Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

The Patriots and Chargers will meet Sunday with two different agendas. New England looks to keep a good thing going while San Diego hopes to stop the bleeding. To set the table for this contest, Jon Scott of Patriot Insider and Michael Lombardo of SD Bolt Report talk injuries, match-ups and more.

Jon Scott: How have injuries impacted the Chargers' record so far?

Michael Lombardo: Injuries have played a significant role, to be sure. LS David Binn and LB Donald Butler are both on injured-reserve, which has really hurt the special teams. Also, injuries to RB Ryan Mathews, TE Antonio Gates, WR Malcom Floyd, WR Legedu Naanee and OG Louis Vasquez have prevented the offense from reaching its full potential.

The Chargers have also been hurt by a lot of non-injury related absences, including the holdouts of LT Marcus McNeill (now over) and WR Vincent Jackson (ongoing), as well as the suspension of SS Steve Gregory (violation of performance-enhancing substances policy).

JS: Is it weird to see San Diego with the top ranked offense and defense in the league, but still have a losing record?

ML: Not as weird as it would be to see the Chargers start a season strong under Norv Turner. The Chargers' first two losses (at Kansas City and at Seattle) were flukes. San Diego dominated both games but lost because a couple quirky plays went the wrong way. The last two losses (at Oakland and at St. Louis) were legitimate red flags.

JS: How safe is Norv Turner's job?

Coach Norv Turner
Gregory Bull/AP
ML: Too safe, given his middling performance. He signed a contract extension in the offseason that ties him to the team through 2013. The Spanos family is not going to spend the next three seasons playing two head coaches, so Turner will remain in place at least through the 2011 season.

JS: Can the Patriots exploit San Diego's special teams or have the problems been fixed?

ML: Yes, the Patriots and everyone else can exploit these embarrassing special teams. The Chargers are trying everything to fix these units: they are signing players just to cover kicks; they are keeping extra linebackers and defensive backs active on game days; and they are changing up their schemes. None of it has helped. How special teams coach Steve Crosby is still employed is a mystery.

JS: If Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates are limited or out, who will step in and will the Chargers be able to keep rolling on offense?

ML: It looks like Floyd is out while Gates should play a limited role. The player who needs to step up -- and is capable of doing so -- is WR Legedu Naanee. Unfortunately, he missed last week's game with a hamstring injury and is still not 100 percent. But if he can play the entire game, I expect at least five receptions and 90 yards from him.

Also, look for the Chargers to get Darren Sproles more involved in the passing game.

JS: What's the one major problem area that the Chargers have that New England should focus on?

ML: San Diego's pass rush is really spotty. It's great when San Diego is playing out in front, but in tight games, it often goes AWOL. I can see the Patriots using a lot of three- and five-step drops to pick the Chargers apart with the intermediate passing game. This would also exploit some of the problems the Chargers have had at safety.

JS: Bonus: Do the Chargers miss LaDainian Tomlinson?

ML: I don't think so. I don't think he would have done any better in San Diego this season than he did last season. L.T. needed a change of scenery and a team that would commit to him and the running game. He found that team in New York and he is making a statement with his play.

Back in San Diego, his replacements have struggled with durability and ball security, two areas in which L.T. always excelled. It is a reminder that it's not easy to replace a Hall of Famer. And as much as Chargers fans hate the Jets, most are in agreement that L..T. deserves every bit of success and praise he's receiving in the Big Apple.

Lombardo's Prediction: Chargers 38, Patriots 30

The Chargers have played well at home, outscoring their opponents 79-23. Plus, San Diego is desperate, because a loss here may derail their season. I like Philip Rivers to put this team on his back and score enough points to bail out his overmatched defense and special teams.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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