Michael Wagaman: San Diego was expected to be the team to beat in the AFC West this season, yet the team is 3-3 and three games behind Denver. What happened?
Michael Lombardo: The Chargers' slow start shouldn't be too surprising. Everyone acted shocked when a team picked as a preseason favorite lost three of its first five, but San Diego has started 2-3 in each of its three seasons under Norv Turner.
Sitting 3-3 wouldn't be such a terrible thing in what was supposed to be the worst division in the NFL, but Denver's unbelievable start has changed the landscape in the AFC West. The fact that the Broncos already have a head-to-head win over San Diego makes the picture that much bleaker.
There are many reasons for the slow start: injuries to Jamal Williams, Nick Hardwick, LaDainian Tomlinson and others; blown assignments, such as the missed block that cost the team a win over Baltimore; and a tough opening schedule. However, the simple fact is the Turner-led Chargers are slow starters, and that's true in individual games and in regards to the season as a whole.
MW: Norv Turner has always struggled as a head coach and it appears to be the same thing is happening in San Diego. What are the odds that he returns next year? For that matter, what about the GM A.J. Smith?
Coach Norv Turner
Nonetheless, I think there's an above average chance that Turner is in his final season with the Chargers. In addition to the issues mentioned above, the team has regressed every season under his guidance. If that happens again in 2009 -- and that is possible -- Smith may realize the only way to save his job is to take away Turner's.
It helps that Turner is only under contract through 2010, so the team would not be on the hook for a lot of money. Adding even more incentive to make a move is the amazing pool of coaching talent available, a list that could include Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren.
MW: The popular theory is that LaDainian Tomlinson is done and that the Chargers should be turning the running game more over to Darren Sproles. Is that true? If he struggles against the Raiders, who have had major issues defending the run, would that convince the San Diego brass to make a change?
ML: That theory is only half true. Yes, Tomlinson is done in terms of being a dominant running back. However, making Sproles the full-time back is not the answer. Sproles is not a between-the-tackles runner and he's not built to carry the full load. In fact, as we saw when LT missed two games earlier this year, the Bolts would rather lean almost entirely on their passing game than masquerade Sproles as a workhorse running back.
This offseason, Sproles is scheduled to be a free agent and Tomlinson is set to collect a $3 million bonus in March. My guess is that the team re-signs Sproles and cuts ties with Tomlinson, opting to replace him either via free agency or the draft.
Smith has tried to find an heir apparent in each of the last two drafts, going with Marcus Thomas in 2008 and Gartrell Johnson in 2009, but neither player was able to stick. Hopefully, the third time will be a charm in 2010.
MW: How much will the return of center Nick Hardwick mean to the offense?
C Scott Mruczkowski
MW: Defensively, San Diego had some problems against the Raiders in the season-opener and is one of the few teams that haven't been able to rattle QB JaMarcus Russell, who had a pretty good game. Have the Chargers shown you anything to make you believe things will change this time around?
ML: The Chargers played their best defensive game of the season last week in Kansas City, holding the Chiefs to 203 total yards, but it's hard to read too much into that because the Chiefs are so terrible. The Raiders aren't exactly world-beaters, but they have the ability to move the ball on the ground and stay out of obvious passing situations, which is the formula that works best against the Chargers.
In the season-opener, the Raiders offense had the privilege of playing with a lead for most of the game. If the Chargers are going to have more success in the rematch, they will need to grab an early lead and make Russell play from behind. If Ron Rivera & Co. can get Russell into obvious passing situations, it could be a long day for him.
The fact that the season-opener was a "pretty good game" for Russell -- despite the fact that he completed just 40 percent of his passes, turned the ball over twice and posted a passer rating under 50 -- says a lot about where he is at this point in his career.
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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.