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Sun., Mar. 08, 2015 1:30 PM PDT
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Keys to the Game
The Chargers return to action Sunday afternoon when they host the Carolina Panthers. Here are five things to watch for that could dictate the outcome.
1. Accountability, Fundamentals and Trust– That’s the mantra defensive coordinator John Pagano has instilled in his defense this year, and they will need to practice it in order to contain Cam Newton. An incredible playmaker, the Panthers’ dynamic quarterback can exploit a defense with his arm as well as his legs. To use another one of Pagano’s favorite sayings, the Chargers defense doesn’t need one difference maker this week; they need 11 players making a difference.
2. Mathews’ Time to Shine – With Ronnie Brown expected to miss the game with a hamstring injury, Ryan Mathews figures to see an influx of touches. For the vast majority of the season, Brown has come in and subbed for Mathews in third down situations. Against the Panthers, Mathews will get a chance to not only be the team’s every down back for the game, but will have a chance to prove he can thrive in that role in the future as well.
3. No Fluke on the O-Line– As I wrote about Thursday, the offensive line will most likely once again be comprised of Kevin Haslam and Reggie Wells at tackle, Louis Vasquez and Rex Hadnot at guard and Nick Hardwick at center. The unit was a major question mark heading into last week’s match in Pittsburgh, but performed extremely well. Now they will have a chance to prove their production wasn’t a fluke but that they can sustain it for a second straight game.
4. Stay on Steve Smith –Of all the weapons the Panthers have on offense, many on the Chargers defense emphasized the need to take wide receiver Steve Smith out of the equation. The diminutive 12-year vet is in the midst of another standout season, amassing 60 catches for 999 yards and a pair of TDs. He’s been especially hot as of late, topping 100 yards receiving in each of his last two games. Smith is the Panthers main vertical threat, so limiting his damage will allow the defense to stack the line of scrimmage keeping extra defenders around Newton.
5. Man in the Middle – With Demorrio Williams and Donald Butler out, the Chargers have a hole to fill in the middle next to Takeo Spikes. That slot figures to be filled by a committee consisting of Andrew Gachkar, Bront Bird and the newly signed Gary Guyton. Each player brings a different skill set to the position, so it will be interesting to see how Pagano uses them and in what packages he deploys them in.