San Diego Chargers vs. New Orleans Saints: 5 Matchups That Will Decide SNF Clash

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IOctober 7, 2012

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 27:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints in action against the San Diego Chargers at the Louisiana Superdome on August 27, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers (3-1) go on the road Sunday night for an important Week 5 matchup with the still-winless New Orleans Saints (0-4). 

Saints quarterback Drew Brees will attempt to make history in New Orleans, as a touchdown pass tonight eclipses Johnny Unitas' NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Brees will attempt to accomplish the feat against his former team and the quarterback who replaced him in San Diego, Philip Rivers. 

The Chargers look to get to 4-1 for the second straight season.

Here are the five most important matchups to watch on Sunday Night Football: 


Chargers OL vs. Saints DL

As vague and simple as matchups come, but also the most important for New Orleans. A week ago, the Saints were completely unable to pressure quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and Steve Spagnuolo's defense was once again shredded by the Green Bay Packers.

Sunday night in New Orleans, Spagnuolo needs to find a way to generate more pressure. Bringing blitzes can be risky against a veteran like Rivers, but just rushing the front four did little for the Saints in Week 4.

Without pressure Sunday night, the Chargers should have no problems scoring near or above 30 points.

The Saints, with just six sacks this season, are allowing 32.5 points a game in 2012.


Chargers Run Defense vs. Saints RBs

The Chargers have been a tough defense to run on in 2012, allowing just 79.3 yards a game and forcing four fumbles.

The Saints, who have struggled to run the football this season, must find a way to get something going on the ground Sunday night. With a struggling defense and Brees pressing at times to compensate, the run game has the opportunity to help both areas.

Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram shouldn't be ignored against the Chargers. Each offers something different from a running perspective, so the Saints can get creative.

Either way, New Orleans has to get more from a running game that is averaging just 80.8 yards a game in 2012. Brees and the defense need help. 


Saints QB Drew Brees/Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Turnovers

Both quarterbacks have shown the fatal flaw of throwing the ball to the other color jersey: Rivers has four interceptions this season after 20 in 2011, and Brees' five picks in 2012 are the eighth most in the NFL. 

The Chargers defense has especially lived off the turnover in 2012. San Diego forced turnovers on three of the Kansas City Chiefs' first five possessions in Week 4, which helped the Chargers take control of the contest in the first half.

Brees must avoid giving the Chargers defense that kind of confidence early Sunday night. 

The Saints used to live and die off turnovers under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, but New Orleans has just six in 2012. Considering how poor the pass rush has been in New Orleans this season, getting turnovers is a must.


Chargers WRs Robert Meachem/Malcolm Floyd vs. Saints CBs Patrick Robinson/Jabari Greer

The Saints have been gashed in the secondary in 2012, mostly because the pass rush has been so spotty. If we assume that will continue, the Saints cornerbacks must play extraordinarily well Sunday night, especially against taller receivers for San Diego. 

Meachem, a former Saint, is 6'2". Floyd towers over 99 percent of cornerbacks at 6'5". Both Robinson and Greer are 5'11". 

The Saints will have their hands full attempting to contain both receivers, especially if Rivers is given time to find the taller targets downfield. 


Chargers LBs vs. Saints RB Darren Sproles/TE Jimmy Graham

Few offenses possess a pair of matchup nightmares the likes of Sproles and Graham. 

A jitterbug of a player, Sproles is used at running back and receiver. The Green Bay Packers tried to use cornerbacks to contain Sproles in Week 4, but the Saints still found ways to get him the football. 

Graham is the league's top receiving tight end. At 6'7", no linebacker or safety has a good matchup against him in space. The Saints especially like to target Graham in the red zone, where he has had touchdown catches in eight of their last nine games. 

How the Chargers linebackers handle such a difficult matchup will ultimately decide how many points the Saints score Sunday night.