The Rams and Saints played in the NFC Championship Game last season, with the Rams moving on and losing to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Headline players for the Chargers have taken advantage of the opportunity to go toe-to-toe against two of the top teams in the NFL in the controlled environment of a practice setting, which limits the possibility of potentially season-ending injuries.
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“I got more work from these last two days than I’ve gotten probably in the last 10 preseason games combined,” Rivers said after the second joint practice against the Rams on Aug. 3. “I just didn’t get touched today, which is nice. I mean, I’ve thrown 80 passes in two practices. That’s like two games. It has been awesome.”
While acknowledging that preseason games are still important in evaluating players fighting for roster spots, Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt echoed Rivers’ sentiments.
“That’s a pretty good test for us,” Whisenhunt said of facing the Rams and Saints in joint sessions. “I think that’s a tremendous value. They’re tremendous organizations and their players are really professional.
“This year, we had a good practice against the Rams. Going against the Saints, who are a good football team, it helps get us prepared for the season. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity and advantage for us to do that, and you really like doing it.”
The quality of the teams the Chargers practiced against adds even more value to the joint sessions, as they provide the Chargers with a litmus test of where they stand among the league’s best.
“It’s good to have some different looks, some different coverages and some different fronts,” Chargers tight end Hunter Henry said. “Different things like that help a lot, especially when we go against the Rams and the Saints — they were both in the NFC Championship Game last year. They’re two top-caliber teams that you get to go against and kind of measure where you are as an offense and as a team.”
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said he got the idea to hold joint practices from his mentor, Mike Shanahan, who used to do the same thing when Lynn was as a running back for the Denver Broncos in the 1990s.
The Chargers hosted the Saints for practices for a third straight season. Lynn has a close relationship with Saints head coach Sean Peyton from when they both served as assistant coaches with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005.
Rams head coach Sean McVay worked under Shanahan while with the Washington Redskins, so Lynn shares some commonalities with the Rams’ head coach in his approach to practice.
Lynn said he took a close look at how the Rams, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts seemed to finish with more energy at the end of last season. He deduced that part of the reason for their strong finishes was how they approached preseason games, as all three teams limited how much their star players played in preseason games.
Lynn has taken a similar approach, with Rivers, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Casey Hayward, Thomas Davis and Keenan Allen not playing in the first two preseason games. Lynn has chosen instead to get those players work in joint practices.
“I love the situational football because that’s how you play the game, in situations,” Lynn said. “I like to see our schemes, our philosophy against other [teams]. We’ve gone up against two pretty good organizations, so we’ve had a good chance to look at some things we are doing and make some adjustments.”
“They’ve got some really good talent over there,” Hayward said. “Anytime you can match up against those guys, stack up and do well against them, you’ve got a pretty good chance to do well on defense.”