Matchups to Watch: Chargers vs. Dolphins

The Chargers are not shying away from the significance of this week's game in Miami. The players understand the importance of building some momentum going into a much-needed bye in Week 10. Here are three matchups San Diego must win to make that happen. (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

RT D.J. Fluker vs. LDE Cameron Wake

The pressure is on Philip Rivers to deliver against Miami's defense, which ranks No. 3 against the pass (211.6 yards per game) and No. 9 in sacks (21). In order for him to do that, Fluker must keep the pressure off No. 17.

Fluker has been nagged by an ankle injury in recent weeks but is off the injury report entirely for the first time since Week 5. He is regaining his power and pop as a run blocker, but he still struggles in pass protection against speed rushers like Wake. Fluker has allowed three sacks through eight games.

Wake leads the Dolphins with 5.5 sacks. He plays with great suddenness and has one of the quickest first steps in the game. He will try to beat Fluker upfield and use his top-end speed to bend the corner. It is up to San Diego's 2013 first-round pick to focus on his technique and prevent Wake from making a game-changing play.

"If we can just keep winning our share of games, and keep progressing and getting better, we're doing it against very good teams with very good defenses," said offensive coordinator Frank Reich. "I think that toughens you up for what it's going to be like if you're fortunate enough to be playing at the end of the season."

Wake had a sack in last season's match-up with the Chargers, although in that game King Dunlap was out injured and Fluker was playing left tackle.

CB Shareece Wright vs. WR Mike Wallace

Wallace is Miami's most explosive offense playmaker, so keeping him in check is a must. He has scored a touchdown in five of Miami's seven games. He averaged exactly five catches per game through the season's first seven weeks, and although he was limited to two receptions last week against the Jaguars, one of those was good for 50 yards.

Wallace is typically aligned on the right side of the offense, which will pit him against Wright more often than not. Wright is not much of a playmaker (two career INTs, including the playoffs), but he provides tight, physical coverage. If he can keep Wallace in front of him, it will make life much easier for the rest of San Diego's defense.

The pressure is on Wright and the rest of the secondary to step up in the absence of rookie Jason Verrett, who will be out at least a couple weeks with a torn labrum.

"We're not going to try to change too much just because a guy's not in there," said defensive coordinator John Pagano. "We're just going to do what we do. We have to keep getting better at it."

C Rich Ohrnberger vs. DT Earl Mitchell

The Chargers know how talented Mitchell is ... they tried to sign him this offseason, only to see him opt for a deal from the Dolphins that included $8 million in guarantees. He has great initial quickness, as well as the size and strength to anchor at the point of attack. He has 16 tackles this season, including three for a loss.

Mitchell will face off against a player who chose the Chargers as a free agent, Ohrnberger. The fifth-year center proved what a team player he was earlier this season, rushing back from a back injury after the Chargers were forced to place Doug Legursky on injured-reserve. While his guts are admirable, his performance has left something to be desired. He has struggled to generate movement as a run blocker and too often gets pushed back into the pocket in pass protection.

"We have to play our best game and communicate up front with what we do and how we do it," coach Mike McCoy said. "You have to efficiently run the football and Philip has to make good, quick decisions and get the ball out of his hand like he's done all year long."

The Chargers prefer a veteran center, but if Ohrnberger cannot pick it up, he is in danger of being replaced by rookie third-round pick Chris Watt.

Can the Bolts get back to their winning ways in Miami? Debate in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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