Five Things to Watch: Helping Harris

The Chargers will kick off the regular season with a national audience watching and an undrafted rookie protecting the franchise QB's blindside. If it sounds like a recipe for disaster, that's because it is. Still, this is an obstacle, not a death sentence. Here is a detailed look at five ways Norv Turner & Co. will keep the offense humming and avoid another slow start.

1. Keep a Tight End on Harris' Hip

Mike Harris will be tied to Randy Michael for much of the evening. McMichael, according to Pro Football Focus, was used in pass protection on 152 snaps last season and graded out as the league's best pass-blocking tight end. Just as important as McMichael's ability to pick up pass rushers is his knack for knowing when and how to slip out as an outlet receiver.

2. Call Short Passes and Screens

Eddie Royal's first game with the Chargers will be a crucial one. He will be counted on to gain quick separation and make short catches over the middle. If he can rack up some yards after the catch, all the better. It is vital that Royal and Philip Rivers are on the same page; one miscommunication in the middle of the field could lead to a devastating interception.

Turner will also call plenty of screens to help slow down Oakland's pass rush. That strategy is especially sound with Ronnie Brown expected to start and log the majority of the touches. Brown is better as a receiver than a between-the-tackles runner, anyway, so this plays into his skill-set.

3. Use Misdirection

End-arounds. Slip screens. The Wildcat. Turner must go deep into his bag of tricks (and it is a deep bag, despite critiques of his conservatism). It is not about gaining big yards on these plays as much as it is forcing Raiders defenders to second-guess what they are seeing. That should prevent Oakland's defensive line from making a beeline to the quarterback on every snap.

4. Move the Pocket

Rivers is not a mobile quarterback, but look for some half rollouts to the right where he can choose from two receivers or throw the ball away if nothing is available. Also, Rivers has enough arm to throw back across the field. While that is usually not recommended, especially for a QB struggling with turnovers, it may be a worthwhile risk to take a deep shot to Malcom Floyd or Robert Meachem.

5. When in Doubt, Go to #85

No matter how well Harris performs or how well Turner schemes, there will be plays when the defense just bum-rushes Rivers. When that happens, Rivers needs to find his security blanket, Antonio Gates, and then promptly duck for cover.

For all the injury problems the Chargers are dealing with, the good news is Gates is as healthy as he's been in three years. San Diego has to exploit this as much as possible. With Rivers' quick, quirky release and Gates' ability to shield defenders from the ball, they can turn a lot of 7-yard losses into 7-yard gains. Those aren't exactly sexy plays, but they may mean the difference between victory and defeat.

How bad is the problem at left tackle? Talk all about it inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is 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 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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