The Chargers' offense took a three-quarter slumber against the Tennessee Titans, but it is still potent enough to worry Rod Marinelli. The Detroit Lions head coach is especially concerned with how his defensive line will hold up against a Chargers offensive line that had the Titans' defenders sucking wind in the fourth quarter.
The Lions have one franchise player, DE Kalimba Edwards, who has played his way out of the starting lineup. Another supposed linchpin, DT Shaun Rogers, is not healthy enough or fit enough to make an impact.
When asked if Rogers could make a bigger impact with improved conditioning, Marinelli didn't hesitate.
"Oh, no question," he said.
The Lions defense still has its share of playmakers. WLB Ernie Sims ranks second in the league with 119 tackles. CB Fernando Bryant has 64 tackles, 11th most by any cornerback, to go along with 12 pass breakups and two interceptions.
However, the defense has too many liabilities to shed its Achilles heel tag. The run defense ranks No. 11 in the NFC, allowing 104.4 yards per game. Also, their pass defense is the second-worst in the NFL.
The Lions are especially vulnerable up the seams, where their linebackers lack the speed to stay with pass-catching tight ends who can get up the field. Jason Witten exposed that weakness in week 14, catching 15 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.
Does Antonio Gates believe he can top 15 receptions against his hometown team?
"Well, we will see," Gates said. "They know I'm from Detroit and I'm sure they are revved up in their locker room. They are excited too. They still are in the hunt for this thing."
Even if the Lions can stop Gates, they will be hard-pressed to slow LaDainian Tomlinson. LT comes off his first consecutive 100-yard games off the season. He has at least one run of 10-plus yards in 24 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL, and has at least one run of 30-plus yards in three straight games.
This is the time of year when Tomlinson carries the Chargers on his back. He leads all active running backs with 3,229 career rushing yards in the month of December. His effort hasn't gone for naught, as the Chargers have won seven straight in the calendar's final month.
"I don't think young guys understand how difficult that is when you go in and have a great year or a couple years and then you kind of become a marked guy and you are seeing all the eight-man fronts," Norv Turner said.
"People are going into games saying: we're not going to let (LT) beat us. That, to me, shows greatness when you still find a way to go run the ball and make the plays that he does."
That's exactly what Marinelli is afraid of.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.
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