Running game motivated this week

Is there anything finer than watching LaDainian Tomlinson take off for a long gainer? This may be the week his rocket ship takes off again.

It's a pairing that is too difficult to resist: LaDainian Tomlinson's health against the Panthers' run defense.

Tomlinson is back at nearly full strength, after pulling himself out of two games with a groin injury. But Sunday in Atlanta, he reportedly wasn't bothered by it, which is a good sign for the Chargers.

Tomlinson is also motivated to spit out some big numbers after being kept 2 yards under his season average when trying to solve the Falcons' tough run defense.

He won't be facing a similar stout unit on Sunday.

Now the Chargers may start the game cute -- with passes, reverses and a little trickery. But the rubber meets the road, the ball will meet Tomlinson's gut.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

The Chargers' wobbly pass defense vs. the Panthers' passing game.

Thou shall not run is a good way of describing the Chargers' run defense, which is best in the AFC. But stopping rivals through the air is another matter. That's why the secondary will likely be tested by Jake Delhomme. No doubt, Delhomme will zero in on the right cornerback spot, which has allowed more than its share of big plays. Jamar Fletcher and Sammy Davis and Drayton Florence will rotate there and who will start remains an unsolved mystery; Delhomme could be due for a big game, as he has struggled throughout most of the season. He's 25th with a rating of 71.3 and has thrown a league-high nine INTs. But plenty of quarterbacks have gotten well this year when facing the Chargers' pass defense. Keep an eye on rookie WR Keary Colbert -- you can bet Delhomme will. The Chargers' run defense vs. the Panthers running game.

DT Jamal Williams' numbers don't leap from the stat page -- 14 tackles -- but he's doing something more. He is taking care of the blockers along the offensive line, which is allowing the linebackers to swoop in for the tackles. Williams was thought to be too small, at 350, to play nose in a 3-4. But he has responded -- he also has three sacks. The Panthers are feeling good about the return of Stephen Davis, especially with DeShaun Foster (collarbone) out. But Davis will find the running tough, especially going behind an offensive line that barely resembles the unit that was in the last Super Bowl -- only two starters are back. The three newcomers haven't graded well. The unit must account for OLB Steve Foley, who has been a force in nearly every Chargers game. If the Panthers are to run the ball, they must contain Foley from the outside. INJURY IMPACT:

RB Jesse Chatman (toe) didn't work but will be a go for Sunday.
WR Tim Dwight (toe) didn't work for the third straight Wednesday. He'll go Sunday.
LB Steve Foley (hip flexor) didn't practice, but there's no doubt he goes Sunday.
C Nick Hardwick (knee) showing no signs of recent surgery and will start on Sunday.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson (groin), like Tim Dwight, hasn't practiced the past three Wednesdays. The team is just being cautious; he's fine.

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