SAN DIEGO — The Chargers view the Saints as a true test of whether they have improved. The Saints have struggled on offense, but have played the best defense in the National Football League to forge their 9-1 record.
The Saints are holding opponents to a league-best 10-point average, have allowed only 67 yards per game on the ground and have held opponents without a touchdown four times. The Saints are especially tough in their nickel defense, with linebacker Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling acting as defensive ends to put on a tremendous pass rush, Swilling leading the NFL with 13.5 sacks. The Saints lead the league with 37 sacks and 31 forced turnovers.
Charger Coach Dan Henning likens the Saints' defense "to the Bears a couple years ago."
Quarterback John Friesz said the Saints "are probably the toughest defense and the best overall team we're gonna face all year." He called the game "a chance to get some credibility throughout the league and put on a good show for the fans here."
Swilling on the Chargers: "I don't care what their record is. Anybody in their right mind can see this is a good team."
Injury update: Four Chargers are listed on the midweek report, but only center Mark Rodenhauser, who had arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday, is definitely out. Henning said Rodenhauser may be done for the year. Linebacker Junior Seau has a groin pull and is listed as questionable, but practiced Wednesday and is expected to play. Center Courtney Hall (knee) and linebacker Gary Plummer (broken thumb) are expected to play. Running back Rod Bernstine, on injured reserve, returned to practice Wednesday.
The Saints have been hit hard, especially on offense. Running back Craig Heyward is on injured reserve with a broken foot, quarterback Bobby Hebert is out with a shoulder sprain and rotator cuff inflammation, receiver Quinn Early (knee) and nose tackle Robert Goff (ankle) are listed as doubtful.
The Chargers have signed Mark Walczak to replace Rodenhauser, but Henning hedged Wednesday on whether he would use Walczak for long snaps Sunday. For now, Frank Cornish is the snapper. "I won't know until Friday, it depends on how confident and comfortable we are with (Walczak)," Henning said.