Matchups to Watch: Chargers vs. Raiders

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Harry How/Getty)

After escaping the Black Hole with a narrow win in the season-opener, the Chargers are looking to lock in a comfortable win Sunday. Here's a look at five matchups -- one in each phase of the game -- that the Chargers must win to make that happen.

When the Chargers Run: RB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. LB Kirk Morrison

LT probably won't light up the Raiders like he did in his prime, but he could be in for his biggest game of the season. The run blocking is improving with Scott Mruczkowski settling into his starting role and Louis Vasquez learning on the job. Now, it will be up to LT to prove he can shake defenders in one-on-one situations.

No player will be harder to shake than Morrison, who leads the Raiders with 67 total tackles. He also has three tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The San Diego State grad will be looking to make some noise in his return to San Diego; it will be up to LT to be even louder.

WR Vincent Jackson
Harry How/Getty
When the Chargers Pass: WR Vincent Jackson vs. CB Nnamdi Asomugha

This game within the game should be endlessly entertaining. Jackson has emerged as top-five receiver. He ranks sixth in the NFL in total receiving yards (561) and leads the AFC with 19.3 yards per catch (minimum 20 catches). V-Jack has had success against Oakland before, going off for 148 yards the last time the Raiders visited Qualcomm Stadium.

Asomugha has battled wrist and eye injuries this season but has yet to miss a start. He's still seeking his first pick of the season, but don't let that stat fool you – his interception numbers are always low because teams throw at him infrequently. But with Jackson lining up on the other side of the line, don't expect the Chargers to follow that trend.

When the Raiders Run: DT Ian Scott vs. C Samson Satele

The Raiders gashed the Chargers on the ground in the season-opener, piling up 148 net rushing yards. That fact -- along with JaMarcus Russell's struggles -- all but assures the Raiders will lean on the run during the rematch.

With Ogemdi Nwagbuo slowed by an ankle injury, Scott will have to do the heavy lifting inside for the Chargers. He's played well in two games since rejoining the team and will need a third stout performance if the Chargers are going to come out on top. Satele, whose uncle Alvis Satele used to play for the Chargers, has the in-line power to make Scott fight for every tackle.

WR Vincent Jackson
Kevork Djansezian /Getty
When the Raiders Pass: LB Stephen Cooper vs. TE Zach Miller

Pass-catching tight ends are prone to big games when facing 3-4 defenses. That's especially true against the Chargers' defense, and even more so when Miller is the tight end. Miller has racked up at least 95 yards in two of his last three games against the Chargers, averaging more than six catches per game in that span.

With Kevin Burnett hobbled by a sprained ankle and Tim Dobbins known more as a run-stopper, Cooper will likely be the one who must step up and stop Miller from wreaking havoc over the middle. Help will certainly come from the defensive backs, but Cooper must make deep drops, patrol the middle and prevent underneath completions.

Just for Kicks: KR Darren Sproles vs. LB Ike Ekejiuba

Sproles has authored six plays of 50-plus yards so far this season, and two of them came on kickoff returns against the Raiders (66 and 59 yards). If he can bust loose again Sunday, it'll give Philip Rivers & Co. short fields and golden opportunities.

Ekejiuba is Oakland's best player in kick coverage and will be charged with doing a better job of bottling up Sproles in the rematch. His ability to do so may make or break the Raiders' chances of pulling off the upset.

What matchups are you most excited to see? Talk about them in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter. Recommended Stories

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