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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 11:02 p.m.

San Diego's offense isn't one that's going to confuse many defenses.

What offensive coordinator Hal Hunter does well is play to the strengths of his team: his strong-armed quarterback and his two 6-foot-5 receivers.

Philip Rivers and receivers Malcom Floyd and especially Danario Alexander make up a significant part of San Diego's offense, including the shotgun 3-wide receiver X fade.

Rivers isn't having his best year — he has thrown for 2,969 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions — but the passing game has shown signs of life with the emergence of Alexander.

Alexander was picked up on Oct. 22 after the St. Louis Rams released him during training camp and has been a spark for the Chargers.

Alexander has 26 catches for 467 yards and three touchdowns in six games, including two 100-yard games. He's started only the past two games.

The Chargers take advantage of Floyd and Alexander's 6-5 frames in their three- and four-wide receiver sets and will most certainly do that against the Steelers. That is especially true with second-year cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown seeing extended playing time with the absence of Ike Taylor.

The Chargers like to use the shotgun 3-wide receiver X fade to take advantage of their size. They will use both Alexander and Floyd as the X receiver in the play.

The Chargers line up in a three-wide receiver set with tight end Antonio Gates on the line to the right. Floyd lines up near the numbers to the right with Robert Meachum in the slot. Alexander is split wide to the left with Rivers in the shotgun and running back Ryan Mathews to his left.

At the snap and with the offensive in pass pro, Floyd pushes to the sidelines and takes the cornerback deep down the field — which is a viable progression for Rivers.

Meanwhile, Meachum (or sometimes tight end Randy McMichael or receiver Eddie Royal) takes a couple of steps down the field before dragging across the middle of the formation from right to left.

Gates runs down the seam trying to draw both safeties to the middle of the field, and Mathews checks for the blitz before navigating through the line of scrimmage and out to the right flat.

Alexander pushes up hard on the defensive back, then fades to the far sidelines where Rivers tries to exploit the one-on-one outside coverage.

Rivers fades a deep pass down the left side of the field where Alexander either can catch the ball in stride or fight the defensive back in a jump-ball situation.

Floyd has caught 8 passes for 233 yards deep down the sidelines, with Alexander hauling more of his passes within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Rivers hasn't been accurate when throwing the ball 20 yards down the field, completing 16 of 47 such passes for 466 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions. But that shouldn't stop him from trying against a new-look Steelers secondary.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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