The Passing Game Does Its Part

The bad news for San Diego Chargers fans is that their team tasted defeat for the first time this season in a 31-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The good news is that a short-handed offense lit up one of the NFL's premier defenses to the delight of fantasy football players everywhere.

There were plenty of reasons to expect San Diego's passing game to falter against Baltimore. Starting offensive linemen Scott Mruczkowski and Brandyn Dombrowski entered the game with two combined career starts; there was virtually no threat of the play-action pass with LaDainian Tomlinson out with an ankle injury; and the Ravens were bringing an aggressive, exotic blitz package.

However, the Chargers' aerial attack not only survived, it thrived.

Philip Rivers completed 25 of 45 passes for 436 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. That's an average of more than 17 yards per completion, which shows San Diego's ability to attack downfield. The big plays allowed Rivers to exceed the 400-yard barrier for the first time in his career.

Rivers favorite targets were Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles, who've each caught at least five passes in each of the season's first two games.

Jackson chewed up the most real estate by hauling in six catches for 141 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-15 midway through the second half. He used his incredible size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and agility to dominate one-on-one coverage and make acrobatic catches over the middle of the field.

TE Antonio Gates
Jacob de Golish/Getty
Gates hauled in five catches for the second straight week, three of which went for first downs and one of which converted a fourth-and-2 on a scoring drive late in the first half. He looks as healthy as he's been in nearly two years and is creating mismatches all over the field.

Sproles has emerged as a heavily featured component of the passing game, leading the team with seven receptions in Week 2. He finished with 124 receiving yards, including a sizzling 81-yard touchdown that marked the longest reception of his career. He wasn't nearly as effective running the ball, averaging 2.6 yards on 10 carries, but he'll carry the ball less once LT returns.

Also making noise in the passing game were Malcom Floyd (one catch for 45 yards) and Chris Chambers, who caught his first two passes of the season after being shut out in the season-opener.

Unfortunately for San Diego, the numbers don't shine such a favorable light on the defense. The team has only two sacks through two games, with Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Larry English all looking for their first takedowns. Another supposedly potent playmaker, Antonio Cromartie, is still seeking his first interception.

After two weeks, the Chargers have the NFL's top-ranked passing attack and its No. 20 defense. If the defense can climb into the top-half of the rankings, the offense looks more than capable of outscoring the competition.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the 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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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