to mention, they brought in ball hawking Ed Reed who wreaks havoc in coverage. The Baltimore Ravens felt the hurt of losing Ed Reed in this year’s season opener, when Peyton Manning carved them up for 7 TD passes and no interceptions.
“Having played him a few times when he was in Baltimore, he’s very unpredictable. He’s a guy that has a super smart awareness. His awareness is unbelievable. Sometimes it may be cover one, where he’s supposed to be in the deep middle, but he has a feeling of where you’re looking or he has a route recognition and his gut tells him to go make a play and he does. And sometimes that’s hard for a quarterback because what you see may not be what you get. He obviously is a Pro Bowl player, a great safety. He had been in there all preseason. We won’t prepare any differently, should he play, other than I’ll certainly be aware of where he is when he’s out there.”
Still, Rivers has many targets to play with this year. Antonio Gates has always been his go to guy and the tight end says he’s in the best shape ever in his career. That’s scary considering the two have combined for 58 total touchdowns which is the most in NFL history by a quarterback and tight end tandem. Then there is break out candidate Vincent Brown, rookie Keenan Allen, and the tall sure handed Malcom Floyd. Danny Woodhead will also add a new dimension to the passing game out of the backfield and Eddie Royal is back from injury as well.
“He’s looked good. I think he feels good. It’s great to have him back. He seemed to me, to feel relieved that he’s out there. It’s always a scary deal anytime you’re carted off and taken away in an ambulance, so for him to be back is good. He obviously can speak for himself, but what I’ve seen from these past two days, he’s done well.”
For now, it’s a clean slate for Rivers and company. That’s the magic of the NFL, every year brings new hope, and anything can happen. The shift in power is drastic at times and teams find ways to rise to the occasion. All that’s left to do between now and the opening kickoff is to game plan for the road to glory. One things for sure, there’s going to be some football in San Diego.
-Interviews Courtesy of the Chargers
-Theresa Villano contributed to this story
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