1. Last season, Phillip Rivers was still excellent without his weapons for the majority of the year; now that he has them back, how much has the offense improved?
Through one regular season game (and the preseason), it looks a bit better than the 2010 version. Antonio Gates is hobbled by a foot injury that he didn't have until the end of last season, and Patrick Crayton hasn't played much, so it could still get even better. One thing that Vincent Jackson being back has done, besides moving Malcom Floyd to the #2 spot where he's a better fit, is open up the middle of the field for Gates and the RBs in the passing game. The Vikings had to pick their poison of defending Jackson and Floyd deep or Gates short, and the TEs and RBs seemed to be catching 10 yard passes on every play.
2. The defense was able to stifle the Patriots' offense last year; how has the defense evolved from last season? Any turnover?
The biggest turnover would be that Ron Rivera, the Defensive Coordinator from that defense, is now the Head Coach in Carolina and replaced with Greg Manusky. Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper, who were the biggest weaknesses against the Patriots last season, have been replaced by Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes. Paul Oliver, who had a pretty good game as the starter against the Patriots, will be replaced this season by Bob Sanders. Early returns are that the defense has gotten better.
3. Special teams was an issue for the Chargers last season- how has this unit improved?
Well, the Chargers went out and bought themselves one of (if not the) best Special Teams coaches in the league in Rich Bissacia. They stole him away from Tampa Bay, and then on the first kick return of the season they let Percy Harvin run for a 100+ TD. Also, Bryan Walters (who was probably 4th on the depth chart, if not lower, before the preseason) is returning punts for the time being and seemed to make all the wrong decisions against the Vikings. I'm confident that things are headed in the right direction, but at the moment it should still be considered a very big weakness.
4. I feel like this game will be a shoot out; how do you believe the Chargers will try and slow the Patriots' offense?
Creative blitzing and man-coverage would be my guess. In the past, I believe the Chargers had good success slowing down Wes Welker by having Eric Weddle and Steve Gregory (both are S/CB hybrids that are very physical) cover him and bump him every chance they had. I'm pretty confident in the Chargers' CBs (Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason) and their ability to cover the other 2 WRs that are on the field. That should free up the front seven for Manusky, who is known as an aggressive blitzer, to get creative in trying to create pressure on Tom Brady. The only big question mark is how the Chargers plan to cover Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Spikes, Butler and Shaun Phillips (the Chargers' best pass-rusher and coverage LB) will probably take their turns on all them, because San Diego's relatively-small Safeties have trouble covering TEs.
5. What is the best way for the Patriots to slow the Chargers' offense?
Similar to the Patriots, the best you can do is play to your own strengths and remove as many weapons as possible. I didn't think the Vikings plan of playing Cover 2 was a terrible idea, but obviously it still left some vulnerability. Rivers is statistically great against the blitz, and leaving your CBs on an island against either of the Chargers top 2 WRs is not recommended. I would recommend focusing on stopping the run, because Norv is always going to try and force it, at least for the first half. Then trying to prevent big plays and create turnovers in the second half when San Diego is playing catch-up.
Thanks again to John G from Bolts From The Blue for answering our questions!