by Sharon Thorsland
The Panthers face one of the NFL's highest scoring offenses Sunday when they host the San Diego Chargers. (WBT will have the game starting with the pre- game show at 10:00am). The Chargers are posting nearly 370 yards of offense and almost 28 points per game, that’s 4th in the NFL. But they’re also tied for the league lead with 25 turnovers, and that’s a big reason they're just 5-7 on the season. The Chargers have squandered away 4th quarter leads five times in 10 games, including last week in a 28-21 loss to the Bucs.
There’s a familiar face leading the Chargers offense - it’s former NC State standout Phillip Rivers. The 5-time Pro Bowl quarterback has thrown for nearly 3400 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season, but he’s also tossed 14 interceptions, that’s 2nd in the league. But Rivers is a 13-year veteran who knows how to attack defenses. “He’s very good in the pocket, he feels when the rush is coming and he has decent mobility,” says Panther defensive end Wes Horton. “When you’re facing a quarterback with that much experience and with some good skill players, it’s going to be a pretty big challenge for us.”
One of those skill players is receiver Tyrell Williams, a second year player who has stepped up as the Charger's top threat with Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson on IR. Williams is averaging nearly 16 yards a catch with 8 touchdowns. Speedy Travis Benjamin starts on the other side, while rookie Hunter Henry has five touchdowns. And of course there's veteran tight end Antonio Gates, the 8-time Pro Bowler has five scores.
The Chargers have an excellent running back in second year player Melvin Gordon, he picks up nearly 83 yards a game and has 10 touchdowns. He’s also one of Rivers’ top targets with 42 catches and 2 more scores. But the Panthers have been very good against the run this season - they’re ranked 8th in the NFL allowing just 92 yards a contest.
While the Chargers offense might be turning the ball over a lot, the defense is forcing turnovers - they rank 2nd in the NFL with 24 takeaways, and lead the league with 15 interceptions. Cornerback Casey Hayward has a league-leading 7 of them, one returned for a touchdown. The Chargers run a 3-4 scheme and rank third against the run allowing just 89 yards a contest. Star rookie defensive end Joey Bosa has been outstanding this season despite his lengthy training camp holdout, he’s got 5.5 sacks. Former South Carolina standout Melvin Ingram anchors a group of young and talented linebackers, including 2nd year player Denzel Perryman, who leads the team in tackles. “They’re extremely talented,” says Panther fullback Mike Tolbert. “They’ve got guys coming off the edge in Bosa and Ingram, Perryman in the middle of the defense. They’ve got guys that can play good football.”
After a pair of tough road losses, the Panthers are looking forward to getting back on track at home. They're expecting a fight from the Chargers, whose losses have all come by 8 points or less. But this team is ready - with four games left on the schedule, they've got just one goal: “Win,” says receiver Philly Brown. “Win, that’s it, by any means necessary. Obviously we can’t turn the season around but we can definitely turn a negative into a positive ending the season on a four game win streak. Four dominant games, that would be a nice positive heading into the next season.”