Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Chargers

Scout.com's Chargers beat writer, Annie Heilbrunn, gets us acquainted with Sunday's opponent. One key item: Who will play on the Chargers' beat-up offensive line?

For more from Annie Heilbrunn, click here.

Packers fans tend to be Badgers fans. How is Melvin Gordon doing? Does he look like the franchise back the Chargers have been seeking since LaDainian Tomlinson's heyday?

Gordon is improving every week. He looks like he could be a great back in the NFL, though comparing any rookie with LT at this point would be unfair. A few things stand out about Gordon: He puts great pressure on himself -- extremely high expectations -- and he fights through tackles in an impressive manner. HIs ability to break tackles and keep churning has been encouraging for this offense, and he should only get better with more reps.

Right now, he's working with a patchwork offensive line and the Chargers have been playing from behind in most games, so they've abandoned the run at times. They've also gone to Danny Woodhead in critical third-down situations and red zone work. I think as Gordon continues to understand his role in this pass-happy offense and his place among other playmakers, he'll relax into the NFL and that's when he'll really take off. One other quick note: He's yet to get a touchdown in the NFL, and it will be special if he's able to notch his first in Green Bay, in front of friends and family.

The offensive line was a mess on Monday night. It certainly doesn't help when the left side of the line is hurt. Of the team's preferred five starters, any guess on how many might actually be in the lineup on Sunday? And can that group protect Philip Rivers against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL?

Of the team's five starters, only two will likely be in the lineup Sunday -- right guard D.J. Fluker (and he's still recovering from a high ankle sprain) and right tackle Joe Barksdale, who flipped to left tackle Monday night after Chris Hairston left the game. You might see backup-backup-center J.D. Walton (signed a few weeks ago) playing guard in Green Bay. Walton had never played a single snap of guard in college or the NFL but was thrown into the game at guard Monday night, when more backups left the field because of injuries. I point that out to say: It's gotten that rough. That being said, offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris cross-trains these guys to play different positions along the offensive line from the moment he gets them in the system, so while they're reserves or were on the practice squad a few weeks ago, they won't be completely green. They're used to this by now.

As for Rivers, he's been dealing with this offensive line mess for years now, and he remains tops in the league for passing yards, so he works with it. The Chargers have yet to see a pass rush as dominant as the Packers this season, though, so is there a chance it might get ugly? For sure.

Philip Rivers is putting up great numbers but - fairly or not - so much of assessing a quarterback comes down to winning and losing. Is he a great quarterback?

I believe Rivers is a great quarterback. He does what he can with the pieces he has, he carries the team on his back as much as possible and he always stays "in it," no matter what. The Chargers always have a chance with Rivers at the helm. His comeback wins, though not as high in number as we used to see, are impressive. Sometimes he tries to do too much, especially when the team is in the hole, but he's as smart as they come and as prepared as they get. His mind is really extraordinary when it comes to play-calling and protections and what not and his numbers remain high (six of the nine seasons he's been a starter, he's thrown for more than 4,000 yards).

It's tough, though, to say this to a group of Green Bay Packers fans, who are conditioned to excellence and know a thing or two about great quarterbacks and winning championships, something the Chargers have yet to do. I realize that we're probably grading on a curve here in San Diego, as it does all come down to wins and losses (and Rivers would be the first to tell you that). I do think if Rivers played for a team with a strong defense, he would be in Super Bowl history by now.

Is San Diego's secondary as good as it looked on Monday night? Yeah, it's Michael Vick but it's also Antonio Brown and the Chargers neutralized him. The Packers' receiver corps has struggled to get open the past two weeks. Can the Chargers' defensive backs do it again?

The Chargers' defense is inconsistent. Consistency has plagued this team for years now, especially on the defense. CB Jason Verrett held Antonio Brown to three catches for 45 yards Monday night and on Wednesday, said it was a huge boost of confidence for him. He may have another strong performance in Green Bay. CB Brandon Flowers did not have a great game against the Steelers, and it appears he might be playing hurt, so the Packers could exploit him if that's the case. Also, it really depends on how proficient this front seven of the Chargers can be, as they've had problems getting pressure this season at times. Could the secondary have a great game? Yes, they're capable. Will they? Who knows. They're inconsistent. I know it sounds vague, but that's kind of where we're at with this team.

Why is San Diego's run defense so bad? Just looking at the names on the depth chart, there's been a lot of investment in the front seven

I think coaches and front office people are asking themselves that same question. Fundamentally, this team has trouble tackling, which has burned them for points and big plays not just this year, but for the past several years. The defensive line is average, at best, with Corey Liuget being the exception (though Kendall Reyes has stepped up more this season).

As for the linebackers, 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram is still riding on "potential" -- he's shown flashes of greatness, but not consistently, and has dealt with injuries keeping him off the field -- and Jerry Attaochu is just starting to find his legs in the NFL after being injured for much of his rookie season. LB Manti Te'o has taken longer than expected to develop. They had high hopes for Donald Butler, but he hasn't performed to expectation since signing a big contract in 2013. That might be part of the problem, actually -- general manager Tom Telesco may have over-evaluated some of these players when drafting or re-signing them.


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