Chargers tuning up as Cards look for first win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Aside from new head coaches, the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers have little in common as they prepare for their third preseason game on Saturday night.

The Cardinals, led by rookie head coach Ken Whisenhunt, are trying to gain confidence after deflating preseason losses to Oakland and Houston, which went a combined 8-24 last season.

San Diego is fine-tuning for a possible run to the Super Bowl under new coach Norv Turner.

Both teams' starters are expected to play at least the first half -- except Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who will sit out for the third straight game to avoid injury.

"It's a good test for us," Whisenhunt said. "We get to see where we are against a team that you know is a good football team. If we can improve and play better against a team like that, then I think that'll be something that we can really build on going into the season."

Still, it would be unwise to draw too many conclusions based on a preseason game -- even the third one, when starters typically see lots of action.

A year ago, the Cardinals went into Chicago and beat the Bears 23-16 in the third preseason game. Seven weeks later, Arizona blew a big lead as the Bears pulled out a 24-23 victory on Monday Night Football. Chicago went to the Super Bowl and the Cardinals went 5-11.

The Chargers have split their first two preseason games, losing to Seattle 24-16 and defeating St. Louis 30-13. Turner said he expects the other starters to be in for about 40 plays Saturday night, or a little more than a half.

"It's going to be the most extensive playing time our guys get," Turner said. "I like our guys to have that feeling coming out at halftime and preparing for the second half and going out and getting a series or two to start the second half."

The Chargers will try to cut down on penalties. They have been flagged 15 times for 80 yards.

Tomlinson, who watched from the sideline, said he was impressed by the road rout of the Rams.

"I thought we've improved from the first game to the second game," he said. "We're doing some things well. Still some things that's killing us, you know, the penalties and stuff like that. But for the most part, when we're out there moving the football and playing defense and special teams, we look pretty good."

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has completed 14-of-20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in the first two games. He said he doesn't expect the Chargers' attack to reach its potential until the Sept. 9 opener against Chicago.

"I think we got a lot better Week 1 to Week 2, and then we also made some mistakes differently, in different areas," Rivers said. "So let's see if we can correct those and still build on what we did good. We're coming along. I think it'd be a little scary if we were where we needed to be right now."

The Cardinals aren't anywhere close to where they need to be for the Sept. 10 opener at San Francisco on Monday Night Football. But they're going to have a good idea of how far they need to go after facing the Chargers, who return 19 starters, including all 11 on offense, from a team that won the AFC West.

"We'll know where we're at right away," Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry said. "This is going to be basically the last dress rehearsal, if you will, for the starters of the preseason. So we want to come out and show well and show that we're ready to get the season started on the right foot."

The Cardinals hope to run the ball more effectively as part of Whisenhunt's plan for a more balanced attack this season. But the running game has been inconsistent so far. Through two games, the Cardinals' leading rusher is third-string quarterback Shane Boyd, with 71 yards on seven carries.

One explanation is that starting running back Edgerrin James has only seven carries for 14 yards. Another is that the Cardinals are breaking in a line with three new starters -- center Al Johnson, left tackle Mike Gandy and rookie right tackle Levi Brown, the team's first-round draft pick.

Whisenhunt said the line has been making progress since training camp opened.

"I've seen some opportunities for some holes," Whisenhunt said. "I've also seen some things we need to work on better, coming off blocks, working together on our double-team blocks. But I'm pleased with the physicalness of our offensive line. We are improving in those areas."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.