The seriously depleted Chargers go to Houston this week for a game that could determine the fate of their season. Will they build off last week's success, make fewer mistakes, play with passion and win? Or will they go back to their old pattern of making turnovers and younger players showing they aren't ready to compete in the NFL?
The scariest problem is the injury to Antionio Gates. Charger fans have grown used to him playing through severe injuries, but it may just be too much to ask this time. Gates couldn't walk on Monday. This may be the Sunday his consecutive starting streak ends.
Without Gates, someone else on the Chargers' receiving corps must have a big game. At the tight end position, Kris Wilson has only fumbled the ball and Randy McMichael has largely been a disappointment rather than a compliment to Gates. Patrick Crayton seems to be the best candidate at wide receiver, as he looked like he was gaining a rapport with the offense and with Rivers last week. It will also be interesting to see if rookie Seyi Ajirotutu can continue to make plays. The guy looks like someone who has the passion and desire to be a success in this league. Folks hint that he has deep threat speed, but I haven't seen it in a game yet. Look for Norv to give him at least one shot down the field.
If the Chargers win this game, it will be because Rivers plays his best and makes a bunch of back-ups look like regulars. For this to happen, the offensive line will have to have another strong week blocking. The offensive line, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert will also have to make something happen in the running game. Last week was the O-line's best game. Hopefully they've rediscovered their aggressiveness. I still think Mathews is capable (and due) to have a monster game. This would be a great week for it.
The Texans also have one of the top offenses in the NFL. Andre Johnson may be the best receiver in football. Quarterback Matt Shaub has been accurate with his passes. The Texans hit the jackpot with Mission Bay High alum Arian Foster at running back. This team can move the ball and score points. However, I think the Charger defense has been gaining confidence all season and is underrated by Charger fans and the NFL. Andre Johnson is nursing a bad ankle and may be a bit limited. This should allow the Chargers to stuff the run a bit more. If they can hold Foster and the short passing game on first and second down, then look for some crucial sacks and interceptions to come on third and long in what could be the deciding plays in this one.
San Diego cannot afford any horrible turnovers in the red zone or special teams gaffs this week. This would be too much for this fragile team's confidence on the road. If they can avoid those pitfalls, they win this one by a nose:
Chargers 34, Texans 30