Four weeks ago, my feelings on this game were entirely different than what they are now. Since starting 4-1, the San Diego Chargers have lost four straight with Phillip Rivers looking like a vastly different player then the one who was a viable NFL MVP candidate a year ago. On the other hand, the Bears have won their last four, the last one being a convincing 37-13 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Despite their 4-5 record, hope is very much alive for the Chargers who only trail Oakland for the division lead by a game. Meanwhile, the Bears are tied for second place in their division with the Lions at 6-3, but both are looking up to the Green Bay Packers at 9-0. At the rate the Packers are going, anything but playing for a wild card berth would seem like wishful thinking for the Bears.
Julius Peppers vs. Chargers Tackles
It doesn’t come along often where the offensive line being criticized isn’t the Bears’, but this week it applies. Look, I’m certainly not for bullying or piling on, but let’s face it – Brandyn Dombrowski (-12.3) had his difficulties last week … and that’s putting it politely. After Marcus McNeil left in the first quarter due to a neck injury, Dombrowski was asked to step in but apparently was never told that they wanted him to block. He was essentially playing the position like he was a defensive line coach with a pad on his arm, as he let the opposing ends blow by him. Assuming that McNeil’s injury keeps him out of this week’s game, it could be another long day for Rivers, who has Jeromey Clary (-28.6) blocking his blindside. All of this must comes as good news to Julius Peppers (+6.8), who, despite being limited by injury, is coming off an impressive game against the Lions. Given Peppers’ breakdown of snaps (74% at right defensive end and 23% at left defensive end), Dombrowksi could be in for another long day. After allowing 14 QB disruptions (four sacks, 10 pressures) against the Raiders, is it unfeasible he could be worse against a player like Peppers? Definitely not if he continues to play as if it’s illegal to use his hands.
Vincent Jackson vs. Charles Tillman
Last week was one to forget for the Rivers-Vincent Jackson connection. On the few opportunities Rivers was afforded enough time (or, more accurately, bought himself enough time) to get the ball in Jackson’s direction, he was so covered that the throws seemed ill-advised to begin with. Last week, Jackson was targeted six times; only catching one ball for 22 yards and one of the five incompletions was intercepted by the Raiders. The bad news for Jackson, who is third in the NFL with 22 targets over 20 yards, isn’t just that Rivers might not get enough protection for him to get down field, but that he will likely be facing Charles Tillman (+6.1) for most of the day. Last week, while paired against an even greater physical specimen than Jackson (Calvin Johnson), Tillman was targeted 17 times and only allowed six to be completed. Where Tillman was especially impressive was against Johnson in the endzone where, despite multiple targets, he prevented completions that seemed virtually impossible to stop earlier in the season. Now that Tillman will likely have to cover for even less time than usual given the Chargers’ offensive line woes, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tillman repeat his impressive performance this week.
More Devin Hester
Whether or not the Bears ever fully work Devin Hester into the offense, his contribution in each game cannot be understated. Last week, if it wasn’t for Hester’s strep throat that kept him out of the second half, we might be talking about two punt returns for touchdowns. In addition to the one that he returned 82 yards for a touchdown, he had two others averaging 34 yards each where he looked dangerously on the verge of breaking free. After he finally did burn the Lions for a touchdown, they smartened up and punted the ball so far out of bounds that a Chicago fan probably caught the ball. It wouldn’t be unlikely to see Hester running free again this week given the Chargers’ history of special teams problems and the fact that Denarius Moore almost broke free against the punt coverage teams a couple of times last week.
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