Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Jaguars III

Our experts, Charlie Bernstein of and Michael Lombardo of, analyze Sunday's game between the Jaguars and Chargers. Let's wrap up this series with some matchups to watch, game scenarios and final predictions.

Chargers offensive matchup to watch: Vincent Jackson vs. Brian Williams

Jackson has done a whole lot of nothing since the trade for Chris Chambers, accumulating three catches for 44 yards in the three games since. He has been criticized heavily for not fighting for the football and needs a breakout game to reaffirm his place in the rotation.

Jackson has 6" and 40 lbs. on Williams, so Rivers will give Jackson some chances to win his one-on-one battles. Williams is a scrapper who will fight for position at the line and for the ball downfield. This is the perfect challenge for Jackson to silence the critics who claim he lacks the toughness to meet his full potential.

Chargers defensive matchup to watch: Shawne Merriman vs. Khalif Barnes

Merriman suffered through his worst game of the season last week against the Indianapolis Colts. He spent much of the game going one-on-one with third-string LT Michael Toulouse and still finished without a sack. Merriman needs better results against Barnes if the Chargers are going to disrupt the Jaguars' offense.

Barnes boasts impressive quickness for a man his size (6-foot-5, 325 lbs.). That quickness, combined with the Jaguars' preference for quick throws, may prevent Merriman from padding his sack total. Regardless, Merriman must find a way to make his presence felt, be it forcing a fumble, tipping a pass or busting up a play behind the line of scrimmage. If not, the defense will struggle to get off the field.

Jaguars offensive matchup to watch: Brad Meester vs. Jamaal Williams

This is certainly a matchup of strength vs. strength as Jamaal Williams is a two-time Pro Bowler and fantastic run stuffer. Jamaal Williams is one of the premiere nose tackles in the NFL, if not the very best nose tackle. Williams did a fantastic job of plugging up the middle last week and held Colts running back Joseph Addai to just 56 yards rushing.

Jaguars center Brad Meester is one of the best centers in the NFL, even if most people outside of north Florida have never heard of him. Since Meester returned from his ankle injury which forced him to miss preseason and the first four weeks of the regular season, the Jaguars have averaged nearly 150 yards per game rushing.

This matchup will go a long way in determining whether or not the Jaguars will be able to run the football. If the San Diego defense can stop the Jaguars third-ranked rushing attack, it is unlikely that the Jaguars will be able to score very many points through the air.

TE Antonio Gates
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty

Jaguars defensive matchup to watch: Daryl Smith vs. Antonio Gates

The Jaguars defense has done a poor job this season against the pass as evidenced by their number 26 ranking. The Jaguars pass defense has allowed a 100-yard receiver in six of the last seven games, and they have especially been exploited over the middle by opposing tight ends. Since week four, opposing tight ends have averaged over 73 yards per game against the Jaguars.

This week the Jaguars play against the best tight end in the NFL in Antonio Gates. Gates has great hands, speed, and leaping ability. Jacksonville will try to stop Gates with either linebacker Daryl Smith or Clint Ingram jamming him at the line of scrimmage. Both Smith and Ingram are very athletic linebackers, but if Gates gets a free release, he is no match for either of the Jaguars linebackers, or safeties Sammy Knight and/or Reggie Nelson. The Jaguars will allow some yardage to Gates on Sunday, but if Gates goes over 100 yards and scores more than one touchdown, Jacksonville could be in trouble.

The Chargers will win if…Philip Rivers completes more than 65 percent of his passes. I believe Norv Turner will lean on some high-percentage passing plays to restore Rivers' confidence. Expect some screens to LaDainian Tomlinson and slants to Antonio Gates to get the chains moving. If Rivers finds early success, Turner will let him take some shots downfield. If he can connect on a couple of those, the Chargers will head home 6-4.

The Chargers will lose if…they fall behind early. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew comprise one of the elite backfields in the league. If the Jaguars build an early lead, they will ride those two and wear down a Chargers defense that has three walking-wounded linebackers and only five healthy defensive linemen. Additionally, a successful rushing attack by Jacksonville will alleviate the pressure from David Garrard in his return to action.

The Jaguars will win if...They can run the football for over 125 yards. The Jaguars entire offense is predicated upon being able to run the ball effectively and working their play-action passing game and roll-outs off the run. If the Jaguars have to be a one-dimensional passing offense for an entire game it will open up big plays for the Chargers pass rush and could lead to turnovers and points.

The Jaguars will lose if...they allow more than two explosive plays to San Diego. The Jaguars need to cover kicks, contain LaDainian Tomlinson, and not let Chris Chambers or Vincent Jackson get behind them. The Jaguars don't have a big-play offense that is capable of coming from behind. If the Chargers get a few "easy" scores on some big plays, the Jaguars will be in a world of trouble.

Lombardo's final prediction: Chargers 31, Jaguars 10

When the Chargers win, they win big. Their average margin of victory in their five wins is 18 points. Rivers is due for a breakout game and I see it coming this week for three reasons: 1) the Jaguars rank No. 26 in pass defense; 2) Rivers is on the road, away from the Chargers fans that booed him loudly last week; and 3) Rivers studied for two years under Drew Brees, who carved up the Jaguars two weeks ago for 445 yards and three touchdowns.

On the other side, Garrard has yet to throw in interception this season. However, he will attempt to shake of the rust against a Chargers defense that leads the league with 17 interceptions. I say Rivers gets hot, Garrard turns the ball over playing from behind and the Chargers win going away.

Bernstein's final prediction: Jaguars 24, Chargers 23

The Jaguars are brimming with confidence after their dominating victory on the road over their division rival Tennessee Titans. It's a much tougher test this week with the defending AFC West champions coming to town, but the Jaguars will likely have David Garrard returning at quarterback. If the Jaguars can run the ball and control the game early, they should be able to hold on late.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of, and a regular syndicated contributor to, Sirius NFL Radio, and Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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