Inside the locker rooms

The San Diego Chargers are not finding any solace in a home game - they are in a critical stretch of the season with much riding on every game. The St. Louis Rams are eager to increase their league leading turnover margin against a team that coughed up three balls a week ago.


It's a two-game stretch that could make or break the Chargers' season.

It all starts Sunday, when the Chargers entertain the Rams with that loss to Missouri's other team still rattling around their heads.

After the Rams, the Chargers will welcome the Browns. In both games, the Chargers will be the prohibitive favorites, and they should be.

But what makes the pair even more critical is what lies ahead. Not only could the Chargers be without the services of Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman (positive drug test) after the Browns game, but their schedule gets considerably tougher.

Three of the next four are on the road, including dates at Cincinnati and Denver, plus a cross-country trip to Buffalo.

"This is a big game," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Every game is big, but they are coming off a bye week and we are coming off a tough division loss. We are at home and both teams are playing for a lot. So it's a big game for us."

A sweep over the next two weeks, and the Chargers are no worse than a game behind the Broncos in the AFC West.

"That adds to the importance," Rivers said about Sunday's game. "(Winning) two at home gets us to 6-2 at the halfway mark. Not to look ahead, because we got to be 5-2 first, but that would put us in a good position at the halfway point."

It's been a rocky opening two months for the Chargers, what with losing linebacker Steve Foley to an officer-involved shooting, safety Terrence Kiel being arrested on five felony drug charges and Merriman failing a test, which showed steroids in his body.

But the Chargers sit at 4-2 and just a breath away from the AFC West lead. And it's imperative they win the next two games if they want to stay there.


When the Rams play at San Diego on Sunday, two teams ranked among the best in the NFL at protecting the ball will be facing each other.

The Rams and Chargers are tied for the second-fewest turnovers in the league with five. Only the Colts have fewer with four, and just eight other teams have fewer than 10. The Rams, with 16 takeaways (fourth in the NFL) are first with a turnover ratio of plus-11. The Chargers are plus-6, which is tied for third best in the league.

While quarterback Marc Bulger has received a lot of attention for throwing just one interception this season -- his streak of 248 passes without one was snapped Oct. 15 against Seattle -- overlooked has been the fact that running back Steven Jackson hasn't fumbled all season. The Rams as a team have fumbled six times, losing four. Jackson has 133 rushing attempts and 25 receptions for a total touch count of 158. That is tied for third in the NFL among running backs. His rushing attempts are tied for fourth, and two ahead of him have played an additional game.

Under former coach Mike Martz, turnovers were plentiful, but new coach Scott Linehan has consistently stressed the importance of ball security.

Said Bulger, "Scott made that an issue in the spring. That was one of our points of emphasis -- taking care of the ball -- and he hammered on us every day. We're going to take care of the football. And it's easier to check the ball down and not worry about punting it, with the coaches behind you, and the defense that you know can get turnovers for you."

Bulger is also pleased with the continued improvement of the offense after some early struggles.

"It was frustrating at first," he admitted. "It took, what, one or two weeks into the regular season? But I think in the big scheme of things, that's not a long time, which is nice. Some teams and some offenses take a year or two. We're still early in the season, but I think we've adopted this as our new system, and everyone's getting more comfortable with it and embracing it."

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