Tue, Oct 20, 2015

Three Matchups to Watch: Chargers vs. Packers

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CB Jason Verrett. Photo by Jody Taylor, SDBoltReport.com.

Entering the sixth week of the season, 19 NFL teams stand under .500. At 2-3, the Chargers are still very much in the thick of things, but if they drop this week's game against the undefeated Packers, the playoffs may become a long-shot. This will be no easy task, as the Chargers are 1-9 all-time against the Packers, their only victory over Green Bay coming in 1984.

A number of Bolts had big games against the Steelers, but San Diego still let the game slip away. Many more young players need to step up their games if the Chargers are to have any chance of winning this Sunday.

1. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu vs. LT David Bakhtiari

Aaron Rodgers is the Green Bay Packers -- they live and die with his arm. Like any other quarterback, the best way to beat Rodgers is to not let him get comfortable. And like any great quarterback, Rodgers is at his best when he is being blitzed. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers is the fifth-best quarterback in the league against the blitz, making blitzing a dangerous proposition.

Last week, however, the Rams had some success blitzing Rodgers, forcing him into one of his two interceptions with blitzes.

Of course, the Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the game, but Green Bay's offensive line doesn't do Rodgers many favors. LT David Bakhtiari, a former fourth-round pick, is just as much to blame as anyone. Bakhtiari has allowed 12 QB hurries and three sacks, tied for most of any Packers offensive linemen. His -11.3 PFF rating is second-worst off all of Green Bay's offensive players.

This is good news for Chargers and second-year OLB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu is putting together a solid season so far, despite only notching two sacks. While he hasn't quite worked out how to take the quarterback down, he has been responsible for six QB hurries and a team-high five QB hits. Attaochu's +2.9 PFF pass rush grade is the best of all Chargers and his +3.1 overall grade is second-best of all Bolts defenders.

2. CB Jason Verrett vs. WR Randall Cobb

The questions regarding 2014 first-round pick Jason Verrett have never been about talent, but about health, as he missed all but six games in 2014. However, when he's been healthy, he has been outstanding.

"Jason Verrett played very well Monday night," said Rodgers of the TCU product.

Indeed, last week against the Steelers, Verrett had a great game covering All Pro receiver Antonio Brown, limiting him to just three receptions for 43 yards and earning a +2.8 coverage rating from PFF.

And against the Lions in Week 1, Verrett shut down wide receivers Golden Tate and Lance Moore, allowing just one reception for six yards.

This week, Verrett will be tasked with covering receiver Randall Cobb. The Pro Bowler has been solid this season, if not spectacular, catching 28 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. His average yards per reception has dropped from a year ago, though, dropping from 14.1 to 11.1.

Still, Cobb has a +4.6 overall PFF grade, fourth-best on the Packers' offense, and can easily become a game changer for Rodgers if Verrett is not on his game.

3. OG D.J. Fluker vs. DE Mike Daniels

One thing the Chargers have proved is they don't need a great offensive line for Philip Rivers to be successful. With the exception of the pick-six against the Steelers, Rivers has played great over the last two weeks behind a makeshift offensive line, completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 723 yards and five touchdowns.

While it would be nice if Rivers didn't have pressure in his face every play, he has found a way to be successful regardless. On the other hand, it's safe to say that the running backs do require a good offensive line to be productive. Over the first three games of the season, the Chargers' running backs were averaging 104 rushing yards per game. Over the last two games, with the offensive line resembling a MASH unit, the average has dropped to 72 rushing yards. It's clear that Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead need better help up front.

If the offensive line is going to have any success this week, the key will likely be the health and production of RG D.J. Fluker. Fluker, the third year tackle-turned-guard, is the only starting lineman (besides RT Joe Barksdale) who has been consistently able to make it onto the field (he missed the Week 2 game in Cincinnati but returned far earlier than expected from his ankle injury). A bulldozer in the running game, Fluker has been impressive at times, especially pulling from the guard position and blocking downfield.

Still, Fluker has clearly been hampered by the ankle injury suffered in the Week 1 win against the Lions. According to PFF, Fluker has earned a negative grade every week since returning from injury. When he was healthy against Detroit, he posted a solid +2.7 overall grade. Last week against the Steelers, however, he received a pedestrian -0.7. Nonetheless, that grade was the second-best of all San Diego offensive linemen who played significant snaps, and Fluker still has a +1.2 grade for his run blocking.

Fluker will be put to test this week, as he will be tasked with blocking Packers DE Mike Daniels. Daniels, a force in the middle of Green Bay's defense, already has 18 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. So far this season, Daniels has earned the highest PFF grade of all Green Bay defenders, an impressive +13.9 overall grade. His stellar +6.0 run-defense grade looks small compared to his +9.1 pass-rushing grade.

While Daniels' play has been impressive, he has had the fortune of facing some of the worst offensive lines in football, having played the Bears, Seahawks and Rams. Still, this week won't be any different, as the Chargers' line is certainly on par with those teams, especially when injuries are factored in.

"Give the offensive line a lot of credit," head coach Mike McCoy said of his front five. "For the situation, the offensive line has done an outstanding job."

With LT King Dunlap (concussion), C/OG Chris Watt (groin/concussion), LG Orlando Franklin (ankle) and reserve lineman Chris Hairston (ankle) all missing practice time this week, Fluker will have to be truly outstanding for the Chargers' line to be successful at Lambeau.

Can Attaochu and Verrett slow down Aaron Rodgers? Discuss inside our message boards!

A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter @TrentNotDilfer

D.J. Fluker, Jason Verrett, Jeremiah Attaochu
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