San Diego Chargers in Trouble Up Front Against the Baltimore Ravens

William RisserCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2009

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers against the Baltimore Ravens on October 1, 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Ravens won 16 - 13.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Both the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens have serious intentions of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. Both are coming off wins, but neither played up to expectations in the opening week. They know this will be a pivotal game early in the season. Who ever gets the victory will have an early leg up in the AFC playoff race. 

With the Ravens coming in, no LaDanian Tomlinson and an offensive line that's beat up, it's not exactly the home opener the Chargers had in mind. Come to think of it, the defensive line isn't exactly in great shape either with Jamal Williams (triceps) and Travis Johnson (groin) out. 

Who would wan't to get their first NFL start at center against the Baltimore Ravens? Well, hats off to you Scott "Mooch" Mruczkowski, I believe it will be a day you remember. Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg will make sure of it. 

That's where it will begin and end for the Chargers this weekend when Charm City's finest comes calling.  The Bolts must protect Philip Rivers at all costs. By using extra pass protections and play calling that utilizes match ups and quickness the Chargers can thwart the Raven's rush.

Injuries to the only center Philip Rivers has ever known, Nick Hardwick (ankle), and the rookie right guard, Louis Vasquez (knee), is seriously going to test the depth of the offensive line against one of the most ferocious defenses in recent history. 

Rivers is the reason Si.com's Peter King is going with the Chargers to win a tight game. And there's no doubt about it: the Bolts chances lie with Rivers ability to get the ball to his myriad of play-makers.

Again, it will be on the line in front of him to give him that chance. Getting it downfield to Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd are the Chargers best match-ups if Rivers has the time.

Brandyn Dombrowski gets the honor of starting at right guard after nine-year journeyman lineman Dennis Norman was signed to fill the void. The pressure is going to be on Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman and Jeromey Clary to hold it together.

Ironic the Bolts end up with the guy, Norman, the Falcons released in order to bring back Kynan Forney, who the Chargers had signed away from the Falcons in the offseason and then cut after training camp.  

He and rookie Tyronne Green are the safety net. The Chargers coaching staff have to be crossing their fingers that no there are no more injuries on the offensive line. 

As expected the San Diego Chargers beat the Oakland Raiders in Monday Night Football's opening week finale, but what nobody expected was how hard they had to fight for the win. 

With 18 seconds remaining in the game, Darren Sproles scored on a five yard run to put the Chargers up for good 24-20, capping a comeback that showed the Bolts aren't as good as predicted and the Raiders aren't as bad. 

This was most evident on the offensive and defensive lines, where the Chargers struggled. The offensive line took it on the chin losing two starters to injuries and surrendering three sacks before regaining composure in the second half. 

The lone Chargers sack was by defensive lineman Igemdi Nwagbuo. Even if the Raiders went with a lot of max-protections, this is against Jamarcus Russell people! Five to one on quarterback hits also showcased how little pressure the Chargers got on Russell.

Now, due to triceps injuries that put Williams and Ryon Bingham out for the year, Nwagbuo and Vaughn Martin are going to be counted on for a lot more snaps on the defensive line than anticipated. That's a lot to ask against the healthy veteran line Baltimore starts.

Nine penalties for 60 yards is bad. Anytime the Raiders have fewer penalties than you do, something is wrong. If you take that many penalties against a disciplined playoff team, it makes it very hard to win. 

Once again, a big tight end has a good day against San Diego. Oakland's Zach Miller exploited the Bolts' secondary regularly. Strong safety play on Louis Murphy's deep touchdown was not good. Clinton Hart was out of position big time. Steve Gregory looked over matched as well. 

I expect Todd Heap to get a lot of attention from Kevin Burnett and the Chargers secondary this Sunday. L.J. Smith may also factor in at TE as well. How the safeties cover and tackle will be something interesting to watch. 

The Raiders may have some talented runners but 148 yards at a 4.6 per carry average will not get it done. Eight rushing first downs showed consistent inability to stop opposing rushers.

The bruising Baltimore running game isn't going to make this any easier. This is one of the reasons the talking heads on Showtime's Inside the NFL all picked the Ravens. Baltimore's version of Sproles is Ray Rice, who the Chargers defense is going to have to keep close track of. 

The defensive line has also seen better days with Bingham gone (triceps) and Jacques Cesaire (calf) yet to see any action. Lone veteran Luis Castillo isn't going to be able to get the rest he would in a regular line rotation. This is going to take a toll as the game goes on. Some get released defensive tackle Ian Scott on the horn.

The Chargers were +1 in the turnover battle against Oakland. For them to be successful against the Ravens they must win the turnover battle. Taking care of the ball in all facets of the game will be crucial.

Sproles does it all, amassing 246 total yards on 22 touches (nine rushing, five receiving, three punt returns, five kickoff returns). At what point is too much? This is too much. There is no way Sproles can take that kind of beating every week. 

With Tomlinson out, Michael Bennett is going to have to pick up the slack so Sproles doesn't get over-worked. Jacob Hester might even get a carry or two, but I don't expect much of a running game against a stout Ravens front. The backs will be required to pick up the blitz and catch the ball on screens and check downs. 

Being born in Baltimore, I got my tickets months ago, so I'll be plaza level to take in the action. I still haven't decided what kind of tasty tailgate vittles to bring to my first trip to Qualcomm. 

There apparently will "public outreach teams" roaming the parking lot and "alcohol management teams" in the stadium looking for wrong-doers so I'll have to be on the lookout for them. 

Barron Hilton will be the honorary captain for the coin toss to celebrate the Chargers 50th season. Hilton was the Chargers founding owner, operating the team from 1960-65. 

Now this is some classy business; when the Raiders visit San Diego on Nov. 1, alcohol sales will be limited to one drink per order and for the first half only. Normally it's two drinks per order through the 3rd-Quarter. 

Thank goodness there is no prejudice against Ravens fans. Two beers please. 


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