Each Thursday, Press-Gazette Media will get the lowdown on the Green Bay Packers’ next opponent from a beat writer who covers that team.
There has been no shortage of drama this season for the San Diego Chargers, with each of their last two games being decided on the final play.
Two weeks ago, Josh Lambo kicked a field goal as time expired to give the Chargers a 30-27 home victory over Cleveland. On Monday night, the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell scored on a 1-yard wildcat run with no time remaining to hand the Chargers a heartbreaking 24-20 home loss.
The defeat spoiled strong performances by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for 365 yards and two touchdowns, both to longtime favorite target Antonio Gates (who’d just returned from a four-game suspension). Former Wisconsin star Melvin Gordon was limited to 42 yards while running behind an injury-riddled Chargers offensive line.
Will there be another suspenseful ending on Sunday when the Chargers (2-3) visit Lambeau Field? We asked beat writer Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune to answer a few questions about what the Packers can expect from the Chargers:
1. That was a tough way to lose Monday night. How will the Chargers bounce back?
MG: “It was a tough loss ... and not just because on the final play of the game, Le'Veon Bell crossed the goal line by a matter of inches. On the Chargers’ final offensive play of the game, a couple of minutes before, the team thought it had a touchdown. Keenan Allen was dragging across the field and Philip Rivers saw him, and he threw the pass. There was a lot of room to run behind Allen, and Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons deflected the pass at the line of scrimmage. … So, defensively at the end of the game, and offensively on their final play, they felt like that was one they should’ve had. But they don’t have it and now they’re 2-3 going to Green Bay, where the Packers are undefeated. Meanwhile, the Broncos, in the Chargers’ division, are undefeated. So it was a very frustrating and hard loss to take, but on a short week they know they have to shake it off and get after the next one.”
2. How will the Chargers’ defense try to stop Aaron Rodgers?
MG: “Prayer, mostly. He’s so good in the pocket and then, when you get him out of it, he’s arguably even better. His arm is ridiculous, he can make all the throws and then some. His back-shoulder rapport with his receivers … James Jones, it’s incredible to see what he’s doing.”
3. Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley gashed the Packers for 159 yards. What might former Wisconsin star Melvin Gordon do in his homecoming?
MG: “Todd Gurley is special, and I think Melvin Gordon could be as well. Based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s no-doubt ability in the Chargers’ first-round pick. But Todd Gurley’s situation is much better than Melvin Gordon’s, between the state of the offensive line and just how different an offense the Chargers have compared to what Gordon was used to at Wisconsin. The Chargers run a lot of shotgun and that is something I don’t think the Badgers did much at all. So it’s been a transition for him, and you throw in all of the shuffling up front (with injuries on the line), it only makes it that much more difficult. Melvin Gordon, however, is capable any time he touches the football of breaking free on a 20-plus-yard gain. He has shown that ability consistently so far this season.”
4. How has Philip Rivers been looking this season? The Packers brought a lot of pressure on Nick Foles in the Rams game, can Rivers handle the pass rush?
MG: “That’s one of the biggest questions to this game; facing a defense that has 20 sacks in five games, that matchup between Green Bay’s front and a battered Chargers offensive line, what’s it going to look like? The Chargers need to overcome it if they’re going to find a way to win.
“Philip Rivers will be starting his 150th consecutive game (the second-longest active streak behind Eli Manning’s 173). He’s as tough as they come, and he prepares like very few in this league do … it’s special how he prepares. How he knows the terminology that the offensive line uses. It’s part of the reason the Chargers have been able to get by despite all the offensive-line shuffling, it’s because of Philip Rivers and what he is from a cerebral standpoint. But when you’re going up against that front that Green Bay presents, there’s only so much you can do. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chargers try to have some balance in their offense but if the running game isn’t going, they are going to rely on Philip Rivers’ arm. You’ll see a lot of short passes, be it to tight ends – multiple tight end groupings with Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green is something to watch, as well as Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. Philip Rivers might lack for protection; he does not lack for weapons.”
5. Antonio Gates returned in a big way against the Steelers. That has to make Rivers feel good to have a reliable target like that back again.
MG: “It was as if Gates never left. Four weeks he wasn’t even allowed at the facility ... 35 years old ... he’s a pro, but when you’re away from the facility for four weeks, it’s hard to stay in football shape. And he comes back and, obviously by his performance Monday night, he hadn’t missed a beat ... eight catches, 83 yards, two touchdowns, all of those stats were game-highs for both teams.”
6. How big of a distraction is the whole L.A. stadium issue? Does it affect the team’s performance?
MG: “Whether or not this team will be in San Diego or Los Angeles in a matter of months is the one question I can’t answer. I don’t know … I believe nobody knows. As far as the team goes, they understand they can’t control the stadium situation. … At the end of the day, when you’re running a slant route or you’re in a Cover-3, you’re not thinking about the franchise’s future location.”