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Chargers Look for Repeat Performance in Houston

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Philip Rivers against the Houston Texans' defense seems like a mismatch.

    The San Diego quarterback leads the league with 2,649 yards passing through the first eight games, and is on target to break Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084 yards in 1984. He also has a touchdown pass in a team-record 21 consecutive games.

    The Texans? Their pass defense is ranked last in the NFL, having allowed 16 touchdown passes and seven pass plays covering 40 yards or more. There's been all of four interceptions -- and they've come in just two games.

    It may look like a big day for Rivers and the Chargers (3-5) when they visit the Texans (4-3) on Sunday, but the way San Diego's season has gone Rivers isn't taking anything for granted.

    The Chargers have an AFC-worst 19 turnovers, seven interceptions by Rivers and 12 lost fumbles.

    Rivers calls some of the miscues "just crazy." In a loss to New England two weeks ago, rookie receiver Richard Goodman left the ball on the ground after a catch, even though he hadn't been touched by a defender. Fullback Jacob Hester let a backward pass hit the turf in the same game, and the Patriots recovered.

    "We've always been a team that had good ball security," Rivers said. "Obviously, they've creeped in this year."

    San Diego had only one turnover against Tennessee last week and beat the Titans 33-25. Rivers said the giveaways haven't affected the Chargers' aggressive offensive style.

    As long as everyone plays with common sense, he says, San Diego will continue to look for big plays down field.

    "You don't want to play careful," he said. "You just want to play smart and make sure you make a little extra effort to squeeze it and hold onto it and make good decisions as a passer.

    "We are not going to go turnover-free," Rivers said. "We can overcome them. We just can't have them at the rate we are having them, because they're getting us out of scoring situations too often."

    The Texans have struggled to force turnovers this season, and coach Gary Kubiak made that an emphasis in practice this week. Houston has forced only two fumbles.

    "We just have to be more mindful of it," linebacker Kevin Bentley said. "Guys are making the tackles, but you don't see many guys stripping at the ball when we get there. We've got to do a better job of that, stripping the ball once the first guy has him wrapped up."

    Besides Rivers, Antonio Gates poses the biggest matchup challenge for Houston's defense -- if he plays. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Gates has plantar fasciitis in his right foot and was using a scooter to move around the team's practice facility earlier this week.

    His absence would be a big break for the Texans. Gates leads all tight ends with nine touchdown catches. He also has 18 career 100-yard receiving games and with one more on Sunday, he can tie Shannon Sharpe for the fourth-most by a tight end in league history.

    "He's a huge mismatch for linebackers and safeties," Kubiak said. "He's just a heck of a player. He's a very smart young man. So that makes it even more difficult. He'll be the best we've faced this year."

    The Texans' seventh-ranked offense has some dynamic playmakers, too, but Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson is still hobbled by a sprained right ankle. Johnson sustained the injury in Week 2, then aggravated it in Monday's loss to Indianapolis. He downplayed the injury Wednesday, but sat out practice.

    "They just wanted me to stay off of it and other than that, my ankle still feels the same," he said.

    Kubiak caught some flak this week for not using Arian Foster more against the Colts. Foster leads the AFC with 737 yards rushing, but carried only 15 times for 102 yards in Indy.

    "I guess I just feel like I'm being as productive as they allow me to be," Foster said. "Every time I get the opportunity to get in there and make things happen, that's what I try to do."

    An intriguing subplot will develop if the game comes down to kickers.

    Kris Brown signed with San Diego on Oct. 20 after he lost his job to Neil Rackers during Texans training camp. Brown is Houston's all-time leading scorer (767 points) and was the last player remaining from the inaugural 2002 season.

    Brown appeared in each of Houston's first 128 games and kicked 10 game-winners in eight seasons. He's 4-for-5 since joining San Diego, though he missed a 50-yard try as time expired in a 23-20 loss to New England on Oct. 24.

    Rackers is 4-for-4 on field-goal tries this season, including a 53-yarder in Monday's loss to the Colts. But Brown knows Reliant Stadium better than the Texans' current kicker, and hopes he'll get a chance to use his local knowledge on Sunday.

    "It's going to be different, just because I'm on a different sideline," Brown said. "I know it probably better than any stadium in the league. It'll just be a different perspective."