Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Chargers at StubHub Center:
The rookie and the future Hall of Famer
On one sideline will be Philip Rivers, who perhaps could have been a Cardinal once upon a time had the Cards not chosen Larry Fitzgerald in 2004. Instead, Rivers has carved out a fantastic career as a Charger, whether it was in San Diego or Los Angeles. Rivers had a key turnover last week in a tough loss against the Broncos, but on the other sideline, the Cardinals know all about QB turnovers with Josh Rosen, who has had a rash of interceptions of late. How the Cards can handle Rivers, and perhaps more importantly how Rosen can perform against the Chargers, will go a long way in determining the outcome.
A lot on the line, and Joey Bosa
D.J. Humphries’ knee continues to give him issues, which could mean a second straight game at left tackle for rookie Korey Cunningham. That’s an interesting matchup if Chargers stud pass rusher Joey Bosa plays a lot. Bosa had missed all season with a foot injury until last game, when he played a more-than-expected 31 snaps and reported that he felt great afterward. Bosa’s snaps figure to ramp up, and Cunningham – or a less-than-100-percent Humphries – will be tested off the edge.
David Johnson being David Johnson, and seeing Melvin Gordon the same
The fact the Cardinals were gashed by the Raiders for 152 rushing yards last week is a sign the unit still hasn’t figured out how to stiffen against the run – not a great sign heading into a game against the Chargers, where Gordon has been quietly awesome all season. Gordon has rushed for 741 yards (5.2 yards a carry) and seven touchdowns. He will be the linchpin to the L.A. offense. It’s notable, however, that Gordon also has 42 catches for another 448 yards and four TDs, making him the dual threat that the Cards believe they have in David Johnson. Johnson’s running game has come around, with 137 yards last week, although his pass-receiving impact has been up and down. The Cardinals’ offense is best served with lots of Johnson. That doesn’t change this week – in part to keep Gordon off the field.
To the victory goes the spoiler
The Cardinals aren’t going to the postseason, but they can make things harder for the Chargers, who already absorbed a tough loss last week against Denver to break a six-game winning streak. Considering it is a road game in which a sellout is less than 30,000 and the ambiance figures to be much different than a regular stadium, taking the crowd out of it isn’t as titanic of a task as in other buildings. It’s not like a win would knock the Chargers out of the race in AFC, but it would be a gut punch for a team likely expecting to win against a struggling squad.
The first day of the rest of the season
The Cardinals have six games left, with four on the road and one at home against the powerful Rams. That’s a mountain to climb for many teams, and it will be for the Cards. As they continue to make roster moves, it’s the development of players for next year’s roster – and the determination of what players should be kept around for 2019 – that becomes paramount for the balance of the season. That starts with Rosen, but trickles down not just over the 53, but the practice squad as well.