Here's an odd, and almost unfortunate, stat for the Green Bay Packers.
This season, they have given up 288.9 rushing yards per game (worse than every team except the New England Patriots) (Editor's Note: Whoops, looks like that's passing yards allowed, not rushing yards. The Packers rushing D is actually 10th best in yards per game allowed. The rest of the post is still valid, just imagine me throwing in something about that number being high because teams are always trying to catch up by throwing the ball against GB).
Unfortunately, the San Diego Chargers are not heading into this weekend's game with anything resembling a healthy backfield. Ryan Mathews is expected to miss the game, Mike Tolbert will most likely be playing injured (after missing last week's game), Jacob Hester will be playing injured and Curtis Brinkley will be a game-time decision due to a concussion (which, considering how the Kris Dielman story has made them look, probably means they'll make him sit out).
So, because it looks to be the key to the game, I want to focus on the Chargers' passing game (gulp) against the Packers pass defense. We've talked enough about Philip Rivers this week that I think we can skip ahead and talk about the receivers and tight ends.
Vincent Jackson (6'5") vs. Charles Woodson (6'1")
VJax, playing for a big contract, is having a down season. In his last three games combined he has 7 catches for 98 yards and zero touchdowns. I'm sure some of his poor numbers can be blamed on nagging injuries and some can be blamed on Philip Rivers' performance and some can be blamed on Antonio Gates being less than 100%. However, when it comes time to talk contract extension, all anyone will care about is how he performed and specifically how he played against the league's top CBs.
Malcom Floyd (6'5") vs. Tramon Williams (5'11")
What happened to "jump balls"? Does Rivers know they exist. I'm pretty sure I could throw a golf ball within 15 yards of a double-covered Malcom Floyd and he'd come down with it. He'd break his hip, but he'd have that ball.
Anyway, Tramon Williams is an excellent CB. He's nearly as good as Charles Woodson, who is probably a Hall of Fame CB. Last season, Williams made the Pro Bowl after intercepting 6 passes and recovering 3 fumbles.
Patrick Crayton (6'0") vs. Sam Shields (5'11")
Sam Shields is an up-and-coming CB that will probably be starting for the Packers either next season or in 2013. Right now he plays against opposing team's slot receivers unless one of the two starters is injured. Patrick Crayton has fallen back to earth this season after looking like a steal last year. Unless things get out of control, he will have a hard time getting open against Shields.
Antonio Gates (6'3") vs. ?????
I don't know enough about the Packers to know who they use, if it's anyone specific, to cover opposing TEs. Desmond Bishop is an option at ILB. I'm pretty certain A.J. Hawk can't cover TEs. Charlie Peprah has a fun name and Morgan Burnett sounds like it should've been the name of a cop on NYPD Blue.
So far this season, the Packers have done an average job of covering pass-catching TEs. Against Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez, they gave up 4-6 catches for 50-60 yards. Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey ended up totally about the same between the two of them. It wouldn't surprise me to see Gates put up similar numbers, maybe with a touchdown, but that's not going to be enough for the Chargers to keep pace with the Packers offense. Another receiver will need to step up.
This game has "Vincent Jackson" and "Philip Rivers" written all over it. Rivers needs to earn his still-new contract, Jackson needs to show the Chargers he's worth one. Both of them need to show that they're the players that they were in 2009, and capable of carrying the Chargers to the playoffs on their backs. This is a must-win game for the Chargers, I think, and they can't do it without their two most explosive offensive weapons.