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Keep Your Enemies Closer: San Diego Chargers

I once again had the opportunity to exchange some questions with the SB Nation blogger who covers Miami's opponent.  That means that this week's exchange is with "DaBolts" - who covers the Chargers over at his site, Bolts From the Blue.  Below are his responses to my 5 questions.  You can head over to BFTB to check out my responses to his questions.

Onto the questions I had for him:

Matty I: Philip Rivers has really taken a step forward this season.  What do you attribute this to?  And what's the general consensus on Rivers among Charger fans?

DaBolts: Rivers had to adapt to a much more complex offensive scheme last year.   Turner had to put the training wheels on and strip it down to some degree.  He also didn't have the same arsenal at the beginning of the season, you have no idea how much Chambers opened up our offense (but more on that later).  The other thing that improved over the off season is that Rivers really worked on his arm strength.  He had real problems throwing the deep pass last year, in some instances wide open receivers were having to come back to the ball.  This year he is really hitting deep patterns with authority. 

The fans are behind Rivers, much like his teammates, fans were won over by his playing on two bum knees against the Patriots last year in the playoffs.  Nobody is crazy about how much attention he received for jawing at other players, but this year he appears to be letting his play on the field do the talking.

Matty I: Four games into the season and LaDainian Tomlinson only has 296 yards rushing, 58 yards receiving, and averages just 3.8 yards per attempt.  What's the deal?  Has he really "lost a step"?  If not, what do you attribute his early struggles to?

DaBolts: LTs best statistical years may be behind him, but reports of him losing a step are overstated.  He looked very sharp against Carolina, but sprained his toe.  He was in and out against both Denver and Oakland, but was reduced to being a one cut back; even at that he has picked up four TDs.  This will be the first week he has practiced all week since the season started.  We also had two replacements in our offensive line, who did a terrific job, but you just don't replace two Pro Bowlers and not feel it.  LT also doesn't play in the preseason, it used not to affect him, but I think it does show now early on at this point in his career.  I'll tell you two things that amazed me against Oakland though, he dropped one pass for a sure touchdown and had a fumble; he might be pressing just a bit.

Matty I: I know I don't speak for all Dolphin fans, but I do indeed miss Chris Chambers.  I always felt like he got a bad rap amongst Dolphin fans and argued a lot that he could be a "borderline great" receiver if only he had a good QB throwing to him.  So how do Charger fans feel about Chambers?  Has he been the kind of contributor that you were hoping for when they dealt for him?

DaBolts: Chambers has been better than anyone imagined when we traded for him.  He was a radical upgrade for us; not just for his talent but what he brought to our offensive system.  Until then teams could double cover Gates, stack eight in the box and be pretty comfortable.  Our wide receivers, V. Jackson and Buster Davis wilted under the pressure of being prime targets.  Chambers stepped right into that role, and with the heat off, Vincent Jackson has found his mojo; Davis is coming along but the jury is still out on him. 

Now on offense teams have to think about Gates, Chambers, Jackson, not to mention LT, Sproles or Tolbert coming out of the backfield.  With Rivers becoming comfortable both with them and the system, it's just a lot of fun to watch.  I don't think there is a single Charger fan that isn't crazy about the trade for Chambers, on top of all that he seems to be a calming presence in the locker room.  All that said, the SD offense did have a much tougher go against Oakland's defense, so there are still things to work on.

Matty I: What is up with this Charger defense?  In 2007, they allowed 320 yards per game and 18 points per game.  Through 4 games in '08, they've allowed 376 ypg and 28 ppg.  What is going on here and how worried are you?

DaBolts: Worried but hopeful. First you have to give credit to Denver and Carolina, both of those offenses were terrific.  Losing Merriman hurts, the backups have shown flashes, but you just don't replace Merriman without suffering some decline.  The other player who has been out is inside linebacker Stephen Cooper who is on suspension for Ephedra use.  He was our 'on the field' general, making adjustments and getting the plays.  Losing him also exposed our other ILB who has looked slow and tentative without Cooper in there.  Last week we seemed to come up with a better system of rotating backups through and getting more aggressive with blitzes.  This will be the first week Cooper is back with the team. 

The other thing bringing the defense down has been our aging NTs faltering knees.  When Jamal Williams is full speed he is an absolute force in the middle, but his replacement isn't nearly as good.  The first two games he was going out with his knees, and also just getting his conditioning back it seemed.  Everyone was happy to see him back to his old self for the Raider game last week.  The final big issue has been Cottrells cautious play calling.  He was going with soft zone coverage and very little blitzing in the first two games; the last two games have seen much more blitzing and man to man which has paid dividends with pressure and sacks.  Carolina and Denver just ate the Chargers alive with short passes underneath in the first two games.

Matty I: Speaking of the defense, what do you think we will see out of this unit on Sunday?  How do you think the Chargers are game-planning for the Dolphins?  And how much time do you think they are spending on defending the "Wildcat" formation?

DaBolts: I'm sure they are practicing assignments and containment on it; it's a great wrinkle but may have less impact now that folks can prepare for it.  Oddly enough with all the talk about Wildcat, Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, it is your tight ends that worry me.  It looks like both of them can catch, and the Bolts have blown coverage on the tight ends on a regular basis for huge yardage thus far.  I would expect the prime goal for the unit to be stopping the running game. 

After that I expect them to work on TE coverage and working against the spread offense (another facet we have struggled with).  Lastly I'm sure they are going to look for a fast start; most of our games have started off with us quickly getting 2-3 scores behind.  It was fortunate for the Bolts that you shocked the Patriots the way you did; I'm hopeful they won't go in underestimating the Dolphins.

Thanks for the questions (and Chris Chambers), here's hoping for a great game with no injuries.

A big thanks to 'DaBolts' for helping us out.  And remember to head over to Bolts From The Blue to read not only my responses to his Dolphin-related questions, but also his take on Sunday's game.