Here's a look at a key matchup heading into Sunday's battle between the Chargers and Bears.
Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. Bears coverage
Gates is playing through a foot injury and team observers say he appears to have lost some of the burst and run-after-the-catch ability that made him one of the toughest tight ends in the league to defend.
He may have lost a step, but Gates — who missed three games earlier this season because of the lingering foot injury — can still be highly effective and will be a difficult assignment for Bears defenders.
Tight ends have fared pretty well against the Bears. Six of the 12 touchdowns allowed by Chicago's 29th-ranked pass defense this season were scored by tight ends, and Gates has scored two touchdowns in the past four games while averaging more than five catches for 69 yards over that span.
The Bears will need to be physical with him at the line of scrimmage to keep him from getting a free release. Delaying him from getting into his route gives the Bears' pass rush a chance to affect QB Philip Rivers, who is being protected by a patchwork offensive line because of injuries. SLB Nick Roach and SS Major Wright will likely be matched up one-on-one against Gates frequently if the Bears continue mixing a substantial amount of man coverage along with zone. Wright, a second-year veteran still looking to prove himself, has to play under control and with discipline to prevent Gates from making big plays.
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