Behind Enemy Lines: Part III

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of BearReport.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, break down Sunday's game between the Bears and Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. We'll finish this three-part series with some matchups to watch, game scenarios, and final predictions.

Matchup to watch when the Chargers are on offense:
OT Marcus McNeill vs. DE Mark Anderson
Anderson was impressive as a rookie, finishing with 12 sacks. McNeill was even more impressive, giving up none. McNeill has incredible feet for a man his size (6'7", 336 pounds) and the wingspan to ride defenders away from his quarterback. Also, McNeill is a powerful run blocker. The Chargers are sure to run left early and often, so Anderson must prove he can hold his ground. No player has beaten McNeill off the line yet; Anderson will have to show something special to become the first.

Matchup to watch when the Chargers are on defense:
LB Shawne Merriman vs. RB Cedric Benson
Benson is finally the unchallenged starter in Chicago. His first lesson learned will be that life as a starting running back is about more than dancing in the end zone; it's about sticking your nose in there against the likes of Merriman. When Merriman beats a tackle off the line, it is a foregone conclusion that no running back will slow him down. Benson must be ready to buck that trend if Rex Grossman is going to survive against San Diego's aggressive front seven. Merriman is a man on a mission, out to prove he can dominate without the benefit of any "tainted supplements."

Matchup to watch when the Bears are on offense:
FB Jason McKie vs. LBs Matt Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper
Benson is the kind of tailback that needs room to operate and isn't necessarily going to make something out of nothing with a bunch of LaDainian Tomlinson-like moves. McKie has improved his blocking from a year ago, and he'll be charged with the responsibility of blowing up both inside linebackers, Wilhelm and Cooper, if Benson is going to break some big runs. Grossman is a very good play-action passer, but that element of his game ceases to exist if the ground attack is neutralized.

Matchup to watch when the Bears are on defense:
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer vs. TE Antonio Gates
Hillenmeyer uses his high football IQ and knowledge of the system to get the job done from his strong side linebacker position, but he is nowhere near the athlete that fellow OLB Lance Briggs is. Where he tends to struggle sometimes is in coverage, and Gates is by far the most dangerous tight end in all of football. If Philip Rivers sees Hillenmeyer trying to hang with Gates down the field, that's a mismatch he can exploit immediately.


LB Hunter Hillenmeyer and TE Antonio Gates (Getty Images)

The Chargers will win this game if ...
They win the turnover battle. The Bears have an opportunistic defense that turns mistakes into points. The Chargers must protect the ball, take what the defense gives them, and force Grossman to keep pace with the most potent offense in the NFL.

The Chargers will lose this game if ...
The Bears shut down Tomlinson. Few teams have been able to stop No. 21, but those that have typically come out victorious. If the Bears can hold Tomlinson under 90 yards and keep him out of the end zone, they stand a good chance of pulling the upset.

The Bears will win this game if ...
Benson outrushes Tomlinson. Not only do the Bears need to run the football in order to be successful on offense, but slowing down Tomlinson to some degree is the only way to have a chance against the Chargers.

The Bears will lose this game if ...
Olin Kreutz & Company have a rough go of it in the trenches. Grossman can be quite an effective passer when he has time to throw, but he won't have a chance if a beast like Merriman is in his face all day.

FINAL PREDICTIONS

Michael Lombardo:
I believe the Chargers have the most talented team in the NFL, hands down. That is why it is so hard for me to pick against them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that could go wrong for the Chargers. Are they overconfident? Are they looking ahead to a rematch against the Patriots in Week 2? Are they properly prepared sans Marty Schottenheimer? I think Grossman exposes a porous San Diego secondary on the game's final drive – the Chargers defense is terrible in two-minute situations – and sets up a Robbie Gould field goal at the gun ...
BEARS 23, CHARGERS 21

John Crist: Although you should never put too much stock into preseason games, Bears fans must be concerned with the team's lack of output on the ground so far. Grossman has also struggled against 3-4 defenses in the past, especially ones that blitz like San Diego does. And don't underestimate Ron Rivera's inside-the-ropes knowledge of Lovie Smith's defensive scheme ...
CHARGERS 20, BEARS 13

To go back and read Part I of Behind Enemy Lines, Click Here. For Part II, Click Here.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Michael Lombardo is the Editor of SDBoltReport.com.

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