Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Lions I

Our experts, Nate Caminata of and Michael Lombardo of, analyze Sunday's game between the Lions and Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Let's start this two-part series with six questions from Michael to Nate.

Michael Lombardo: There are two theories regarding the Lions after last week's 28-27 loss to the Cowboys. The first says that the Lions gave the Cowboys their best shot and are now resigned to yet another losing season. The second says that the Lions pushed the NFC's best team to the limit and should be considered a threat because of it. Which theory do you subscribe to and why?

Nate Caminata: I think both are probably accurate, which is the anomaly that is the Detroit Lions. All season long, the Lions have had the potential to compete with any team in the National Football League, which was evident in their 6-2 start (including a 44-7 drubbing of Denver).

But it's also a franchise undergoing drastic change, still learning to deal with success, along with a number of flaws (think bi-polar) that might warp the talent on this team. They are a squad that can win on any given Sunday, which is a step forward from where they've been the previous seven years. On that same token, they are just as capable of losing.

ML: Kevin Jones tied a season high in rushing attempts last week (23), while T.J. Duckett had his most carries since 2005 (nine). Will the Lions bring this balanced attack to San Diego or will they revert to their pass-happy ways?

NC: Mike Martz admitted a week ago something that everyone already knew: one of his internal failures is the habit of giving up on the run too quickly. While Martz is known as the "Mad Scientist," you have to take the good with the bad -- and, in many cases, the "mad." When his offense is clicking, as it was against Dallas and during a handful of Detroit's wins, Martz is able to manipulate even the surest of defensive coordinators. But once his agenda is set on passing, he can be the most stubborn of NFL minds, refusing to run the ball even if it's blatantly hurting the offense and the team itself.

This quandary has cost the team dearly throughout the course of the year, because the Lions have had more success both statistically and in the win column with a balanced offense. It is enough to make someone cringe when wondering, "what if?" While common sense would suggest that Martz bring this balanced attack into San Diego, he could just as easily resort to his frustrating complex.

ML: With Roy Williams out of commission, who is the Lions biggest threat at wide receiver? Is it Shaun McDonald (800 yards receiving), Calvin Johnson (14.9 yards per catch) or Mike Furrey (one year removed from a 98-catch season)?

NC: Shaun McDonald has stepped nicely into Williams' role, and is probably the biggest of threats given his knowledge of Martz's passing offense. McDonald is quick, fast, runs crisp routes, and is a nightmare for many cornerbacks.

Still, Furrey is just as capable to find a seam in the slot and expose a secondary, while Johnson's acrobatics must be accounted for. The trio makes for an odd set of formidable receivers, but just ask Dallas if the loss of Williams made them any less threatening.

ML: Albert Haynesworth wreaked havoc against the Chargers last week, commanding double teams and blowing up plays in the backfield. Can Shaun Rogers have a similar impact on Sunday's game? How do you compare Rogers and Haynesworth as far as their impacts on the game?

NC: The only thing that can stop Shaun Rogers is Shaun Rogers, and in the past five games, he's done a pretty adequate job of accomplishing that feat. When motivated to produce, as he was early in the regular season, Rogers looked unstoppable, blowing up the line of scrimmage and wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines. Simply put, there wasn't an answer.

Yet in the past several games, Rogers has been almost non-existent; he takes himself out of plays (as he did several times against Dallas), gets gassed easily, and doesn't seem to be putting in a full effort. This is disappointing because of Rogers' importance to Detroit's defense, which crumbles under the weight of their mammoth star's laziness. Haynesworth doesn't touch Rogers' level of talent, but he exceeds that value with effort.

ML: The Lions rank No. 31 against the pass and have no defender with more than three interceptions. They will be facing an inconsistent quarterback in Philip Rivers, who already has 15 interceptions this season. Can the Lions take advantage of Rivers' errant throws? Or do you expect them to give up big yards through the air?

NC: The Lions secondary has been so awful at times that even Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson was able to pick them apart. It isn't likely that Rivers will be able to throw deep on Detroit, because the Tampa 2 all but eliminates that as an option. However, it does afford the luxury of short-to-mid range passing game.

Because of a lack of consistent pass rush and linebackers that are frequently out of place, the Lions have allowed opponents to expose them in the middle of the field and with short dump-offs that produce consistent second- and third-and-short situations. If Jason Whitten had a field day against Detroit (15 catches), Antonio Gates should be licking his chops.

ML: Which Lions player will rise from under the radar to be an X factor in Sunday's game?

NC: You would have to assume that Calvin Johnson's break-out performance is going to come sooner than later. All season long, the rookie has flirted with greatness, turning in a handful of spectacular catches, but hasn't necessarily broken free from his shell.

A second consecutive game without the shadow of Roy Williams could provide Johnson with that opportunity -- and it couldn't come at a better time for the Lions.

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