Defense must lead the charge

The Chargers secondary was embarrassed last weekend in Kansas City, unable to cover tight end Tony Gonzalez despite the fact that he was his team's only real threat in the passing game. As bad as the coverage was during the 30-27 loss to the Chiefs, it could look a whole lot worse this week against an explosive Rams offense.

The Rams feature two receivers with Hall of Fame credentials, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. With running back Steven Jackson keeping the defense honest, those two could be in for big days if the Chargers aren't able to improve upon a pass rush that was tepid at best in Kansas City.

How the Chargers will go about heating up the proverbial pressure cooker remains to be seen. Leading sacker Shaun Phillips is expected to miss the game with a calf injury and Shawne Merriman will be playing under the weight of the dense cloud of suspicion currently inundating him.

Phillips will be replaced in the starting line-up by Marques Harris, an underrated player with terrific speed and a knack for getting to the quarterback. Harris is undersized, however, so he will likely split time with the more powerful but less dynamic Carlos Polk.

"I think the reason it's so effective, is that they've got so many effective parts in their front seven," Rams head coach Scott Linehan admitted. "I think looking at this last game…the kid comes in, 92 [Marques Harris] comes in the game, don't even know where he is on the depth chart or how much he's played. He gets a caused fumble and a sack. He's a problem."

No matter which defenders are on the field, the team will have to force Rams quarterback Marc Bulger to get rid of the ball quickly. The Chargers secondary is about as consistent as a schizophrenic's vocabulary and needs all the help it can get.

"We had some miscommunications on the back end and I will take responsibility for that," said Marlon McCree after the Chiefs game. "We'll look at film…get it corrected and look forward to next week."

The Rams contest will provide the defense with another opportunity to finish a game strong. Despite all the criticism the team has received for its conservative play calling in Baltimore and for its turnovers in Kansas City, the Chargers would still be undefeated if the defense had closed those games out.

"Their front seven, even with the injuries they've had, their front seven's just really the key to why these guys, like Merriman, are having such great years," Linehan added. [Luis] Castillo being another as far as individual statistics go. What they do is they create a lot of one-on-ones. Match up problems. You get Merriman on a running back, not that our running backs aren't tough and accept the challenge, but it's a tough match up when the other guy is 270 pounds plus, or whatever he is. It does create match up problems."

Although the defense is still ranked No. 1 in the league, it has hardly earned such a lofty perch.

"We have to finish," Merriman said. "That shows that we are not the type of defense that we want to be right now. We've got to finish as a defense, we've definitely got to tackle a lot better and we've got to get to the ball and make some things happen."

Much has been made of the fact that the defense is going into the Rams game shorthanded. However, the time for excuses has long since lapsed. The pass rush is going to have to step it up to help the secondary shut the Rams down if the Chargers hope to return to their winning ways.


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