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Three-Down Back: A trio of things to watch for against the Arizona Cardinals

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Oakland Raiders v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

After last week’s debacle, the Chargers are probably super relieved that they get the opportunity for a rebound game against the 2-8 Cardinals. The guys on the defense are probably licking their chops in anticipation of facing rookie quarterback Josh Rosen after looking at his season stat sheet and realizing the young signal-caller has only thrown 9 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

However, while guys like David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are alive and well on this offense, there’s always an opportunity for points to be scored.

With that being said, let’s take a look at three things I’ll be watching closely when the Cardinals come to town on Sunday.

1.) RB David Johnson could pose a huge problem

When the Cardinals fired OC Mike McCoy earlier this season, most analysts believed it was going to signal a resurgence of Johnson in the Cardinals offense. If you look at his last couple of games, you would see this has come to fruition. However, the Cardinals offense as a whole still ranks near the bottom of the league in many important categories.

As good as this sounds, the Broncos didn’t need a ton of offense to beat the Chargers. They just needed their best players to make the important plays when they needed it the most. If I were the Cardinals, I would look at last week’s game and use that as the blueprint to beating this Chargers’ team.

On the season, Johnson has 629 yards on 168 carries. However, going right along with his resurgence under new OC Byron Leftwich, Johnson has accumulated almost half of his season’s rushing yards in the last three games, alone, with 294.

The former Northern Iowa Panther continues to be a threat in the passing game, as well. With 32 catches on the season for 309 yards and two touchdowns, Johnson will be able to hurt the Chargers in a number of ways. Expect one of the more important match-ups within this game to be how the Chargers use DBs Derwin James or Adrian Phillips to help cover Johnson out of the backfield.

2.) Can Philip Rivers withstand the inevitable pressure from the Cardinals’ Chandler Jones?

Jones is currently third in the NFL with 10.5 sacks. Last week, the Chargers faced a ferocious pass rushing duo in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and we all saw just how much it can affect Rivers when he doesn’t trust his linemen to keep him clean.

Fortunately, Jones lines up on the right side of the defensive front which means he will go up against LT Russell Okung for the majority of the game. Okung, who went to the Pro Bowl last year as an alternate, should be able to keep up with the lengthy Jones with some added help from Whisenhunt who showed he can really help eliminate prolific edge rushers with his play-calling, i.e., Myles Garrett earlier this season.

3.) The Chargers need to start fast on Sunday in order to right the ship following a demoralizing loss.

One of the themes to the Chargers win streak was that the team started finding a way to score a touchdown on their opening drives when they were unable to achieve the feat at all during the entire 2017 season.

Things started to slip during their last contest against the Oakland Raiders when Rivers was unable to complete a single pass until almost five minutes into the second quarter. Luckily, the Raiders are the Raiders.

Even with the recent slow starts, the Chargers are still ninth in points per game (26.2), sixth in total yards per game (400.8), and ninth in both passing and rushing yards per game with 276.9 and 123.9, respectively.