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Unlike Washington, Chargers offensive line has jelled thanks to good health

COSTA MESA — Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers entered this season having taken 381 career sacks, including at least 30 in each of his past seven campaigns.

This year, opponents have dropped him for a loss just 13 times. To put that in perspective, more than a dozen quarterbacks have been sacked at least 27 times. Of those with double-digit starts, only one — Minnesota’s Case Keenum — has been sacked less often than Rivers.

“We’re keeping Philip on two feet, keeping him clean,” Coach Anthony Lynn said.

Washington coach Jay Gruden can’t say the same about his team and Kirk Cousins. The Washington quarterback has taken a career-high 35 sacks this season, including 10 in his past two outings. That’s tied for third-most in the league, behind only Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett (47) and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (39).

A major problem has been a patchworked offensive line. Washington (5-7) will enter StubHub Center this Sunday (1:05 p.m, CBS) having started 11 different players up front — only two of whom have played more than 73 percent of snaps. The team hasn’t missed anyone as much as All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, who has been in and out of the lineup due to a knee injury that will require offseason surgery.

“It’s been a nightmare getting continuity,” Gruden said.

The Chargers (6-6), on the other hand, have only started seven different offensive linemen this season, with three — left tackle Russell Okung, center Spencer Pulley and right guard Kenny Wiggins — playing more than 96 percent of offensive snaps at their respective positions.

The other two spots have been relatively stable too. Veteran Matt Slauson started seven games at left guard before tearing his biceps and being replaced by rookie Dan Feeney. Joe Barksdale and Michael Schofield have essentially split time at right tackle, with the former getting the nod when healthy. After dealing with a foot injury much of the season, Barksdale has only missed three snaps in the past two games.

No one appreciates the consistency as much as Rivers, who looks rejuvenated after a bumpy start to his 12th season as a starter. On Wednesday, the quarterback reminisced about the early years of his career. From 2006-08, the Chargers offensive line included left tackle Marcus McNeill, left guard Kris Dielman, center Nick Hardwick and right guard Mike Goff. During that span, those four players combined to miss only 11 regular-season starts.

“It was pretty much the same group each and every week for a handful of years,” Rivers said. “You almost felt like you could just call any play that you ran. It didn’t matter if it was in the game plan. They’ll be fine.”

The Chargers haven’t quite reached that level of synergy yet, but there’s been clear improvement. Just ask Wiggins, a former practice-squad journeyman has now become the Chargers’ longest-tenured lineman at 41 appearances. He called the unit’s health “a breath of fresh air” — a change that has, in turn, helped the group’s chemistry.

“Now, there’s a lot of nonverbal communication too,” Wiggins said. “It’s kind of just like grunts.”

Admiring the streak

More than 4,350 days have elapsed since the last time Rivers sat on the bench for a regular-season NFL game.

Set to turn 36 on Friday, Rivers has started 188 consecutive games for the Chargers, now the longest active streak at any position after the Giants’ brief benching of Eli Manning. Which means that Cousins — who has just 53 career starts — has been watching Rivers lead his team since he was a senior at Michigan’s Holland Christian High.

“He’s like the Terminator, man,” Cousins said. “He just says, ‘I’ll be back,’ no matter what happens — injuries, adversity around him, coaching changes, roster changes. He just keeps coming back.”

Injury report

Receiver Mike Williams was limited Wednesday, a sign of progress after a knee injury sidelined him all of last week. Lynn expressed hope that the first-round rookie will be able to play Sunday.

“We would like to have Mike,” Lynn said. “He’s going to be day-to-day. He made some big-time improvements from last week to this week. Yesterday, he looked good in rehab.”

The No. 7 overall has only played 116 snaps this season — missing the first five games of the year due to a back injury before being left inactive against the Browns last weekend.

Defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who was also held out against Cleveland, remained limited with a toe injury. Veteran tight end Antonio Gates got a rest day.

Article source: http://www.ocregister.com/2017/12/06/unlike-washington-chargers-offensive-line-has-gelled-thanks-to-good-health/