Chargers at Broncos game snapshot

The Chargers offense, ranked 14th overall, will face the fifth ranked Denver defense at Invesco Field this Sunday. With the Denver pass defense ranked third, the Chargers may be forced to simply run the ball every down. <br><br> KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET<br> SURFACE: Grass

TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, Armen Keteyian
SERIES: 88th meeting. The San Diego Chargers trail in the series, 49-38-1, and have been blasted -- 37-13 and 37-8 -- in the last two matchups. The Chargers haven't won in Denver since 1999, prevailing 12-6. 2004
RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 14th (13th rush, 15th pass); defense 24th (17th rush, 26th pass). Broncos: offense 7th (7th rush, 32nd pass); defense 5th (19th rush, 3rd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Drew Brees will start for the Chargers despite suffering a concussion last week, but the key for San Diego is always staying close and keeping RB LaDainian Tomlinson in the game plan. He rushed for just 29 yards at Denver last season and if the Broncos are able to neutralize him again, the Chargers will have a difficult time scoring by attacking a secondary that significantly outclasses their receiving corps. Broncos RB Quentin Griffin desperately wants a good performance to erase the memory of his late-game fumble in Jacksonville. But Denver should also have success taking shots downfield against a Chargers secondary that has given up big chunks of yardage through two games. San Diego trailed 27-0 at the half in Denver last season, so surviving the first surge is key.

FAST FACTS: Chargers: Tomlinson needs four touchdowns to pass Chuck Muncie for the most in franchise history. ... The offense has produced four touchdowns and a field goal in five red-zone possessions this season. Broncos: Lead the series 49-38-1 and have won 11 of the past 13 meetings. ... Swept the series last season by a combined score of 74-21 ... 10-1 at home against San Diego under coach Mike Shanahan.

PREDICTED SCORE: Broncos 28, Chargers 17

PERSONNEL NEWS

Chargers:
-- Antonio Gates (foot) didn't work on Thursday but felt confident he will practice Friday and go on Sunday.
-- Justin Peelle (back) didn't work and was downgraded to probable. He should be OK for Sunday.
-- DE Adrian Dingle (quad) worked Thursday and will go on Sunday.
-- RB LaDainian Tomlinson (toe) did some light work today, but is easing into Sunday. He'll play on Sunday.
-- LB Randall Godfrey (concussion) practiced and will play.

Broncos:
--RB Garrison Hearst practiced on a limited basis on Thursday because of a lingering ankle sprain. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said the team will be cautious with Hearst, but he's hopeful Hearst will be ready for Sunday's game.
--RB Tatum Bell will continue to wear a cast on the right middle finger he broke early in training camp, even though he had the pins removed from it on Monday. Bell said he could ditch the cast very soon, once the finger is completely healed.
--DE Anton Palepoi said he could be ready to play for the Broncos as early as this week. If Palepoi is active on game day, he could see some time in Denver's defensive line rotation. The Broncos are missing DE Trevor Pryce, who had back surgery on Monday.
--QB Matt Mauck, who was released on Wednesday, cleared waivers and will likely be added to Denver's practice squad. Mauck was Denver's third quarterback and the rookie impressed the Broncos during training camp. Denver has only two quarterbacks on its active roster.
--CB Champ Bailey has been mainly a decoy when he has lined up on offense. The Broncos threw to Bailey on his first offensive play this season for an 11-yard gain, but that has been his only reception. Bailey had a dropped pass against Jacksonville. Bailey has played offense when the Broncos go to four or more receivers in passing situations.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Chargers:
It has been said that Marty Schottenheimer is a lot like Barney Fife: both have one bullet.

Schottenheimer's bullet is LaDainian Tomlinson, the lone weapon on the Chargers' wobbly offense. Nothing wrong with leaning on Tomlinson, but just think how good he might be if he had some help. Instead, the Chargers head to Denver hoping they can get something out of their wideouts -- Eric Parker, Reche Caldwell and Tim Dwight. Plus, that maybe tight end Antonio Gates, who is nursing a sore foot, can rebound from a so-so performance in Week 2.

But back to Tomlinson. He'll go Sunday, hoping to lift the Chargers to an upset at Invesco Field. But he's not 100 percent.

Tomlinson is bothered by a jammed big toe on his right foot. He said it's not a classic case of turf toe. It's more of the upper part of it just being jammed.

Again, Tomlinson will likely be fine on Sunday and he's listed as probable. But any time the lone bullet of the Chargers' attack is not going through all the practices -- worried more about resting a toe in only the season's third week -- it's worth noting.

Last week in the loss to the Jets, Tomlinson took himself out for a handful plays when the toe started acting up. It seems to bother him more as fatigue sets in, which might limit him in the latter stages of Sunday's game.

Behind Tomlinson is Jesse Chatman, a second-year pro. The difference between Tomlinson and Chatman is similar to the difference between a mile high elevation and sea level.

Broncos:
Rod Smith is off to a good start this season, but the Broncos probably wouldn't mind if more options besides Smith emerged.

Smith has caught 13 passes in two games, six more than anyone else on the Broncos. Ashley Lelie has been also played well with seven catches for 141 yards, but other than those two Jake Plummer hasn't had many reliable options.

Starting tight end Jeb Putzier has 37 receiving yards in two games and No. 3 receiver Darius Watts has two catches for 33 yards and is coming off a game in which he had two drops.

"Darius (Watts) has been a little inconsistent," Plummer said. "For him, he's been challenged a little bit and we'll see how he rises up to that. Also Jeb Putzier, we need to see him getting open a little more. Those guys are going to keep working."

Some unlikely targets made some plays for the Broncos last week. Backup tight end Dwayne Carswell had two catches for first downs in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville, and No. 4 receiver Nate Jackson had a pair of catches on Denver's final drive of the game.

Although the Broncos might want to spread the ball out a little more, they can't complain about what Smith has done so far. There's little question he'll be Plummer's go-to guy all season.

"That guy is open all the time when I need him," Plummer said. "I am going to keep going to Rod, it would be silly not to."

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