Chargers want defense to step up vs. 49ers

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) tries to break free from Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Derwin James (33) during the first quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.Photo: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Anthony Lynn: "They have a lot of weapons and they are doing a helluva job."

Two teams that mirrored each other toward the end of last season will square off when the Los Angeles Chargers host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

The Chargers won nine of their final games in 2017. The 49ers finished with a five-streak winning streak.

"They finished the season pretty hot and they've lost to two pretty good football teams this year," head coach Anthony Lynn said. "They have a lot of weapons and they are doing a helluva job of running the football. We got a lot of challenges ahead of us and we have our work cut out for us."

But the 49ers quarterback who led them to those five straight wins is out. Jimmy Garoppolo wrecked his knee in last week's 38-27 loss to the Chiefs and is out for the season.

"It's tough to see anyone go down," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Certainly, hate to see that happen to him."

Instead it's C.J Beathard under center and Lynn is making his case that the backup shouldn't be overlooked.

"He played in six games last year and beat the Giants," Lynn stressed. "He can move around a little bit; they do more things with him. I believe he can function well in that offense."

The Chargers look at their two losses, the most recent a 35-23 spanking by the Los Angeles Rams, and think of what might have been. They hung in with the Chiefs and Rams before running out of gas toward the games' later stages. At least they Chargers can take some satisfaction in knowing they played two of the best NFL teams and weren't blown out.

Does that make the defeats easier to absorb?

"No, it's not easy, not at all," Lynn said. "We never expected to lose those games to be honest with you. Hopefully we learn from them and get better but it is not easy."

What's tough is defending the versatile Chargers. It seems every week presents a new offensive star and that's no accident.

"It's exciting as a quarterback to know we can do so many things," Rivers said. "We are not limited in what we can do week-to-week.

"We're running the heck out of the ball right now, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and that's huge. The offense feels really balanced and that's why we are getting a lot of first downs. The more first downs you get the more chances you get to throw it and run it.

"We have so many dynamic guys that can touch the ball on any given play. Yes, do we draw plays to (get to targets). But I think we mix it in our schemes. I think our guys appreciate that. They are an unselfish group and it helps all of them."

Keenan Allen, a Pro Bowl wide receiver, has yet to have his time in the spotlight, catching 17 passes for 219 yards and a score. Rivers suggest everyone chill with the lack of his early season production.

"I think it's a small sample size," Rivers said. "It wouldn't shock me if he caught eight, nine, 10 passes in a couple of weeks in a row. If he keeps healthy and stays on track he is going to catch his 100 balls."

The catch for the Chargers is cleaning up on rebuilding teams like the 49ers. Since last year, the Chargers are 0-7 against playoff squads. The 49ers are far from that, which is why the Chargers are a touchdown-plus favorite.

SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 7-6. In their last matchup in 2014, the Chargers stormed back from a 21-point deficit to beat the 49ers 38-35 victory in overtime. That tied a Chargers record for their biggest rally in franchise history. It also marked the Chargers' fourth straight win over the 49ers. Of course, the 49ers pummeled the Chargers in the Chargers' lone Super Bowl appearance to cap the 1994 season, 49-26.