Chargers: Inside the Quarter

Avoiding a fast start, by the Denver Broncos, is the main dish on the plate of the San Diego Chargers defense. Keeping the team in the game early is a major factor to avoid a 0-2 start, with two losses within the division.

The Broncos have been dominant in the first quarter in recent history. Last season, Denver only allowed points in the first quarter four times (7 at Kansas City, 10 against Oakland, 3 against Indianapolis and 14 at Oakland). Denver held 12 opponents scoreless in the first quarter, and that included a streak of six straight to start the season. The good fortune continues this year for the Broncos. They did not allow Cincinnati to score in the first quarter and came away with a convincing win.

The Chargers defense meanwhile got torn apart by Priest Holmes in the first quarter in week 1. Now they face another talented back in Clinton Portis. Portis is among the elite despite being in just his second year.

"They are a talented team," Rod Smith said. "We play them twice a year and every time it is a dog fight. I know they are very disappointed with the way they played last week and you could tell that in the second half of their game that they felt that was the way they were supposed to play. They are going to look to continue that second half in the game against us. And it is even tougher when it is at their place."

Drew Brees is 5-3 as a starter, but he will not have his number one receiver this week and will lean heavily on LaDainian Tomlinson.

The new breed of NFL running backs is just as good at receiving as they are at rushing. Backs are even more dangerous in space, and Portis is no exception. Backs such as he and Tomlinson thrive on being able to see the field with room to maneuver.

"We like to get the ball in his hands however possible, and if he is (the leading receiver), that'd be great," Denver quarterback Jake Plummer said. "You watch what he does with the ball (and you see) he does special things. Everyone's going to get a chance to get the ball and it just so happened he got the ball on some screens and a couple of check-downs (last week)."

The ire in San Diego may be the debate over zone coverage versus man to man. There is evidence that suggests a healthy mix of both will be successful. You can't play man all the time or the opposition will adjust. Same can be said about the soft spots in zone. Portis, in fact, feels very comfortable seeing man coverage.

"Most of the time if the ball comes to me we are in man (coverage)," Portis said. "If we are in man (coverage) the rest of their defense probably has their back turned to me or downfield, and then I only one or two people that I have to make miss (their tackles) and hopefully it is a big one (gain)."

One great back will make a stand this week. The question is:

Which one?

"There is a lot of pressure. I can't be the one to stop LaDainian but if we get things rolling and I can keep LaDainian off the field hopefully," Portis said. "He is a talented guy and anytime you go up against another big-name running back you want to have the better day. I think that last week after the Bengals were talking about (Corey) Dillon having 200 and some yards against our defense, to go out and at half me have 91 yards—which I probably should have had more and could have had a bigger game than I had last week—it makes you feel good. I love it when other running backs talk because I have pride in our defense and our defense has to go out and stop them. On the offensive side of the ball we stay quiet and I don't speak much about going out and having a 150 or 200-yard game. That is the way I feel about it."

"People want to draw the comparison between Priest Holmes and LaDainian, and I think they're accurate in that regard," San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "And I think Portis, because of his quickness and his ability to get to top speed in one step, his vision, there's a definite similarity there as well."

Last year was an epic battle that saw Tomlinson pull away in the end.

"It was a battle, Portis added. "Early on it was me and then LaDainian (Tomlinson), then me and then LaDainian (Tomlinson). Then in the second half we got away from running the ball and we started to pass and LaDainian (Tomlinson) just sort of took over the show. They ended up winning it."

Now it may be about ball control, with David Boston sitting out, the Bolts will want to kill some of the clock, leave as few chances for the Denver defense as possible and keep the defense fresh in doing so.

Lining up your Pro Bowl backfield seems like the obvious choice.

"I think he has the ability to break a play at any time or have a big play on any given run," Portis said. "He is not cautious. He may get two yards, two yards, and then get 60 yards and have them looking like, ‘we had him stopped.' You have to take his running ability away and that is what defenses will try and do."

Stay in the game early, score in the first quarter, and keeping Clinton Portis in check. All big tasks given that the defense is young and still learning, the Broncos just don't give up points in the first and Portis is getting better every week.

Ah who we kidding, this will be no problem!

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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