Match-ups to Watch: Chargers vs. Ravens

The Chargers seek a third straight win on Sunday, but the challenge is far greater this week than it was the last two. San Diego must win on the road against a Ravens team that is also 7-4 and riding a two-game winning streak of its own. Here is a look at three match-ups the Bolts must win to get the victory.

Antonio Gates vs. Will Hill

The Chargers need big production from their No. 13-ranked passing game against the Ravens' struggling pass defense, which is ranked fourth-worst in the league. That starts with Antonio Gates, who has cooled down considerably since his torrid start to the season. Over the last three games, Gates has been held to an average of less than 25 yards per contest. He has also failed to score in any of those games after finding the end zone nine times over the first eight games.

San Diego needs Gates to be at his move-the-chains best to help wear out the Baltimore defense. That will give more opportunities to Ryan Mathews, who aims to become the first running back to rush for more than 68 yards against the Ravens in 2014. Gates also needs to show up in the red zone, making sure the Chargers don't have to settle for field goals in what figures to be a close game.

Gates will spend much of the game matched up against Hill, the former New York Giant who spent the first six weeks of the season suspended for a violation of the substance-abuse policy. Hill has come on strong since being reinstated. Last week in New Orleans, he played all but two snaps and helped shut down Jimmy Graham; Drew Brees completed just two of six passes to Graham when Hill was the one covering him.

Chad Rinehart vs. Haloti Ngata

Earlier this week we talked about the right side of San Diego's offensive line, as the Bolts now have recent draftees starting at center, right guard and right tackle. But it is the left guard who gets almost no press coverage -- which is usually a good thing for offensive linemen -- who has the most critical assignment this week.

Rinehart will see the majority of his snaps lined up across from Ngata, who bounces from right defensive end to nose tackle depending on what defense the Ravens are running. A five-time All Pro, Ngata has the strength and athleticism to wreak havoc against any offense.

"Haloti is a warrior," said Jarret Johnson, who played with Ngata in Baltimore.

Rinehart is having a nice season for San Diego, starting all 11 games at left guard. But he has given up 3.5 sacks; he will have to be more consistent to help keep the offense on schedule in Baltimore. Because when Ngata wins his matchup, it often results in a turnover. Ngata already has two forced fumbles and two interceptions this season.

Donald Butler vs. Justin Forsett

This season has not gone as planned for Butler. After signing a new seven-year, $48 million contract in the offseason, he has seen his playing time reduced as his penchant for making big plays has all but evaporated. He has one sack, two tackles for loss and two pass break-ups thus far, but has yet to intercept a pass or force a fumble.

Butler now plays primarily in the base defense, but his task is still a tall one this week as the Chargers seek their first-ever win at M&T Bank Stadium. He will have to slow down Justin Forsett, who is coming off a career-best 182-yard performance last week against the Saints. A seven-year veteran who had never posted more than 619 rushing yards in a season prior to this year, is just 97 yards away from cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the Ravens.

"He is a very explosive back," said Head Coach Mike McCoy of Forsett. "He has good patience. ... He's a very talented back who can make you miss in space."

Forsett is running like a man possessed (the fact he is on a one-year deal may have something to do with that). Butler has to match that fire and play downhill to slow a Ravens rushing attack that ranks No. 6 overall.

What will it take to get a win in Baltimore? Talk about it inside 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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