From the Other Side: Bolts-Fins I

The Chargers and Dolphins meet Sunday in a battle of 4-5 clubs looking to remain in the playoff race. Get ready with this Q&A between SD Bolt Report's Michael Lombardo and Dolphins Digest's Alain Poupart. In the first part of this series, we talk about Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, D.J. Fluker and the Chargers' underwhelming defense.

Michael Lombardo is the publisher of Alain Poupart is the associate editor of Dolphins Digest.

Alain Poupart: Philip Rivers' numbers are really impressive. What has been the difference in his play after two sub-par seasons?

Michael Lombardo: Most of the credit goes to the new coaching staff, in particular head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Frank Reich. They have designed an offense that allows Rivers to get to the line early, read the defense and get the football out of his hands quickly. The result has been the league's best short passing game, with Rivers leading the league with a 71.6 completion percentage.

The second factor is improved play on the offensive line. Right tackle D.J. Fluker, considered a reach when he was drafted at No. 11, has been a stud and one of the most impressive rookies in the NFL. Second-year guard Johnnie Troutman, who missed his rookie year with a pectoral injury, has also provided a boost. There is still work to do on the offensive line, but these additions have made things much better.

AP: The Chargers traded with the Dolphins to move up in the 2010 draft and take RB Ryan Mathews, yet the guy hasn't become an elite running back. What is he missing, and how good is he?

ML: Mathews has shown well in flashes, but that is not nearly enough to justify all the Chargers gave up to acquire him. Just a few weeks ago he became the only running back in the league to have back-to-back 100-yard games this season. The following game, he received only seven carries, including no attempts when the Chargers had a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with a chance to beat the Washington Redskins.

He has yet to win over this coaching staff, something also true of the previous regime. Also, the Chargers have a more dynamic running back option in Danny Woodhead, who already has more than 100 touches from scrimmage (59 rushes, 53 receptions). Mathews is a decent player, but he will always be seen as a disappointment because of how high he was drafted and how big a drop-off he represents from the man who preceded him (one LaDainian Tomlinson).

As for what is lacking in his game, the biggest issues are ball security, pass-blocking ability and big-play capability.

AP: How well has first-round pick D.J. Fluker played, and what kind of impact has he had on the offensive line?

OT D.J. Fluker
Jody Gomez/USA TODAY Sports
ML: Fluker has a chance to be San Diego's most impactful first-round pick since the team acquired Rivers back in 2004. He is a stellar run blocker who pancakes foes and moves the line of scrimmage. He is also a premier blocker on screens because he is so good at getting out to the second and third levels and making blocks in space.

He has even shown some ability to play left tackle, something that wasn't anticipated when the team drafted first drafted him. He has been moved to the left side twice due to injuries and has more than held his own over there. He was won over teammates with his team-first attitude and the enthusiasm in the huddle.

In short, Fluker has made Tom Telesco look very smart for tabbing him as Telesco's first pick as San Diego's new general manager.

AP: Looking at the stats, not one Chargers player has more than one interception or more than three sacks. So is anybody having a good year on defense?

ML: The stats don't lie -- San Diego's defense is really, really bad. But there are a few impressive players on that unit.

Corey Liuget is the Chargers' best defender. He leads the team with three sacks, a forced fumble and two passes batted down. He has a great first step and uses his hands exceptionally well to get off blocks and locate ball carriers.

A step behind Liuget is ILB Donald Butler, a future Pro Bowler who plays down hill and tackles with authority. However, Butler has been limited by a serious groin injury. He returned to action last week -- notching seven tackles and a pass break-up -- but he is still not 100 percent.

Other than those two, the defense consists of underachievers, middling veterans and young players with a whole lot to learn.

AP: This game initially was scheduled for 1 p.m. before it was flexed to the late afternoon. What kind of a difference, if any, could that make for the Chargers, who now don't have to play at 10 a.m. Pacific Time?

ML: The Chargers have done pretty well on the East Coast this season. They picked up road wins against the Eagles and Jaguars and were a half-yard away from getting another victory in Washington. That being said, any time change that helps players' body clocks feel more normal can only help.

Michael Lombardo is 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 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter. Top Stories