Who's on Defense
Here's a quick list of starters from the Arizona Cardinals last season that will either not be playing in this game or are questionable due to injury:
DT Darnell Dockett
LB Karlos Dansby
LB Daryl Washington
SS Yeremiah Bell
FS Tyrann Mathieu
No, it's not because they got better at those positions.
Karlos Dansby signed with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. Yeremiah Bell is still a free agent but will likely retire, as he's in his later 30s.
Dockett is our for the year with an injury. Washington is out for the year after being caught cheating (drugs).
Tyrann Mathieu last played a down of football on December 9th. That's including the preseason. He hasn't even really been practicing until a couple of days ago.
As far as personnel goes, this defense got worse. Their only pass-rusher, John Abraham, is 36-years-old and not getting any younger. It would be shocking if Todd Bowles could make them one of the league's best defenses again this year.
Much like the defensive players listed above, Cardinals RB Andre Ellington will either miss the game or play injured. For a player that relies entirely on his speed and agility, playing with a bum wheel will be more than a nuisance.
Backup RB Jonathan Dwyer is a powerhouse, and he could potentially create problems if the Chargers don't wrap up when tackling him, but he offers next to nothing as a receiver out of the backfield. This allows Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram to spend most of the game with their ears pinned back, focusing on no task other than getting to Carson Palmer and putting him on the ground.
Taking away the team's most effective runner and their only pass-catching threat out of the backfield turns the Cardinals into a very one-dimensional team and makes it much easier for John Pagano to build an effective gameplan with the parts that he has.
About that pass rush....
The San Diego Chargers went 5-1 last year with Melvin Ingram on the team. They also went 2-2 with Dwight Freeney on the field, their two losses coming on a Jake Locker Hail Mary (heaving the ball into double-coverage on 3rd & 10 with 15 seconds left) and in a game the league later admitted the Chargers should have won. The team went 4-4 in the half-season without either one, including losses to the Raiders, Redskins, and Dolphins.
If you want to be optimistic about last year's Chargers defense, you could make a case that John Pagano was able to do a heck of a job when he had at least one of his two starting pass-rushers, even if the secondary was still complete garbage.
Now, for the first time since the team added superstar pass-rusher Dwight Freeney, Pagano will have both men to work with. He'll also have rookie pass-rushing phenom Jerry Attaochu. The secondary has also been revamped and improved. If there were ever a situation that would allow for Pagano to attack the opposing offense and show off an impressive Chargers defense, this would be it.