Chargers Game Day Primer

Can the Chargers exploit the Denver Broncos linebacking crew? Will the crowd have an effect? Will former Charger cornerback Ryan McNeil be squaring up against the Bolts receivers in the secondary? Will San Diego be able to cook the bread and toast McNeil? <br><br> That is what the "Game Day Primer" is all about, finding answers.

"Denver has lost a couple of there starting linebackers; we will have to find out where they are," Marty Schottenheimer said.

Schottenheimer touched upon the biggest question mark for the Denver Broncos defense, where the Broncos go with a makeshift linebacking corps now that Ian Gold and John Mobley are done for the season.

Both were healthy the last time the two teams met, and LaDainian Tomlinson still managed 93 yards and 5.8 yards a carry.

"If you take a look at our linebacker position, we don't have a lot of depth there," said Shanahan. We have five guys. With Johnny (Rutledge) being out there, we felt that if a linebacker did go down, we have a guy that has some experience and athletic ability that can help us.

"I know statistically they continue to be ranked among the best in the league as a defensive football team," Schottenheimer countered.

With Doug Flutie in the Chargers lineup, Denver's linebackers have to be wary of him scrambling.

The Chargers offensive line, which features three backups and two rookies, will face its toughest battle of the season. The Broncos' pass rush, the only unit in the league that boasts three players with at least five sacks -- Bertrand Berry (7), Reggie Hayward (5) and Trevor Pryce (5) – will be a formidable test for the kids, Courtney VanBuren and Phil Bogle on the right side.

The last time a Doug Flutie-Chargers team went to Denver, the Broncos zone-blitzed often. The result was four sacks, and Flutie throwing four interceptions. That's saying something, when considering Flutie's mobility and how quick he usually gets rid of the ball.

"They are going to be formidable, particularly at their place," Schottenheimer said.

In Denver at Invesco Field, the crowd will be a big factor, especially if Denver goes up early. With the youth dotting the Chargers lineup, and a strong front four in Denver it could force them to jump offsides. Sure they simulated crowd noise during the week, but nothing can prepare them for the crowd of a division rival.

Schottenheimer was asked which place is tougher to play in, Denver or Kansas City.

"They are both tough places because of the crowd. The crowd gets going and it is hard to hear things that happen."

"Having been in Kansas City as long as I was – that is the toughest place to play in the country. That place is bedlam. I have had people tell me over the past several years that it is very difficult to function down there in Tennessee."

No matter, the game is in Denver this week and it is a real factor.

Ryan McNeil may be in Denver, but he is not the cornerback that bears watching. Lenny Walls, at 6-4, will likely flip-flop between his normal left corner spot and wherever David Boston lines up. Walls has followed several of the other big receivers around the year already this year so it will be nothing new to him. Boston missed the last meeting between the two teams.

The speedier receivers the Chargers have could face up against McNeil and have the advantage of game time over the vet. McNeil has practiced against all of them and knows some of their tendencies, but with Flutie in that knowledge may be thrown out the window.

The Chargers have to stop Clinton Portis, something they haven't done in the three games he has played against them -- he has gained 100 yards in each of those contests. Portis carried only 12 times in the first meeting, as he suffered a bruised chest but he racked up 129 yards, including a 58-yard burst.

DT Jamal Williams played last week, but his calf strain still isn't healthy. He worked on Wednesday, and doesn't show up on the injury report, but it will be worth watching to see how effective he is against the Broncos' efficient front line.

"They are probably one of the quickest O-lines that we face," Scott said. "They aren't very big, but they get to their blocks and put a hat on you and that's what makes them so effective. We just have to match their intensity and make sure that we are in our gaps."

DeQuincy Scott will already be playing more and Otis Leverette will see his first action of the season.

"I'll play anywhere that this team needs me," added Scott. "I try to make sure that I know what each player on the D-line is responsible for. So, if coach wants me at DE, then I'll make sure that I am locked and loaded."

Look for the Chargers to be more cautious, as the overplayed Portis in Week 2, and he made them pay with his cutbacks. Defensively, the Chargers will load up in the box, exposing their corners to single coverage in the hopes that an extra helmet can help contain Portis. That puts more pressure on the corners, but the Chargers will take that chance if it means curtailing Portis.

The Broncos are a more complete offense with Jake Plummer back on the field, and his mobility should keep the Chargers off-balance. In the first meeting, play-action to Clinton Portis set up all three of his touchdown passes.

"He helps me out a lot," Portis said. "I think it takes nine men out of the box. Having Jake, teams cannot just key in on the run. They have to respect him. Before he went down, he made big plays down field to Ashley (Lelie), Rod (Smith), Shannon (Sharpe), and all those guys. I think that getting him back this week and coming off of the bye (week), everybody is fresh and it's going to be exciting to have him back. He makes our play-action passes more dangerous and the fact that he can run as well. So if he messes around with the ball on a play-action and everyone takes after me, then he has the ability to go another 20 or 30 yards. I think that is best for us."

Best for the Broncos and a true test of the progress the Chargers have made in their trek towards respectability.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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