Bolts-Packers Gameday Primer

The direction of the entire season will be altered by the time the final whistle blows. If the Chargers win, last week's loss will be written off as an aberration. If they lose, critics will lambaste the firing of Marty Schottenheimer and question whether the Chargers can make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the 1994-95 seasons.

OFFENSE

The primary objective for the Philip Rivers is clear: protect the football. Rivers turned the ball over three times in the 38-14 loss against the New England Patriots, causing the Chargers the fall behind early and escape their game plan by halftime. It is too soon to rush to judgment, but Rivers has thrown three interceptions in two games after tossing just nine all last season. The offense has twice failed to score a single first-half point, something that never happened last season.

Rivers will count on young receivers Vincent Jackson and Craig Davis to help make his job easier. Jackson struggled in week two, running soft-angle routes and looking lackadaisical coming back for the ball. Still, he fared better than Davis, who was a complete non-factor. Davis has two weeks to prove he deserves to be on the field before Eric Parker returns and bumps him from the starting line-up.

The Green Bay Packers boast two of the league's better cornerbacks in Al Harris and Charles Woodson, the former franchise player for the Oakland Raiders. Harris and Woodson will play the Chargers receivers on an island. San Diego receivers coach James Lofton is confident that his green but talented receiving corps can get the best of his former team. Lofton spent nine seasons with the Packers.

Even though Rivers will look outside the hashes more than usual, that does not mean he will get away from Antonio Gates. The three-time All Pro has been the team's most productive player through two weeks, hauling in 16 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. More than 56% of his receptions have gone for first downs.

As always, the offense will only go as far as LaDainian Tomlinson carries it. Tomlinson has been bottled up early in the season, averaging 34 yards per game and less than 2 yards per carry. However, he has been limited by circumstance as much as anything else. The Chargers have fallen behind early in games and failed to make defenses pay for loading the box with eight and nine players.

L.T. should have an easier go of things against a Packers front seven that allowed the New York Giants' Derrick Ward to average 6.0 yards per carry last week. Ward did much of his damage outside the tackles, so look for Tomlinson to run frequent sweeps to the left side. That allows Mike Goff to pull left, which is the strength of his game, and takes some burden off the right side of the offensive line that will have Jeromey Clary making his first career start in place of the injured Shane Olivea (back). With Goff pulling left and Brandon Manumaleuna lining up left as well, the Chargers will look to wear out the Packers on that side of the field.

DEFENSE

The defense was shredded in week two, giving up more than 400 yards and 25 first downs. Even the stingy run defense buckled, allowing 144 yards and 4.5 yards per carry. If there was anything positive to take away from the game, it was the play of Shawne Merriman, who failed to get a sack against the Patriots last postseason or against the Chicago Bears in the season opener.

In week two, Merriman recorded two sacks, a forced fumble, a pass break-up and a tackle for a loss. That tackle for a loss came on a third-and-2 at the Chargers 5-yard line, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal.

Merriman's partner in crime, Shaun Phillips, will play despite a quad injury. It is important that Phillips is 100% because his game is all about speed and anticipation. Phillips will have to be on high alert in front of the rowdy fans at Lambeau field. "The other guy" tries to anticipate snap counts to get a jump on his opponents, which will be difficult to do in such a noisy venue.

Inside the linebacking corps, Tim Dobbins will replace Matt Wilhelm in the starting line-up. Dobbins suffered through several breakdowns in coverage last week after replacing Wilhelm in the first quarter. Norv Turner believes that after a full week of practicing with the first string, Dobbins will fare much better against the Packers. Also because of Wilhelm's injury, rookie third-round pick Anthony Waters will likely be active for the first time in his short professional career.

The defensive line will be utilizing the whole rotation on Sunday, as the Packers will have them running side to side chasing screen plays and outlet passes. The Packers have no running game to speak of, so the main task for the lineman is to clear rushing lanes for the linebackers behind them.

Jamal Williams will do his part by collapsing the pocket up the middle. Williams was minimally effective in New England after hyperextending his left elbow but has been cleared to play in Green Bay. He should be joined in the backfield by Luis Castillo, who is still seeking his first sack of the season.

The secondary is still in shock after being humiliated in front of a national audience last week. Things won't be much easier in week three as the unit faces the winningest quarterback in NFL history. Ted Cottrell will likely mix up his coverages this week after his soft zones were picked apart by the Patriots.

This passing game features a mismatch between the smaller, quicker Packers receivers and the bigger, more physical Chargers cornerbacks. Quentin Jammer and Donald Driver are the match-up to watch, as dissected in this edition of Behind Enemy Lines. Another player to keep an eye on is Ruvell Martin, who spent two training camps with the Chargers before breaking into the Packers rotation.

This would also be a fine week for Antonio Cromartie to show up and play. After shining throughout offseason coaching sessions and mini-camps, Cromartie bombed during the preseason and looked lost in weeks one and two. The 2006 first-round pick is still seeking his first regular-season interception. In fact, his only interception came in a 2006 preseason game against the Packers.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Darren Sproles must prove he can be as effective in the regular season as he was in the preseason. After being knocked out of the Bears game on the opening kickoff, he did little to justify his roster spot on week two, returning one kickoff for 20 yards and field one punt for no gain.

Michael Turner will return kickoffs with Sproles focusing on punts. The Packers hope that Sproles reverts to the shaky form he showed in 2004 when he struggled to catch punts cleanly. The Packers have already won one game this season because their opponent could not catch a punt; they would love to win a second.

Nate Kaeding is still looking to convert his field goal after making 26 a season ago. He didn't have any attempts against the Patriots and had his only kick blocked against the Bears. Kaeding scored 136 points last year and earned a Pro Bowl invite as a result; right now, he is on pace to score 32 points on the season.

Kassim Osgood, meanwhile, is one pace to earn a second consecutive Pro Bowl invite. He had two tackles against the Patriots and forced Ellis Hobbs to fumble a fourth-quarter return that was recovered by Jammer.


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