10:25 PM ET, September 9, 2013
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Playoff appearances used to be the goal for the Houston Texans after the franchise's humble beginnings. Now, that's the expectation -- and the goal is a Super Bowl.
While expectations for the San Diego Chargers may be considerably lower this year, they're anxious to hit the field with a new coach on the sidelines.
Playoff appearances each of the last two years were enough for a Houston franchise that went 55-89 in its first nine seasons. But after going 12-4 last year, the Texans aren't sheepish about setting the bar higher.
"I think it's obviously our main goal and our final goal, but there are a lot of steps that lead up to that," Cushing said of reaching the Super Bowl. "It's mentioned here and there, but ... there's a ton of steps before we start talking about the Super Bowl and it becomes a realization. It's one of those things that we have a lot of work to do before that's real."
Having Cushing back is a good start.
The fifth-year linebacker -- who signed a six-year, $55.6 million extension with Houston on Wednesday -- returns after tearing his left ACL in Week 5 and missing the remainder of the season. The 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year ranked 15th in the NFL from 2009-2011 with 323 tackles.
"It's a chance to go back out there and really establish our role as a dominant defense," he said. "To help with that is going to be a tremendous feeling."
Even without Cushing for most of the year, the Texans still finished seventh in total defense, bolstered by Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt's league-leading 20 1/2 sacks. While the unit was weaker against the pass, Houston added a veteran presence by signing nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed.
Coach Gary Kubiak said it's possible that Reed could play in the opener after he was taken off the physically unable to perform list Saturday following his recovery from offseason hip surgery. The nine-time Pro Bowler will practice in pads for the first time Friday.
D.J. Swearinger, a second-round pick out of South Carolina, could be called upon at free safety if Reed can't play.
The health of star running back Arian Foster has also been a concern all offseason after he missed camp with calf and back injuries. Foster's 956 carries over the last three seasons are 99 more than the next player, but coach Gary Kubiak told the team's official website he'd likely see a lighter workload in the opener after not playing any preseason games. That could mean more carries for Ben Tate, who has totaled 1,221 yards and six TDs the last two seasons behind Foster.
San Diego missed out on the playoffs for the third straight season with a 7-9 record, leading to the dismissal of Norv Turner and the hiring of McCoy, who had served as Denver's offensive coordinator.
The addition brings a feeling of excitement to a team that finished second-to-last in total offense last season.
"This is the longest week it seems like in history," said quarterback Philip Rivers, whose 88.6 passer rating was the second-lowest of his career since becoming a starter. "You wait for game week, then it gets here, and they add an extra day to it."
Unlike the old scheme focused on deep passes, McCoy's scheme puts a greater emphasis on short and intermediate routes. Plays that develop more quickly should help Rivers after he was sacked an AFC-high 49 times.
"I think we need to play better around him," McCoy said. "I've been saying that since Day 1. He is a great quarterback; Philip is going to be fine. We got to get the entire team, everybody, has to do their job better and Philip will do his job better."
The signing of former Patriot Danny Woodhead -- who totaled 747 yards from scrimmage and seven TDs -- should help Rivers compensate for the loss of receiver Danario Alexander after a torn ACL in practice last month. The Chargers are hopeful that receivers Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal will be ready to go after recovering from a knee sprain and bruised lung, respectively.
San Diego is 4-0 in the all-time series, including a 29-23 road win on Nov. 7, 2010, as Rivers threw for 295 yards and four TDs.
The Chargers are one regular-season win shy of 400.
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San Diego Chargers
|Avg Points Allowed||28.0||31.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||HOU|
|Rush Yds Allowed||HOU|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|San Diego leads 4-1|
|Nov 7, 2010||HOU 23, SD 29|
|Oct 28, 2007||HOU 10, @SD 35|
|Sep 12, 2004||HOU 20, SD 27|
|Sep 15, 2002||HOU 3, @SD 24|
Philip Rivers was sacked on an NFL-high 8.4 percent of his dropbacks last season. From 2008-11, Rivers was sacked on just 5.3 percent of his dropbacks.
On the first play of the game, the Chargers recorded an interception on a batted pass. The Chargers had 1 interception on batted or tipped passes all of last season, while the Texans had a league-high 8.
Philip Rivers threw all 4 of his touchdowns when the Texans sent 5 or more pass rushers, doubling his high for touchdowns against such pressure in a game during the last 6 seasons. The Texans sent extra pressure on 19 of Rivers' 32 dropbacks (59%), finally coming through with a big play as they sent 5 pass rushers on Brian Cushing's 18-yard interception returned for a touchdown.[+]
Philip Rivers Passing vs 5+ Rushers, Monday
Philip Rivers completed 1-of-7 passes and threw a pick-6 in the 4th quarter Monday, after completing 13-of-22 passes with 4 touchdowns in the first 3 quarters. Since the start of last season, Rivers has an NFL-worst 7.7 4th-quarter Total QBR, including a league-high 13 turnovers (among qualified quarterbacks).[+]
Matt Schaub completed 8-of-10 passes for 116 yards when under duress Monday, including a touchdown to Owen Daniels early in the 4th quarter to cut the Chargers lead to 7 points. Schaub had the 5th-highest Total QBR among qualified quarterbacks when under duress last season (53.8), and his 116 yards while under duress Monday are his 2nd-most in a single game since the start of 2009.
The Chargers blew a 21-point lead and Philip Rivers threw a crucial interception returned for a touchdown Monday in the 4th quarter. It was reminiscent of their collapse on Monday Night Football against the Broncos last season as the Chargers allowed 35 unanswered points and Rivers threw 3 4th-quarter interceptions, including 1 returned for a touchdown.[+]
Chargers Collapse on Monday Night Football
Matt Schaub's 1st touchdown pass of the season came off a play fake. He had 10 play-action touchdown passes last season, tied for 3rd in the league, and 6 came in goal-to-go situations.
Andre Johnson caught all 5 of his 3rd-down targets Monday for 72 yards, including a key 3rd-and-4 reception on the final drive with 1:49 remaining that led to the game-winning field goal. In 2012, Johnson caught 74% of his 3rd-down targets, the highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 30 3rd-down targets.
The Texans have sent at least 5 pass rushers on 6 of Philip Rivers first 9 dropbacks. He has responded by completing 5-of-6 passes for 51 yards and both of his touchdowns against extra pressure.
Philip Rivers was off to the game of his life with 4 touchdowns through 3 quarters - tying his career high... but the 4th quarter was a rough one for Rivers as he completed just 1 of 7 passes for 8 yards. One of those errant passes was a pick 6. After an 87.4 QBR through 3 quarters, Rivers went nearly as low as you can go in the 4th quarter (0.02).[+]
Philip Rivers - Monday vs Texans
ESPN Stats & Information