This Thursday Night Football game will be explosive. You have two teams with playoff implications on the line. Two teams that will play harder, run faster, react quicker and jump higher than any game they've played this season. These two teams are the San Diego Chargers (7-6) and the San Francisco 49ers (5-8).
Call it what you want. The "Battle of the Bay", The "West Coast Conflict" or The "NFC-AFC West Civil War". This is going to be even more, as the division title is at stake for both teams. For the San Francisco 49ers, it's the NFC West championship. For the San Diego Chargers, it's AFC West supremacy. Though both teams need other teams to lose out, winning this game would still give them that faith.
We can talk about how the Chargers are going to attack the 49ers. I'm not going to do that. That would be too easy to talk about. I'm going to reverse this and make this about how the 49ers are going to defend the Chargers.
I really don't see how the 49ers have a shot in the world at beating the Chargers. I really don't. First question we have to ask ourselves is how will the 49ers stop the Chargers on offense? The biggest obstacle when you play against the Chargers offense is that they have a very balanced attack. They can pass the ball and can put some major yardage on the ground through the run game.
The reason why the 49ers will more than likely fail to stop the Chargers is based on the indecision on whether to play the run or the pass. Last week against the Chiefs, the only reason why the Chargers were running the ball was due to the fact that the Chiefs' defense was playing deep zone all game to prevent the Chargers elite passing game.
The Chargers took what the defense gave them, so they ran the ball against the Chiefs' 6-7 man front. The Chargers were successful as they put up 205 yards. The Chargers have a RB by committee approach with a healthy Mike Tolbert, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. How do they prepare for three different types of RB's?
Not to mention that since the Chiefs were taking away the Chargers deep ball, they left themselves open up in all the short to mid-range passes as Philip Rivers averaged 12.6 yards per pass.
So there lies another question. If the Chargers pass the ball, do we prevent the deep plays against Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson or do we play the shorter passes? The Chargers just have too many weapons to hit any part of the field, especially with Philip Rivers passing the ball.
What the 49ers have to do to combat any passing game is to get pressure. The question then becomes, how will they pressure a QB that gets rid of the ball quickly, not to mention that the Chargers offensive line is different from any offensive line they have played all season long. Can Manny Lawson or Ahmad Brooks pressure against the Marcus McNeil? Can the interior linemen even pressure the middle against the likes of Kris Dielman and Nick Hardwick?
The Chargers have done a outstanding job protecting Philip Rivers considering how early in the season they had to throw the ball, as they played from behind in many games.
I don't believe that the 49ers can stop the Chargers offense. Expect the Chargers to continue to run the ball until the 49ers respect the run enough to bring another man into the box, then look for the Chargers to go deep. Either way, the Chargers can run or pass on them so the game-plan facing the 49ers is very flexible.
I'll keep this short with the 49ers offense. I know the 49ers are a running team, but a lot of pressure will be on Alex Smith this game. The reason is simple. I fully expect the Chargers offense to put up a lot of points. Alex Smith will be put into the same position that Brodie Croyle was in and would have to throw against the best pass defense in the league.
One can argue that the 49ers have Brian Westbrook, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis to catch passes. My argument is how will they get the ball when it's more than likely that Alex Smith will be harassed all day from the Chargers pass rush. The Chargers are currently 3rd in sacks in the league.
Even if the 49ers want to run the ball, can they really do it? Seeing that the Chargers don't really would have much respect for Smith as a passer, it's more than likely that the Chargers would load the box with 8-man fronts, just as they did against the Chiefs, and limit their opportunities to move the chains.
Overall, it's a really unfair match-up. The 49ers have too many questions to deal with against the Chargers, with nearly no answers. The only way I see the 49ers win this game, is if they just want it more than the Chargers, like when the Raiders won decisively in week 13. The only problem I see with that is that the Chargers are playing angry after that week 13 loss, as they gave it to the Chiefs in week 14 in a absolute blowout.
This Thursday night, one team will be making plans for January, while the other still has hope in playing more football in that same month. One thing is for sure, it's playoff football in week 15.