Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Steelers II

SDBoltReport.com publisher Michael Lombardo fields questions from fans of SteelCityInsider.com in advance of Sunday's big game. Topics include the chinks in San Diego's armor, the wrinkles in Ron Rivera's defense, and the possibility of Antonio Cromartie returning kicks.

Click here to read Part I, where Jim Wexell talks about Ben Roethlisberger's head, Bruce Arians' game plan and Dick LeBeau's exotic coverages.

Q: What is the Chargers' weakness? Offensive line? Secondary? Linebacker?

A: San Diego's most glaring weakness is in the defensive backfield. The secondary actually has a descent amount of talent, but there are not enough complete players back there. CB Antonio Cromartie is smooth in coverage but lacks focus and physicality. SS Clinton Hart is strong against the run but a liability against the pass. Hart is losing significant playing time to Steve Gregory, who is undersized (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) to play the position full-time.


DC Ron Rivera
Getty

Q: What's changed about the Chargers defense since Ron Rivera took over?

A: Rivera simplified the defense and allowed the players to play to their strengths. That means using Shaun Phillips to rush quarterbacks instead of cover tight ends, keeping Quentin Jammer in press coverage rather than a soft zone, etc. By allowing players to work within their comfort zones, Rivera helped them to react rather than over-think.

Now that Rivera has been in charge for 10 weeks, he is starting to put his fingerprint on the unit. The Chargers used a lot of movement and disguised coverages against the Indianapolis Colts last week and figure to do much of the same against Steelers.

Q: Is Philip Rivers one interview away from a Ryan Leaf moment? Or is he really a good guy?

A: Rivers is one of the nicest guys in the NFL; I can't imagine anyone less likely to pull a Ryan Leaf moment. Rivers is a deeply religious family man who has earned the respect of his teammates on and off the field. He gets a bad rap from fans outside of San Diego because of his tendency to jaw-jack -- something he did none of this season because of all the backlash -- but he is really just a competitor who likes to have fun on the field.

Q: Is the fact that the Chargers and Steelers played in the regular season a positive or negative for San Diego?


RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty

A: The Chargers can draw some confidence from the earlier meeting. The offense converted 50 percent of its third downs; the defense bagged four sacks and kept the Steelers out of the end zone; and the special teams held Pittsburgh to an average of less than 17 yards per kickoff return.

Of course, the Steelers dominated time of possession by more than 13 minutes, forced two turnovers and won the game, so I'm sure they gained confidence from the earlier meeting as well.

It is noteworthy that in each of the last two weeks, the Chargers played teams they had lost to earlier this season. They avenged a loss to the Denver Broncos with a 52-21 drubbing and paid back the Colts by eliminating them from the playoffs.

Q: Will Darren Sproles handle all the returns with his increased workload?

A: Sproles told the media he is willing to return kicks and be "the man" on offense, but Norv Turner has not revealed how he will handle this situation. Either way, don't look for Sproles to pile up 35 all-purpose touches like he did last week. The Chargers have spent much of the week getting Michael Bennett ready for a larger workload and he and Sproles should split carries 50-50.

One problem for San Diego is that it doesn't have a lot of other options at the return positions. The team used WR Buster Davis to share punt return duties with Sproles earlier this season, but he is on injured-reserve with a groin injury. Cromartie is now the top backup at both return positions, although the team would rather he focus on defense. CB Cletis Gordon (24.3 avg) can also return kicks.

Q: With Vincent Jackson playing, does that mean the ownership and coach agree that getting arrested for driving under the influence for the second time is acceptable behavior?

A: No, the team is not condoning Jackson's behavior. However, Jackson remains innocent until proven guilty. He did not take a breathalyzer and the results from his blood test are not in yet. So while circumstantial evidence seems to shine an unfavorable light on Jackson, he will continue to play throughout the playoffs, although it is possible he could be suspended early next season.

Jackson will be a key player in this matchup. He is San Diego's most dangerous weapon in the passing game and set career-highs this season in receptions (59), yards (1,098) and touchdowns (seven). He was held without a catch last week for just the second time this season. After his first catchless performance, he bounced back the following week with five catches for 148 yards and a score.

Click here to read Part I, where Jim Wexell talks about Ben Roethlisberger's head, Bruce Arians' game plan and Dick LeBeau's exotic coverages.

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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