|NFL Week 9: Chargers at Vikings Preview & Picks|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007 04:24|
Quarterback Philip Rivers is not getting to throw the ball as much, and the San Diego Chargers are winning a lot more.
Now more conservative in the passing game, Rivers and the Chargers go for their fourth straight victory when they visit the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made San Diego -7 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 41.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 88% of bets for this game have been placed on San Diego -7 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
First-year coach Norv Turner had Rivers attempt at least 30 passes in each of the first four games, and San Diego lost three of them. The only game in that span the Chargers (4-3) ran the ball more than they threw it resulted in their only win - 14-3 over Chicago in the season opener.
Rivers, in his second full season as the starter, was 89-for-139 (64 percent) for 886 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions during the 1-3 start. He's since attempted only 50 passes during the Chargers' three-game winning streak, completing 34, and the team has used at least 11 more running plays than pass attempts in each game.
Rivers has thrown for five touchdowns with only one interception as San Diego has outscored opponents 104-27 over the last three games.
"It's really what we've done over the last month," Turner said. "We're creating turnovers and we're protecting the ball. If you do those things and you have the talent we have and the playmakers we have, then you're going to be in good shape."
San Diego won 35-10 last Sunday against the Houston Texans. Rivers was 7-of-11 for 130 yards and three touchdowns while LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 90 yards on 17 carries.
The Chargers led 35-3 at the half and won despite being outgained on offense 367-237, running 35 fewer plays and losing the time of possession battle by more than 10 minutes.
"The second half, you want to keep the pedal down, but you don't want to do anything silly to give it away," Rivers said. "You're not going to lose the game unless you throw an interception for a touchdown, fumble for a touchdown."
The Chargers, who finished last season 14-2 before losing to New England in the divisional round of the playoffs, are tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for first place in the AFC West. They have a tough road ahead, however, with the Vikings (2-5) being the only current sub-.500 team on the schedule until a Dec. 24 game against the 3-4 Denver Broncos.
Tomlinson believes winning the turnover battle could determine San Diego's fate. The Chargers are third in the league with a plus-8 turnover differential, having committed only one and forcing 11 during the three-game win streak.
"If we take care of the ball, and our defense forces turnovers, like we've been doing the last three games, no matter who we're playing, we're going to be in the game," the reigning NFL MVP said. "So, say we play Indianapolis later on this year or have to play at New England again, if we don't turn the football over and they don't turn the football over, and it's just kind of an equal game, then I like our chances."
While the Chargers have simplified their passing game, they could try to open things up against a Vikings team allowing a league-worst 288.3 passing yards per game. Minnesota is third-best against the run, holding opponents to an average of 74.4 yards rushing.
Three of the last four quarterbacks the Vikings have faced have thrown for more than 330 yards, including 333 by Donovan McNabb last Sunday as the Philadelphia Eagles won 23-16 at Minnesota.
"Our work is cut out for us," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We know that we're on the ropes and we have to just keep fighting. We're a fighting team."
Minnesota's offense has not had any such success throwing the ball, regardless of who has been under center, while dropping to the bottom of the NFC North standings.
It appears Tarvaris Jackson is in line to return as the starter this week after sitting out last Sunday with a broken right index finger. Kelly Holcomb was 7-of-16 for 88 yards and a touchdown before hurting his neck in the third quarter, and Brooks Bollinger came on to go 7-of-10 for 94 yards but could not lead any touchdown-scoring drives.
Jackson, who also missed two games earlier this season because of a groin injury, has completed just 45.9 percent of his passes while throwing for two touchdowns and five interceptions. Bollinger could end up being the backup if Holcomb is not fully recovered.
"If Tarvaris can go, he's going to go," coach Brad Childress said. "We just have to see where Kelly's injury takes him in terms of how comfortable he is."
Minnesota has lost two straight since a 34-31 victory at Chicago on Oct. 14. The Vikings have struggled offensively in both games, with 196 total yards in a 24-14 loss to Dallas on Oct. 21 before getting outgained 385-256 against the Eagles.
This is the Chargers' first visit to the Metrodome since a 35-27 loss in 1999. The teams last met in 2003 when San Diego won 42-28.
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