Alain Poupart: Philip Rivers is among the best QBs in the league, but he's already thrown six picks this season. What's been the problem?
Michael Lombardo: There are a few issues. Rivers is playing through upper-body pain after enduring a hard shot to the chest in Week 2 (and getting hit in that same spot again in Week 3). He's also been hurt by some spotty play on the right side of the offensive line, as pressure in his face has stopped him from stepping into throws. But even when he has had a clean pocket, Rivers has forced some throws he is normally more cautious with.
All these factors help explain the six interceptions, but they don't justify them. Rivers has to play better and he is the first to admit as much. Norv Turner said this week he expects Rivers to rip off a string of games without turning the ball over.
Even with this poor start, it is important to remember Rivers does a terrific job of protecting the football. His 2.19-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio is the third best of all time. And he has never thrown three interceptions in a game in his career -- all 87 games of it -- far and away the longest active streak in the league.
AP: The Chargers drafted Ryan Mathews in 2010 after moving up in the first round via a trade with the Dolphins. Do you get the feeling the Chargers are second-guessing that move considering Mathews' performance in a year-plus has been spotty?
ML: Mathews had a rough go of things as a rookie, struggling with injuries, ball security and pass protection. But he's been a revelation this year and is among the most important contributors on San Diego's roster.
He is averaging over 130 yards from scrimmage per game and has already scored three TDs. He has a per-carry average of 4.6 yards and a per-catch average of 13.3 yards. More importantly, he hasn't fumbled the ball or gotten confused by blitz pickup assignments. He is quickly fulfilling the potential the Chargers saw in him when they made him the No. 12 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft.
TE Randy McMichael
ML: Despite a key drop last week, McMichael's strong play is one of the reasons the Chargers are comfortable taking the cautious approach with Gates. McMichael had 20 receptions in 2010, his first year with the Chargers, and is on pace to more than double that number this season.
McMichael is a great move-the-chains option. He has sure hands and uses his veteran savvy to find soft spots in defenses.
San Diego's No. 3 tight end, Kory Sperry, also spent time with the Dolphins. He has yet to catch a pass this season, but if Gates is inactive again, it's likely Sperry will be targeted once or twice on crossing patterns or backside screens.
AP: Seems like the Chargers have a lot of injuries on defense; just how bad is that situation?
ML: The biggest issues are on the D-line. Luis Castillo (broken leg) is out till November. Rookie first-round pick Corey Liuget missed last week's game with an ankle injury and may be a week away. His replacement, Jacques Cesaire, injured his knee against the Chiefs and will miss at least the next two games.
That leaves the Chargers with just four healthy linemen, only one of whom has more than three years experience (Antonio Garay).
There are also injuries in the secondary. Oft-injured safety Bob Sanders sat last week with a knee injury. The move was considered precautionary and he could be back this week. Quentin Jammer left last week's game with a hamstring injury but has declared himself ready to go. Nonetheless, it is worth watching to see if he can hold up over the course of the game.
AP: Are the San Diego special teams much better, if at all, than last year's crew, which might have been the worst in NFL history?
ML: While it would be impossible to say this year's special teams are worse, it's too early to say they have made marked improvement. The Chargers gave up a kickoff return touchdown on the first play of the season and yielded a critical 37-yard punt return last week.
The Chargers are committed to solving this problem. Starters Quentin Jammer and Eric Weddle were on the kickoff coverage team last week, which shows San Diego is not taking the matter lightly.
A couple things to watch:
a. Journeyman Nick Novak takes over for Nate Kaeding, who tore his ACL in the season opener. Novak hit both of his field-goal attempts last week, his first tries since joining the Chargers, but statistics say he will be a big drop-off from Kaeding.
b. Second-year return men Richard Goodman (kickoffs) and Bryan Walters (punts). These two are extremely talented but equally raw, meaning they could rip off a huge play or author a gigantic blunder. Either one could decide the outcome on Sunday.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.