The third preseason game is a dry run and dress rehearsal for the regular season. The starters typically play for three quarters, but not many will play for the Chargers on Friday night. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are getting rest (via the North County Times), and a plethora of injured players will also miss the game.
The Minnesota Vikings are a great test for the Chargers, but with all the injuries the Chargers have sustained this preseason, the first real test will have to wait until the regular season.
Since this is the only preseason game that involves a game plan, this is often the best representation of what we can expect from each team in the regular season. The focus for the Chargers will on defense, with most of the Chargers offense sidelined.
When the Chargers have the ball
The Chargers have a multitude of injured players, particularly on the offensive line. Jared Gaither (back), Tyronne Green (foot) and Nick Hardwick (concussion) will miss the game. Mike Harris, Rex Hadnot and David Molk will start in their place.
The injuries on the offensive line were significant enough for Norv Turner to sit Philip Rivers for the final preseason game. Keeping Rivers healthy is important, and the Chargers had been having enough trouble protecting him without Gaither.
Gates will also be missing the game. With Rivers out, the offense isn’t going to get the normal third preseason game treatment, and there’s no sense in putting Gates in harm’s way.
The Chargers will basically have only half their projected starters playing on offense and could be in for a tough game against a Vikings defense that led the league is sacks last year.
Whitehurst will not be productive if he doesn’t get protection, and it will be interesting to see how the offensive line performs. Either the concerns will grow about the Chargers ability to protect Rivers if there are additional injuries, or they will be calmed with a productive game by the reserve offensive line against Jared Allen and the rest of the Vikings' formidable front seven.
If Whitehurst does get protection, there are plenty of cracks in Minnesota’s secondary that can be exploited with Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd. Unfortunately, the Chargers don’t even have their full complement of weapons like Eddie Royal, Ryan Mathews and Vincent Brown to aid Whitehurst.
Don’t expect much.
When the Vikings have the ball
On defense is where the Chargers will be tested, although they won’t have to face Adrian Peterson. Christian Ponder is hardly a quarterback who is going to light a defensive secondary on fire, so the Chargers should have some success against the running game of Vikings with the ability to load the box.
The Chargers defense should be able to dominate against the run and against the pass, but they will need to continue to play as they have the first two weeks of the regular season.
Rookie left tackle Matt Kalil solidifies the offensive line in Minnesota, and it will be interesting to see if the Chargers can break through it with their own rookies Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes. Pay close attention to how early and often the Chargers bring Reyes in for Vaughn Martin.
Corey Liuget has reportedly had a good training camp, according to Bill Williamson of ESPN, and he’s backed it up with a good performance this preseason. Liuget is getting penetration and with seemingly relative ease and should also help open things up for Shaun Phillips who has looked explosive this preseason.
Kyle Rudolph is a tight end who could be poised for a big year in Minnesota and will be a big test for the Chargers. How the Chargers handle Rudolph could be an indicator of how they will handle Jimmy Graham, Jacob Tamme and other tight ends they face this season.
Although the offense in San Diego wasn’t as great last season as it has been in the past, it continues to be the defense that keeps the Chargers from performing up to expectations.
The Vikings are a good team for the Chargers to showcase their improved defense against and demonstrate they are ready to produce this season. As long as Rivers and Gates are healthy, they will have a chance on offense, and that’s why you will not see them on the field tonight.