Arizona Cardinals vs. San Diego Chargers: Chargers Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
Coincidentally, the Cardinals will also be San Diego's Week 1 opponent when the regular season gets underway.
Like most clubs this week, the Chargers are expected to rest their starters during the final leg of exhibition play in preparation for their season opener on September 8 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Instead, the team will use Thursday's game as one last evaluation for players who are attempting to make the final roster. On Tuesday, all teams were mandated to trim their rosters to 75 players, and the process will become complete this Saturday when that number will reduce to 53 by 4 p.m. ET.
Monday's cuts included the following players: OL Nick Becton, FB Zach Boren, TE Jake Byrne, WR Brelan Chancellor, LB Adrian Hamilton, WR Micah Hatfield, OL Darryl Johnson, Ryan Otten, DB Lowell Rose, P Chase Tenpenny and RB Kerwynn Williams. CB Brandon Ghee was released on Tuesday.
San Diego also announced the signing of defensive lineman Joe Kruger, who was claimed off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles. The move was made in an attempt to reinforce an ailing defensive line that suffered two casualties in last Sunday's contest against the San Francisco 49ers.
Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego reported this week that undrafted rookie Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe suffered a torn ACL and is done for the season, while second-year man Kwame Geathers was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee. Both were placed on the reserve-injured list along with cornerback Marcus Cromartie (groin).
As a side note, veteran offensive guard Jeromey Clary, who underwent surgery on his hip and shoulder in the offseason, will start the year on the PUP list.
Here's what to look for in Thursday's game.
San Diego Preseason Week 3 Recap
Sunday's loss to San Francisco had its moments, both good and bad.
Starting with the good, Corey Liuget looked the part of an early Pro Bowl candidate against 49ers guard Mike Iupati, a recent two-time winner of the yearly honor himself.
In just over a quarter of action, Liuget established himself as the most dominant player on the field with four tackles, a strip-sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and a batted pass. In short, Liuget's disruptive presence made it nearly impossible for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense to get anything going early.
The impressive performance by the fourth-year defensive end was not only good news for the Chargers, but it also helped open the eyes of a national audience that was probably oblivious to the Liuget brand. No. 94 has quietly become one of the better players at his position and could be in line for recognition at season's end if he continues to play the way he did in San Francisco.
More positives came on the offensive side of the ball where Philip Rivers and Co. manufactured a 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive late in the first quarter. Aside from the pretty touchdown grab by Antonio Gates, the Chargers got solid production from their trio of running backs and a poised outing from their elite quarterback. When the first-team offense trotted off the field after the score, there was no doubt this offense looked ready for the regular season.
As for the bad, the loss of Kwame Geathers was a big blow defensively. The Chargers are currently without starting defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, who is nursing an injured ankle, and Geathers was expected to share a large chunk of the snaps in a rotation at nose tackle. Lissemore is expected to be ready for Week 1 in Arizona, but an alternate has yet to be determined.
The team's last remaining options at defensive tackle, according to the depth chart, are fifth-round draft pick Ryan Carrethers and Chas Alecxih, who was claimed off waivers on June 20. Both are fairly untested and have played sparingly in the preseason.
News and Notes
Thursday's exhibition game has bigger meaning for Carrethers
Injuries on the defensive line have almost guaranteed Carrethers a spot on the 2014 roster, but his positioning on the depth chart as the second defensive tackle isn't set in stone. In the final preseason game, Carrethers will have an opportunity to show defensive coordinator John Pagano he can fill the role left by Kwame Geathers. There were a few instances in Sunday's game that would insist Carrethers is ready to do so.
Inman and Oliver survive first wave of cuts
The first series of roster cuts came and went earlier this week and not among them were preseason-Week 1 standouts Dontrelle Inman and Branden Oliver. The duo impressed in San Diego's win over Dallas, but the buzz has gradually died off after lackluster outings against Seattle and San Francisco.
Thursday's game will be the last audition for both before Saturday's final cuts, and between the two, Inman may be the only survivor. Vincent Brown's longstanding injury could force an opening on the receiving corps, while Marion Grice seems to have a firm grip on the fourth running back spot.
Charger fans blacked out in San Diego
Southern California natives are no strangers to game blackouts, and as expected, the final exhibition game likely featuring backups was not sold out. The team announced that more than 9,000 general tickets remain, which forced the NFL to enforce its blackout policy. As a result, Thursday's game will be shown on tape-delay. More viewing information can be found on the team's website.
Expect a lot of healthy scratches for Thursday's game, but some lingering injuries to keep in mind are Jahleel Addae (ankle), Lawrence Guy (shoulder), Manti Te'o (foot), Sean Lissemore (ankle), Vincent Brown (calf) and Jeromey Clary (hip, shoulder).
Addae and Guy did some light work at Chargers Park on Tuesday, according to Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego also noted that Te'o was working off to the side. What that means for Thursday, however, isn't clear yet.
The likely scenario is that San Diego continues to rest its wounded in the preseason. More updates will be released as game time approaches.
X-Factor and Matchups to Watch
Chargers' second-team defense versus Logan Thomas and high-scoring offense
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians announced on Monday that fourth-round draft choice Logan Thomas would start and play the entire game against San Diego on Thursday. In his first preseason appearance for Arizona, Thomas picked apart the Houston Texans on 11-of-12 passing for 113 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown throw to Dan Buckner.
Thomas will be fortunate not to see Corey Liuget across the line of scrimmage on Thursday, but he will have to contend with a second unit that has posted six sacks in the last three games.
The Arizona offense has been especially good in the preseason at scoring points with 24.3 per game.
Chargers' second-team offense versus brief appearance from Mathieu, Minter
Appearances from Tyrann Mathieu and Kevin Minter on Thursday are a slight possibility, according to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com. The two defensive starters have been dealt the injury card most of the preseason, but the healing process is nearing the final stage in their respective cases. While the playing time for both is expected to be brief, if any at all, the second-team offense will need to adjust when No. 32 and No. 51 are on the field.
Inman, Oliver versus Cardinals' second-team defense
In a desperate last attempt to make this roster, Dontrelle Inman and Branden Oliver will need to knock the socks off the coaching staff on Thursday. Their play has suffered against two of the better defensive teams in the league, and Arizona will be no pushover. The Cardinals have a handful of young defenders stepping into their own including linebacker Kenny Demens and defensive back Deone Bucannon.
X-Factor: Ryan Carrethers
Poised for a starting role given the current injuries, Carrethers can grab hold of the No. 2 spot at defensive tackle with a nice game on Thursday.
San Diego has struggled to contain the offensive firepower of its last two opponents in preseason play, which makes it hard to believe the second-team defense will have an answer for the league's fifth-highest team in passing yards this preseason.
In addition, the Chargers aren't particularly deep offensively. While Kellen Clemens has played phenomenally as the backup to Philip Rivers, his receivers and backs have struggled to put points on the board. Brad Sorensen, who played most of last week's game under center for San Diego, turned the ball over twice and failed to score any points against the 49ers.
At this point, though, all the Chargers can ask for from their second unit is an improvement. A win or loss means nothing on Thursday, but if I had to make a prediction, I'd say the Cardinals continue to score more points and close out the preseason with a victory.
Prediction: Cardinals 19, Chargers 14