Behind Enemy Lines: Bolts v. Raiders, Part II

How much will Ryan Mathews play in his return? Will Malcom Floyd have another big game against the Raiders? Can San Diego's defense adjust and slow down Derek Carr? To answer these and other questions, we turn to team experts Michael Lombardo and Chris McClain. (Photo by Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Chris McClain is the lead reporter for Silver & Black Report. Michael Lombardo is the publisher of SD Bolt Report. For Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, click here.

Chris McClain: With Ryan Mathews returning, how do you see the Chargers running back rotation? Will Mathews get the majority of the carries?

Michael Lombardo: Mathews will get the bulk of the carries as long as his knee holds up. He is more explosive than Branden Oliver and is more of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.

"[Mathews] is a big time player on this team," said offensive coordinator Frank Reich. "We want him to play as much as he can but we want to be smart about it as well."

I envision Mathews and Oliver having about a two-to-one split of the carries. The real benefit is there should be minimal drop-off behind the starting running back for the first time in weeks. Previous backups Donald Brown and Shaun Draughn (since released) disappointed with their limited opportunities.

CM: Derek Carr has arguably his best game in the NFL the last time the Raiders and Chargers played, throwing for 282 yards and four touchdowns. How do you think the Chargers' banged-up secondary will play against Carr this time? What will they do to defend against the Raiders passing game?

ML: San Diego's secondary is doing alright from a health standpoint. Brandon Flowers, who injured his groin in the first meeting with the Raiders, is fully healthy. Safety Jahleel Addae, coming back from a head injury, is expected to play, as well. The only real missing piece in the secondary will be first-round pick Jason Verrett, which is a huge loss. Not only did his interception seal the win in Oakland, but he has been San Diego's top cover corner when healthy.

The key to slowing Oakland's passing game is not better coverage, it's a better pass rush. San Diego's pass rush has been missing in action for weeks, which is a big reason for the team's three-game slide. Fortunately for the Chargers, they will get their two best pass rushers (Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu) back from injury this week; those two have played in just six games combined this season because of hip and hamstring injuries, respectively.

If Ingram and Attaochu hit the ground running, the Chargers should roll. If their rust is evident, it will give Carr an opportunity for another big day.

CM: Malcom Floyd had a big game against the Raiders when they last played, hauling in five receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown. Since then, he has been kept scoreless and under 60 yards receiving in each game. What has been the reason for this? Do you expect him to breakout again against the Raiders?

ML: Floyd is a big-play specialist (his 18.9 ypc is the second best average in the NFL, behind only DeSean Jackson), so it is not unusual to see him have a few quiet games in a row before breaking out with a couple of receptions of 40-plus yards.

One of the things that has hurt Floyd the last couple weeks is San Diego has been forced to play from behind. When that happens, opponents get a little more conservative on defense and concentrate on taking away the deep ball, which is what Floyd does best. Philip Rivers has still taken a few shots deep to Floyd, but the connections have been more difficult to come by lately.

There is a good chance Floyd gets back on track this week, especially if Mathews' return sparks the ground game, which should set up some opportunities using play-action.

CM: The Chargers are coming off of a bye, but before that they lost three games in a row including their latest where they got dominated against a Miami Dolphins team that has been playing well recently. What went wrong in Miami in their 37-0 loss? Do you think the bye came at the right time?

ML: When you lose 37-0, pretty much everything goes wrong. Philip Rivers turned the ball over four times; the running game never got any traction (Oliver averaged less than 1.5 ypc); and the pass rush could not pressure Ryan Tannehill or even keep him in the pocket.

The bye week came at the perfect time for the Chargers. The mental break was nice for a team looking to snap out of a funk, but the physical rest was downright essential. In addition to getting back Mathews, Ingram and Attaochu from their respective injuries, the Chargers will also now get back Manti Te'o, who has been sidelined for the last six games with a foot injury.

San Diego has a brutal schedule over the last five weeks of the season, so it is vital the Chargers use the extra rest to propel them to home wins over the Raiders and Rams. That would put the Bolts at 7-4 and give them a chance to scrap their way into the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

CM: Second-year tight end Mychal Rivera has turned into a solid receiving weapon for Derek Carr, hauling in 21 receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games. How have the Chargers done defending against the tight end, especially in the red zone?

ML: San Diego's defense has been awful in the red zone. The Chargers allow opponents to score touchdowns on 70.83 percent of their trips to the red zone, the worst figure in the league. Mysteriously, that number is even worse at Qualcomm Stadium (75 percent) than it is on the road.

The Chargers have done well in slowing down opposing tight ends, although Miami's Charles Clay put up 79 yards and a touchdown in San Diego's last game out.

It will be interesting to see if the returns of Ingram, Te'o, Attaochu and Addae can help shore up the red zone defense (and all of them except Attaochu can expect to see some time matched up against Rivera in coverage).

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