Injury Update: Two Returns Matter More

The story this week in Chargersville is the potential return of the Big Five: Ryan Mathws, Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o, Jahleel Addae and Jerry Attaochu. While the status of those five will be monitored with the release of each practice report, it should be noted only two of those players will dramatically impact San Diego’s playoff aspirations. (Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

There is a palpable excitement in the Chargers locker room regarding the imminent return of so many injured players.

"It's hard not to be excited to have those guys back," Eddie Royal said. "They mean so much to our football team. They are such good football players and good people to have in the huddle and around the team. We're looking forward to having those guys back. I know I'm excited to have those guys back, personally, just because I know how important they are to our success."

Ryan Mathews rushed for more than 1,250 yards last season. Manti Te'o was one of the biggest names in the 2013 draft following a sensational senior season at Notre Dame. Jahleel Addae was a revelation as an undrafted rookie a season ago, drawing premature comparisons to Rodney Harrison with his speed and big hits.

But none of those three are going to significantly impact San Diego's playoff push.

Mathews is not a major upgrade over Branden Oliver. Although Oliver's numbers have dropped off the last few weeks, that has more to do with poor blocking on the interior offensive line and the fact the Chargers have been forced to play from behind.

Te'o and Addae are both promising second-year players with potential, but the neither has authored many big plays. Te'o has yet to record his first interception, forced fumble or sack. Addae has a couple sacks on his resume but has yet to force a turnover.

"It's not just a couple guys come back and all of a sudden you're winning a football game," said Coach Mike McCoy. "I think all 46 have to play better."

The real help will come from Ingram and Attaochu, the team's two most explosive pass rushers. Ingram had a big sack-strip in San Diego’s Week 2 win over the Seahawks. That came one week after Attaochu’s impressive debut, when he had a sack-strip of his own (as well as a blocked punt) in Week 1 against the Cardinals.

Those two should spark a pass rush that has dried up in their absence, especially as Dwight Freeney and his 34-year-old knees have basically caramelized. A recharged pass rush will make the secondary look considerably better, regardless of whether Addae is back there. It will also deliver the brand of impact plays that will get the defense off the field, giving Philip Rivers & Co. more opportunities to put points on the board.

There is one other impact return the Chargers are waiting upon -- that of first-round pick Jason Verrett -- but that one is still likely a couple weeks away.

San Diego's pass rush should be healthy enough to prevent Derek Carr from authoring another four-touchdown performance in Sunday's rematch (Carr has just nine TD passes in his other eight games). Whether Ingram and Attaochu can disrupt the likes of Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Colin Kaepernick, that will tell the tale of the Chargers' playoff quest.

Which returning players will make the biggest impact? Chat 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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