Packers-Chargers: Key matchups

Can Hawk blanket Gates? Merriman could disrupt Packers' offensive line

Packers WLB A.J. Hawk vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates
His early struggles notwithstanding, RB LaDainian Tomlinson will occupy most of the attention of the Packers defense and command a crowded box. Gates, though, has been the lone sizzle in the Chargers' fizzling offense thus far and will have to be accounted for in the passing game.

SLB Brady Poppinga has proved to be a liability in coverage, so the athletic Hawk is more equipped to try to run stride for stride with Gates. Hawk, however, is off to a slow start and was exploited a handful of times by Giants TE Jeremy Shockey in the last game.

Packers offensive backfield vs. Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman
Green Bay's line has been uncharacteristically fallible at the outset with its blocking, both in the run game and pass protection, so the collective unit will have its hands full with San Diego's imposing 3-4 front.

Merriman makes things doubly difficult as a pass rusher off the right edge, where LT Chad Clifton might not be 100 percent fit because of an ankle injury. Consequently, the Packers' backs will have to be sound in keeping Merriman from touching Brett Favre. That might be asking a lot because rookie halfbacks Brandon Jackson, in particular, and DeShawn Wynn have struggled with their blocks since the preseason.

Chargers pass defense vs. Packers passing attack
The Chargers have bragged about how much better their aggressive schemes would be under new coordinator Ted Cottrell. But the secondary was torched on numerous occasions against the Pats as the defensive backs seemed content to give huge cushions to protect themselves from the deep balls -- and they still got beat deep.

Brett Favre, no doubt, will take notice and aim many passes at CBs Quentin Jammer, Drayton Florence and Antonio Cromartie. The key here might be the play up front more so then the play on the back end. It's imperative the Chargers mount a pass rush or Favre, if given time, will pick this secondary apart like he has done throughout his illustrious career.

Chargers pass protection vs. Packers pass rush
The Chargers, who allowed three sacks last game, have to be more stout against the pass rush as the pressure the Pats were able to send forced at least two of Philip Rivers' three turnovers. The task could be even more difficult this week, as RT Shane Olivea was forced from last week's game with a back injury. If he can't go, veteran Roman Oben would be asked to flip sides and take Olivea's place, or Jeromey Clary gets his first NFL start. The sense seems to be Clary gets the call as he did well subbing for Olivea most the game in New England. Still, the Chargers pick the wrong week to face an opponent with speed rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila coming off their right side, instead of the normal left side.

Chargers return game vs. Packers special teams
Among the reasons the Chargers were such a high-scoring squad last year was the dynamite field position the offense often assumed. The Chargers need a spark from their return game, as it has been very ordinary.

Some of that can be attributed to KR Michael Turner nursing a sore ankle coming into the season and PR Darren Sproles getting knocked from the opener with a concussion after his first effort. Both are back, and both need to get back to gaining some of those hidden yards that offensive coordinators love to work with.

The Packers' coverage teams have been pretty solid. They have allowed an average of 20 yards on kickoffs with a long of 27. On punts, rivals are averaging but 2 yards.

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