Q: The Chargers found themselves down 21-3 late in the first half of their Week 1 matchup with Detroit before rattling off 30 unanswered points. What went wrong to start the game? And what changes were made to turn the game around?
A: In a nutshell, the passing offense took a while to gel. That makes sense when you consider that their starting tight end, who was there all through preseason, was not there. Also, Rivers played less this preseason than he ever has before, and it looked like he had to catch up to game speed.
After giving up a long TD drive to start the game, the Chargers' offense on their next four drives went Punt (-4 yards gamed), FG, Interception (returned for a TD), and Punt (-6 yards gained). They didn't punt again for the rest of the game.
Once Rivers figured out who his new short-pass target was (Keenan Allen), and caught up to game speed, the rest sort of figured itself out. It didn't hurt that the defense completely shut down the Lions offense after that first drive.
Q: Speaking of shutting down the Lions offense, the Chargers held Calvin Johnson to just 2 catches on 4 targets for 39 yards. How were the Chargers able to lock him down so well?
A: Two ways.
One, the Chargers have two shutdown Cornerbacks in Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett. Flowers shut down Calvin Johnson, with a lot of help from Eric Weddle over the top, while Verrett abused Golden Tate all game.
Two, the pass rush looked strong. Actually, it looked violent. Melvin Ingram and rookie OLB Kyle Emanuel were all over Matthew Stafford, to the point where he was probably injured at one point and stayed in anyway. Those guys deserve credit for both of SD's interceptions, and they made the job of Flowers and Verrett that much easier.
Q: I really like the Chargers tight end Ladarius Green and see he had a big game in Week 1 (5 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD). When Antonio Gates returns from his suspension, who starts?
A: Probably Gates. He has such a great rapport with Rivers and he's a perfect route-runner, the two things that Green stuggles at.
I think Ladarius is an incredible weapon....if Rivers has time in the pocket and can wait for Green to get open. That's not normally going to be the case. I hope to see a lot of Green going forward, because he's exciting, but Gates is the boring guy who just gets you first downs whenever you need them.
Q: The Chargers starting right guard, D.J. Fluker, was carted off in Week 1, how does the loss of Fluker affect the Chargers offensive line?
A: After playing mediocre Right Tackle for two years, Fluker had his best game as a pro at Right Guard before being carted off. He was dominant in run-blocking, and handled Haloti Ngata 1-on-1 in pass protection without an issue. Fluker was one of the MVPs of the game.
The loss makes them worse in run-blocking, for sure, which likely means you'll see the Chargers run more draw plays and screen plays to try and get yards off their RBs when the defense gets a little blitz-happy. Chris Hairston, who many thought was the team's backup swing-tackle, looks to be getting the start in Fluker's place on Sunday, and how good he can be there remains a bit of a mystery because of his lack of experience there.
Q: Who is a player most Bengals fans won't know, but should know, or should look for on Sunday?
A: Jason Verrett and Chris Hairston will play huge roles in this game, but they've already been mentioned. Kyle Emanuel has been too, but he will factor in huge.
If you are not aware, and I wouldn't blame you if you weren't, the Chargers' best pass-rusher is Melvin Ingram. A first round draft pick a couple of years ago who has missed most of his first three seasons in the league with knee injuries, Ingram appears to be as healthy as he's ever been...and he's spent his time on the sidelines studying up.
The kid is just unstoppable on 3rd & long. He's a freakish athlete with a wide array of pass-rushing moves. He can be slowed down if he has to protect against the run, but when he gets to pin his ears back and go right at the opposing tackle, there's an excellent chance he'll end up bothering the QB in some way. He's the guy who injured Stafford last week, hitting him while he threw and creating an interception, and you can bet the Bengals will be game-planning to stop him.
Q: What are the strengths of the 2015 Chargers? And, what areas of this Chargers team concern you?
A: This is a little corny to say but the strength is really in numbers. They can do so many different things well. They have a deep threat in Malcom Floyd, a YAC beast in Keenan Allen, a dangerous weapon in Ladarius Green, and the best pass-catching RB in the league in Danny Woodhead. That's not even mentioning the running game, which looks terrifying with first-round RB Melvin Gordon making plays and Branden Oliver making the leap in his second season.
On the defensive side, the strengths are the pass rush and the secondary. Both are Pro Bowl-level.
Now, if you read above, you probably notice I left a few things out. Namely, the lines. The Chargers' defensive line boasts one Pro Bowl level talent (Corey Liuget) and not much else. The Chargers' offensive line was a lot more trustworthy when they weren't starting a backup Tackle at Right Guard. There's going to be at least one game that the Chargers lose because they get pushed around on the line of scrimmage, and this could be it.
Q: The Chargers were 9-7 in 2014, finished third in the AFC West and missed out on the playoffs. What is your prediction for the Chargers (record wise) and where do you see the Chargers finishing in the AFC West in 2015?
A: Well, D.J. Fluker's injury changes some things, but I have been loudly predicting the Chargers to finish 12-4 this season. That would likely put them at the top of the division, but the Chiefs and Broncos could make that difficult.
If the offensive line is always missing a body and moving guys around, I'd drop it down to about 10 wins, but there is too much talent on this roster to predict anything less than that.
Q: What is your prediction for Sunday?
A: My prediction for this game isn't dissimilar from my prediction last week. I think the Bengals QB is not very good, and I don't think there's enough defense left without Mike Zimmer to slow down the Chargers offense. I think it'll be a tight one, but I see the Chargers leaving Ohio 2-0 and I see the gameball going to whichever CB manages to shut down A.J. Green.
*Check out our questions with Bolts from the Blue here!