Chargers vs. Cardinals : Both Have a Lot to Work on

Let the games begin

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 22: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers prepares to snap the ball during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 22, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. The Chargers defeated the Cardinals 17-6. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    The Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers sure aren't playing like defending division champions.

    Yes, the Cardinals (2-1) have a winning record, but that's due in large part to Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski missing a 32-yard field goal last week, which allowed Arizona to escape with a 24-23 home-opening win.

    And the Chargers? They're 1-2 and off to another slow start under Norv Turner, who after last week's 27-20 debacle in Seattle earned the dubious distinction of becoming the quickest NFL coach to reach 100 career losses.

    So maybe it's a good thing that the game will be blacked out on local TV when the four-time defending AFC West champion Chargers host the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals on Sunday.

    Both teams have a lot to work on.

    The most glaring breakdown for the Chargers last Sunday was allowing Seattle's Leon Washington to return kickoffs 101 and 99 yards for touchdowns. That ran to three the number of touchdowns allowed on returns this year by San Diego. They'd better fix their problems quickly because Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kickoff 102 yards against Oakland.

    Turner, facing numerous questions about his underachieving club, believes the breakdowns are fixable by moving veterans back into special teams spots.

    "There's no question they are. This isn't the first time we've been through this, unfortunately," Turner said.

    "Last year we had a couple in the Denver game, a few years ago against the Jets early we had a couple that didn't score but were big returns. We addressed it. The one thing about our guys that has been consistent and I appreciate about them is when we have an issue, they face up to it, they address it, and we've been able to fix the issues that we have."

    The Chargers have other concerns to deal with.

    They had five turnovers at Seattle, running their season total to nine. That includes four interceptions by Philip Rivers, who otherwise has been brilliant. Rivers threw for a franchise-record 455 yards, eclipsing by 11 the old record by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. He already has 1,087 yards as he shoots for his third-straight 4,000-yard season.

    Rookie running back Ryan Mathews thinks he'll return from a sprained ankle that forced him to miss the Seattle game. Mathews has fumbled twice in two games, leading to 10 points for the opposition. He's still looking for his first NFL touchdown.

    By comparison, the player Mathews replaced, LaDainian Tomlinson, ran 15 times for 70 yards and one touchdown in the Jets' 31-23 win at Miami on Sunday night. Tomlinson, who got on the wrong side of Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, has 208 yards and one score on 37 carries this season. Mathews has 104 yards on 25 carries.

    Although Tomlinson had his share of injuries, he didn't miss a game due to injury until a playoff game at Pittsburgh at the end of his eighth pro season.

    Although left tackle Marcus McNeill has ended his holdout, he still has to sit out two games after being placed on the roster exempt list in a hardball tactic by Smith. McNeill also missed the Seattle game.

    Two seasons removed from the Super Bowl, the Cardinals have struggled as they start the post-Kurt Warner era. They opened with a narrow victory at St. Louis, were routed at Atlanta and then eked out the win against the lowly Raiders.

    Quarterback Derek Anderson has been average, and the Cardinals will be thin at wide receiver with Early Doucet out and Steve Breaston missing the game due to knee surgery.

    Anderson has had a relatively unimpressive stat line, throwing for 580 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, with a rating of 67.6.

    While the Cardinals have been balanced, coach Ken Whisenhunt said there's plenty of work to do.

    "I'm more concerned with the passing game becoming more efficient," he said. "The one thing I am pleased with, we came out of the Oakland game 50-50 in running and passing. Hopefully, we'll be able to maintain that or stay close to that because I think it helps us as a team. I am pleased with the way our running game is progressing, but I see where there's room for improvement. Some of it is having a group that makes sure we're working hard to get better at it and I am pleased with that."

    The Cardinals have had turnover trouble, too, losing six of 10 fumbles and throwing four interceptions.

    "We're three games in now and we feel like we have made some progress," Whisenhunt said. "I feel very fortunate that we're 2-1 after the turnovers we've had and some of the things that have happened to us, but we're going to keep working on it. I feel like we're a little bit of a puzzle and we're trying to fit all of the pieces together. I think we're making a little progress on that and hopefully we'll play better on Sunday."