After shattering the NFL touchdown mark in 2006, Tomlinson has six rushing touchdowns already this season.
Though the location for this weekend's game with the San Diego Chargers remains in question, the Texans are preparing to face one of the most talented teams in the league. At 3-4 coming off their heartbreaking loss to the Titans last week, the Texans know that the 3-3 Chargers will be ready to play wherever the game is played.
After losing three of their first four games, the Chargers have won two straight and seem to be getting comfortable under new head coach Norv Turner. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is back to his 2006 form where he shattered the single-season league mark for rushing touchdowns. With the defense playing up to its full capabilities, the Chargers again look like a top contender in the AFC.
Tomlinson is the heartbeat of the Chargers offense. The reigning NFL MVP has 527 rushing yards and six touchdowns so far this season. A big chunk of that production (198 yards and four touchdowns) came in the Chargers' Week 6 victory over Oakland. Making Also a dangerous pass catcher out of the backfield, he has hauled in 25 receptions this season.
Backing up Tomlinson is Michael Turner, perhaps the league's best reserve running back. A would-be starter on several other teams in the league, Turner allows the Chargers to rest Tomlinson periodically during games and not skip a beat. This was evident in Week 5 where he rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown in the Chargers' rout of Denver.
The Chargers' talented backfield rounds out with Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal. Generally regarded as the NFL's best blocking fullback, the 15-year veteran provides clear running lanes for Tomlinson and Turner and poses as a reliable pass-catching option on occasion (seven receptions this season).
At quarterback is fourth-year man Phillip Rivers. The second-year starter has played inconsistently, throwing for 1,312 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. At times Rivers has looked like the successful quarterback he was last season, while at other times he has suffered the growing pains of a young quarterback. Backup quarterback and former Titans starter Billy Volek is more than capable of starting on short notice if necessary.
Last week, the Chargers made a trade to bolster their wide receiver corps when they acquired Chris Chambers from the Dolphins for a second-round draft pick. The athletic Chambers will start alongside talented third-year pro Vincent Jackson. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Jackson provides Rivers a big target in the middle of the field.
Other receivers in the mix are rookie Craig "Buster" Davis, the Chargers' 2007 first-round selection, and second-year man Malcom Floyd. Reserve receiver Kassim Osgood earned a Pro Bowl nod last season as the AFC special teams representative.
Rivers' most talented receiver may be tight end Antonio Gates. The All-Pro tight end has a rare combination of speed and athletic ability for someone his size (6-4, 260). Gates leads the team in receptions (43), receiving yards (547) and receiving touchdowns (three). When the Chargers go with two tight end sets, blocker extraordinaire Brandon Manumaleuna plays opposite Gates.
Two Pro Bowlers anchor the offensive line in left tackle Marcus McNeill and center Nick Hardwick. McNeill turned in a fantastic rookie season in 2006 and has not shown any signs of a sophomore slump. Starting as the other tackle is four-year veteran Shane Olivea. Flanking Hardwick are left guard Kris Dielman and right guard Mike Goff. Depth on the line is solid with veteran reserves Roman Oben and Cory Withrow.
The most talented unit on the Chargers 3-4 defense is the linebacker corps, led by All-Pro outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. One of the most ferocious pass-rushers in the league, Merriman has already racked up 5.5 sacks on the season. The other outside linebacker is underrated star Shaun Phillips, who complements Merriman very well and also has 5.5 sacks this season.
The starting middle linebackers are new this season, Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm. Cooper has adjusted to his new role very well, leading the team with 44 tackles. Talented second-year man Brandon Siler is a valuable backup at middle linebacker.
Anchoring the defensive line is All-Pro nose tackle Jamal Williams, a stout run-stuffer who uses his size (6-3, 348) well in the trenches. Left defensive end Luis Castillo is an emerging star while right defensive end Igor Olshansky uses his well-renowned strength effectively in stopping the run. The top backup is Jacques Cesaire, who started 10 games last season due to injuries to starters.
Several young players make the secondary an exciting group to watch. Former Texans free safety Marlon McCree provides a veteran presence and leads the unit with 31 tackles and three interceptions. Starting at strong safety is five-year veteran and former special teams standout Clinton Hart, who is second on the team with two interceptions. Hart's backup is talented rookie Eric Weddle, who has 22 tackles in limited action this season.
The starting cornerbacks are former Texas Longhorn Quentin Jammer, currently third on the team in tackles, and Drayton Florence, a former second-round pick who has one interception and three passes defensed on the year. The most talented backup is Antonio Cromartie, a former first-round pick who has one interception this season in limited duty.
The Chargers boast yet another Pro Bowler on the roster in kicker Nate Kaeding. On the season he is six-of-eight on field goal attempts and a perfect 17-of-17 on extra point tries. He has not gotten the same scoring opportunities that he got last year which made him a Pro Bowler.
Punter Mike Scifres is one of the league's best at pinning kicks inside opponents' 20-yard line. On the year, he averages 43.5 yards per punt with seven of his 26 punts landing inside the 20.
The diminutive Darren Sproles (5-6, 181) handles kickoffs and punts and is one of the most dangerous return men in the league. His shifty moves and blazing speed in the open field make him a nightmare for special teams coaches to handle. On the year, Sproles averages 24.7 yards per kickoff return and 8.7 yards per punt return.
What to Watch For
- As the wildfires in Southern California continue to burn, the time and location for the game is still up in the air. With the Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium being used as a site for fire evacuees, the game will most likely have to be moved. Phoenix, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas have been listed as alternative sites.
- The Chargers have won their only two meetings with the Texans, most recently the season opener at Reliant Stadium in 2004.