10:20 PM ET, September 8, 2014
U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
The Arizona Cardinals surely won't be lacking for motivation after just missing out on the postseason.
With one of the NFL's best offenses mostly intact, Rivers and the visiting Chargers try to get off to a strong start as they open the season Monday night against a Cardinals team which isn't revealing Andre Ellington's status.
San Diego opened 5-7 before closing the 2013 regular season with four consecutive wins and sneaking into the playoffs. The Chargers cruised to a 27-10 wild-card win at Cincinnati -- their first postseason victory since 2008 -- before falling 24-17 to eventual AFC champion Denver in the divisional round.
Much of San Diego's success was due to Rivers, who was named comeback player of the year thanks to completing an NFL-high and career-best 69.5 percent of his passes. The veteran also finished fourth in the league with a 105.5 passer rating, throwing for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns.
While the Chargers averaged 393.3 yards to rank fifth in the league, Rivers believes they could become all the more dangerous in the second year of coach Mike McCoy's system.
"I just think we know what to expect now," said Rivers, entering his ninth year as a starter. "We all know the terminologies. There's a level of comfort and I think all that does is allow you to play fast and play confident."
Free-agent acquisition Donald Brown joins an already crowded Chargers backfield led by Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. Mathews played in every game for the first time in his four-year career, rushing for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns. Woodhead caught 76 passes for 605 yards, finishing second in both categories at his position.
"It's such a unique team because of offensively, how unselfish they are," Rivers said. "The tight end group, the running back group, the receivers group; it's unselfish, and we've never had that (selfish) issue here, but it's awesome because they all want the plays to work."
The Chargers aren't nearly as strong on the other side of the ball, finishing 23rd in total defense last season. However, a healthy Dwight Freeney and the addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers could give the unit a nice boost.
"We're a stronger team than last year," said Freeney, whose 2013 season ended with a torn quadriceps in Week 4. "I think we have a pretty good feel of each other, all we have to do is go out and execute. We have all the pieces."
The Cardinals are coming off just their second 10-win season in the 26 years they've been in Arizona but failed to make the playoffs after finishing third in the highly competitive NFC West. They went 6-2 at home while allowing 17.8 points per game.
"We're head and shoulders above where we were last year," said Carson Palmer, who threw for a career-high 4,274 yards and 24 TDs in 2013. "The next step is just to keep improving, it's not to stay where we are and be satisfied that we've come a long ways."
Palmer could be in for another big campaign with a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Aside from All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd is expected to take another big step forward in his third season. Third-round pick John Brown and free-agent acquisition Ted Ginn Jr. could make some noise, too.
Andre Ellington appears to be in for a much bigger workload after compiling 1,023 total yards from scrimmage as a rookie last season and averaging an NFL-best 5.53 per carry. However, the 5-foot-9 back was hurt in practice Thursday and didn't participate Friday, though the Cardinals aren't revealing the severity of the injury or if he will play in this game.
"Who knows what's going to happen?" offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "We'll see who's out there on Monday. Next man up, that's our philosophy."
Former Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer could be that next man.
"It's unfortunate that our brother is injured right now, but we know he'll be back," Dwyer said. "We don't know when."
The defense is led by shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson, who signed a five-year, $70 million extension this offseason. The Cardinals finished sixth in the league with 317.4 yards allowed per game last year and tied for sixth with 47 sacks.
Arizona will have to get by without Darnell Dockett after the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle suffered a season-ending knee injury during practice.
"He was an integral part of this defense for the past 10, 11 years," said rookie Kareem Martin, who had 11 1/2 sacks at North Carolina last year. "Being able to fill that role is going to be tough, but as a D-line I think we have the tools to definitely do it."
Safety Tyrann Mathieu's status remains unclear for Monday. The former LSU standout is working his way back from a torn ACL and LCL suffered in December.
Arizona hasn't faced San Diego since a 41-10 road loss in 2010, its third consecutive defeat in the series. The Cardinals are 3-9 all-time against the Chargers.
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|Avg Points Allowed||18.0||17.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||SD|
|Rush Yds Allowed||SD|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|San Diego leads 3-2|
|Oct 3, 2010||SD 41, ARI 10|
|Dec 31, 2006||SD 27, ARI 20|
|Sep 22, 2002||SD 23, @ARI 15|
|Nov 25, 2001||SD 17, ARI 20|
The Cardinals held the Chargers to 52 rushing yards, San Diego's lowest total since Week 5 last season. In 2013, the Cardinals held opponents to a league-low 84.4 rushing yards per game. Arizona also limited San Diego to 40% on 3rd-down conversions. The Chargers had the best 3rd-down conversion rate in the NFL last season at 49%. San Diego went 2-6 in games when the Chargers converted less than 50% of 3rd downs last season.
--Larry Fitzgerald was limited to one reception Monday night, coming 55 minutes into the game. Fitzgerald was held without a target through three quarters for the first time in his career. --Rivers excelled targeting his tight ends, completing 66.7% of his passes to them compared with 47.6% when targeting his wide receivers.
The Cardinals blitzed Philip Rivers on 57% of his dropbacks, including all five on the final drive. Arizona sent five or more pass rushers on 50% of opponents' dropbacks last season, the highest rate in the league. Arizona held Rivers to 2-of-9 passing for 44 yards and an interception when blitzing with a defensive back. On the final drive, Rivers was 1-of-4 for 8 yards when the Cardinals blitzed a defensive back.[+]
Philip Rivers vs. Pressure, Monday
- Since the start of the 2012 season, the Chargers have lost 5 games in which they led by a touchdown or more in the 4th quarter. That is tied with the Lions for the most such blown leads over that span.[+]
Most Losses When Leading by 7 or More - In 4th Quarter - Since 2012
Carson Palmer threw for 207 yards on 8-of-12 passing when throwing at least 15 yards downfield. The only other quarterback with more yards on deep passes in Week 1 was Matt Ryan (224). Palmer was especially effective when targeting Michael Floyd down the field. Palmer completed 3-of-4 passes for 108 yards on deep targets to Floyd.[+]
Carson Palmer Passing, Monday
For the second straight year, the Chargers fall apart in the 4th quarter of a season opener.[+]
Falling Apart in the 4th Quarter - Chargers Last 2 Season Openers
Rivers was 6-of-9 against standard pressure, but 4-of-11 when the Cardinals blitzed, including the interception late in the half.
In the 1st half, Rivers completed 9-of-14 attempts on passes 10 yards or fewer downfield, but was only 1-of-6 on passes more than 10 yards downfield.
Philip Rivers was held to 80 yards in 1st half, which would have been his lowest 1st-half passing total all of last season. Rivers also only completed 50 percent of his passes. Rivers completed less than 60 percent of his passes only once last season - Week 1's loss to the Texans.
Larry Fitzgerald was held without a target in the 1st half. Fitzgerald was not targeted in the 1st half one time last season. In the second half of that game (Week 4 vs. Buccaneers), Fitzgerald caught 6 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
ESPN Stats & Information