Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Panthers I

Our Scout.com experts, Brad Thomas of PantherInsider.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Panthers and Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Let's start this two-part series with six questions from Brad to Michael.

Brad Thomas: What do you expect to see from Shawne Merriman? What are the Charger fans' opinions regarding Merriman playing with an injury like this?

Michael Lombardo: Look for Merriman to play at his usual Pro Bowl level during the regular-season opener. Even though news of his torn PCL and LCL came out late this offseason, he had actually been playing through the injuries for quite some time. He injured his PCL during his second NFL game back in 2005 and tore the LCL in Week 14 last season, according to a report by the San Diego Union Tribune.


LB Shawne Merriman
Donald Miralle/Getty

Merriman played in five games after injuring his LCL, posting 18 tackles and two sacks during that span, which is more impressive knowing that four of those fives opponents ranked in the top half of the NFL in sacks allowed last season.

Chargers fans seem torn on Merriman's decision, although the majority seem to feel that surgery was the better option- not for the team, but for Merriman. After all, this is a game-changer who is only 24 years old and just two years away from hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time. If Merriman plays and worsens his injured knee, this decision will prove to be devastating.

BT: What can Panther fans expect from former Charger Mark Jones?

ML: Jones looked healthy and explosive during his time with the Chargers after missing the final 10 games in 2007 due to a knee injury. Jones was particularly sharp during the preseason opener, averaging 19 yards on three punt returns.

Jones' productivity declined after the opener, but he has steady hands and reads his blocks well. His preseason numbers included six kickoff returns for 148 yards (24.7 avg) and seven punt returns for 91 yards (13.0 avg).

So long as the Panthers are looking at Jones exclusively as a kick returner, he will prove to be a steady addition. His contributions are limited to special teams, however, as he is too small (5 foot 9, 185 lbs.) and soft to help out at wide receiver.


OT Marcus McNeill
Donald Miralle/Getty

BT: What's the latest on the injures along the Chargers' offensive and defensive lines?

ML: The Chargers will be without two Pro Bowl offensive linemen against the Panthers: LT Marcus McNeill and C Nick Hardwick. McNeill has been battling a stinger and -- although he returned to practice this week -- is unlikely to play on Sunday. Hardwick is still rehabbing after offseason foot surgery and is still a few weeks away. They'll be replaced by 10-year veterans L.J. Shelton and Jeremy Newberry, respectively.

San Diego will have all of its horses on the defensive line, although a few of them have injury concerns. Three-time All Pro Jamal Williams sat out the entire preseason to rest his surgically repaired knees, but he's a go for the opener. DE Luis Castillo has battled a balky back but is now 100 percent healthy.

BT: Who is better at this point in their career: Julius Peppers or Quentin Jammer?

ML: This is a toss-up, but I give the edge to Jammer based on consistency. Jammer rarely gets the credit he's due because he doesn't tally a lot of interceptions (11 in his six-year career). Nonetheless, he excels in every other area. He holds up receivers at the line of scrimmage, maintains excellent position and rarely commits unnecessary penalties. Additionally, no cornerback is better against the run than Jammer.

Peppers is a freakish talent, but I find it hard to give him the nod coming off a 2.5-sack season. Truly great players show up weak in and weak out. Jammer has done that for six consecutive seasons; there is no way Peppers can make that claim.


FS Marlon McCree
Doug Pensinger/Getty

BT: What happened with Marlon McCree? He left the Panthers for more money in San Diego, but was cut in the offseason.

ML: McCree deserves credit for helping reshape San Diego's secondary. He was a leader on and off the field and taught the Chargers' young defensive backs how to prepare the right way. In 2005, before McCree arrived in San Diego, the Chargers intercepted only 10 passes. Last season, with McCree starting 16 games, the Chargers led the NFL with 30 interceptions.

The reason McCree was let go was a lack of range. He lacks sideline-to-sideline speed and too often left his cornerbacks out to dry. He's a classy player; he just doesn't have the wheels to get it done for an upper echelon defense.

BT: Toe-gate: Antonio Gates or D.J. Hackett: Which one makes a bigger impact?

ML: Hackett will be under the spotlight on Sunday due to the absence of WR Steve Smith. The Chargers will trot out three former first-round picks at cornerback -- Jammer, Antonio Cromartie and rookie Antoine Cason -- and Hackett is the only receiver on Carolina's roster who can consistently win one-on-one matchups against a group like that.

Gates' ability to control the middle of the field will be the story of the game for San Diego. As was evidenced in the AFC Championship Game, San Diego's offense isn't nearly as efficient without Gates, especially in the red zone. Gates missed all of training camp and the preseason due to his toe injury and only recently returned to practice. He needs to establish himself early and prove he is fit; that's the only way to get Carolina's speedy linebackers to pay attention to someone other than LaDainian Tomlinson, who is already a marked man.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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