Bolts Notebook: Meet the X-Factors

Is Darren Sproles due for another playoff explosion? How does San Diego's makeshift defensive line stack up to New York's offensive wall? And which of San Diego's inside linebackers will see the most playing time? We answer these questions and more in today's Bolts Notebook.

Many Roles for Sproles

Darren Sproles authored a breakout performance in San Diego's first playoff game last season, compiling 328 all-purpose yards to help the Chargers upend the Colts, 23-17. He hopes for an encore against the Jets and should get plenty of chances to make an impact.

The Jets blitz more liberally than any team in the league; when they send the house on Sunday, Sproles becomes the ultimate check-down weapon.

"(He's) that dangerous of a back, dangerous returner, dangerous out of the backfield, dangerous running the football," Rex Ryan said. "We've got to limit his catches and touches on the ball. There is no question."

Sproles will also have a chance to make an impact on special teams. The Jets are ranked No. 23 in covering kickoffs, which could open the door for Sproles to return a kickoff for a touchdown for the first time this season.

A Tale of Two Lines


LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson
Ed Betz/AP
The Jets' offensive line and the Chargers' defensive line could not have been built any differently. New York's line consists of spendy investments: LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold were first-round picks in 2006; LG Alan Faneca (four years, $32 million) and RT Damien Woody (five years, $25.5 million) were pricy free-agent acquisitions; and RG Brandon Moore is the team's longest tenured lineman (2003).

Compare that to San Diego's defensive line, which includes: DEs Alfonso Boone and Antonio Garay and starting NT Ian Scott, all of whom were signed midseason; DE Travis Johnson, who was acquired for a low-round draft pick after training camp had already ended; and rookie DE Vaughn Martin, who was playing college ball at Western Ontario last season.

The only proven commodities still standing on San Diego's line are DE Luis Castillo, a first-round pick in 2005, and Jacques Cesaire, a seven-year veteran who initially joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Connecticut State.

All Hands on Deck

While the Chargers have been stripped of their depth on the defensive line, they still boast incredible depth at inside linebacker. That's good news for Ron Rivera, as he may need all five of his inside ‘backers to contribute against the Jets.

Stephen Cooper is an every-down player and the defensive signal-caller, but there could be a revolving door of players next to him. Brandon Siler is the best against the run, so he figures to see plenty of action against New York's run-heavy offense; Tim Dobbins is a stud in short-yardage and goal-line situations; and Kevin Burnett will play the nickel to rush QB Mark Sanchez or cover TE Dustin Keller.

Dontarrious Thomas, who was just picked up last week, has a chance to play on special teams, where he could help corral dangerous returner Brad Smith.



Who are the X-factors in Sunday's game? Discuss in the message boards.




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.


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