Chargers Gameday Primer

Rain is in the forecast for Sunday which could hurt the San Diego Chargers homefield advantage. The crowd will undeniably be pumped but the slick field could make the gameplan change dramatically and footing will be an issue.

On Offense:

"I don't think, given today's rules, that just going out and running the ball is enough," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

And that has become the basis for the offense and the reason they have become an enigma yet to be solved.

"We are a different team," offensive tackle Roman Oben said. "We lost that game and were 1-2. They have to respect other aspects of our game this time around."

The Chargers will spread the field with multiple receivers and look to capitalize on matchups with nickel and dime cornerbacks. Roc Alexander, a rookie, will be targeted when he is in. The spread will also be a situation where the Bolts will run the ball out of.

The focus remains on LaDainian Tomlinson and limiting him for Denver but this is a different team than seen in week three.

Tomlinson should have some nice sized running lanes but if the field is wet, it could take away his cutback lanes.

Drew Brees doesn't have just one favorite target, he has three. He looks to Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker and Antonio Gates. McCardell may have the biggest day if he does not have to face Champ Bailey, expected to cover Gates a majority of the time, as his bevy of moves and overall knowledge should leave him with separation in the 10-20 yard area.

"We have shown what we can do in both aspects (run and pass) of the game," Brees said. "One of our strengths as an offense is we spread it around and try to keep defenses off-balance."

Gates will draw a few different cover men. Kenoy Kennedy held him to four catches in the first game but Brees was also not the quarterback you see today. Kennedy will get time with Gates, as will Bailey. Gates is smarter than he was back then and realizes how he can beat his man, simply by being sure in his routes and reading the defender's positioning. With his size and wingspan he is able to shield with his body and make sure he is the only man who can make the catch.

"When I look at them and look at games from before, it's like they're taking more chances," Bailey said of the Chargers' offense. "They're going down the field and they're kind of opening up the playbook a little bit and letting people play."

The offense is no longer about focusing on one guy. Brees attempts to make the most of the matchups he sees. He is confident in his guys and will throw the ball before they make their break.

"He is identifying matchups," Gates agreed. "In my opinion he is the MVP of the league."

On Defense:

The last time these two teams met, the Chargers limited the Broncos running attack to 1.8 yards per carry on 21 attempts. While they don't figure to be that good when the two teams clash on Sunday, the run defense must again be vigilant in holding up the Denver running game.

In fact, the 37 yard output in the Sept. 26 game was the lowest rushing output of the 10-season Mike Shanahan era in Denver.

Reuben Droughns is a different runner than Quentin Griffith – more powerful and a downhill runner. That has been a problem for the Chargers who have held the niftier backs in check but have not done as well against the power backs.

The pass defense gave up 13 receptions to wide receivers last time out and that was with Sammy Davis in the lineup. The Broncos will throw a lot of three wide receiver sets out to try and take advantage of any mismatches they see. Expect Drayton Florence to get a lot of work. The talented corner has come up with some big plays but also has a propensity for getting burned by taking a chance or two too many. The word is that confidence played a factor in his game of the past and that is behind him.

"We have to do a better job of getting tighter coverage and a better rush," said Schottenheimer, alluding to the first meeting.

Rod Smith is a veteran and knows how to work the cornerbacks over, setting them up for later in the game. Ahley Lelie will be on the other side and he is a quick receiver who has big play ability.

"Ashley is a fast guy and Rod knows a few tricks," cornerback Quentin Jammer said of the primary receivers he will face.

The Bolts could do nothing to stop the crossing route last time out so expect the linebackers to be a bit more vigilant in thwarting that type of play, but it could come at the expense of the running game and may open up the screen pass.

Keeping Plummer in the pocket will also be one of the focuses. They can't keep a spy on him since he is too effective when throwing on the move but expect the defenders lining up on the edge to play more responsible in their pass rushing assignments and if they feel they can't get to Plummer they may drop off the line and attempt to bat down any passes.

"Pressure," linebacker Steve Foley said simply. "We are going to have to get him out of his comfort level. Stay in his face if it is not getting the sack every play, making sure he knows we are there. We know that he is a very accurate quarterback going outside and we just have to keep pressure in his face.

"It is important that we get pressure off the edge but it is going to be vital that we get pressure up the middle because he is a mobile quarterback that can step up and make plays out of the pocket that will hurt you."

On Special Teams:

"I am very excited about Mike Scifres and Nate Kaeding," Schottenheimer said of his kicking duo.

Kaeding had his first setback last week, missing two-of-four field goal attempts but it was how he responded late in the game that has the coaches excited. He nailed the game winner and came away the hero instead of the goat.

Unfortunately, being sporadic will eventually cost the Chargers a game and this is one that he will need to perfect in. With the division up for grabs so is the pressure. His confidence has to be up in the air but the team has been very supportive.

Mike Scifres continues to go out and do his job efficiently. There are no breaks in the schedule, however, and each week is a new test of his ability.

The coverage units on kickoffs hasn't been good of late and giving Denver good field position will be certain doom. The difference between going 80 yards for a touchdown and 65 yards is humongous and can determine the winner and the loser.

Wrapping up:

"They are battling for their lives," Schottenheimer said of Denver. "We have an opportunity to have them here at home with our fans and our support. I am very proud of our football team and their ability to perform as they have at home. We need to continue to have the support of our fans which I know we will."

Prediction:

Chargers 31
Broncos 27

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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