Toeing the Line

LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman may have stolen the headlines following a 38-24 victory over the Rams, but the offensive line won the game. The Chargers averaged over six yards per carry and Philip Rivers was sacked just once as the Bolts moved to 5-2 on the year.

Coming into the season, the line was considered by many to be a glaring weakness. Especially disconcerting was the fact that Marcus McNeill, a rookie left tackle, was being asked to protect his young quarterback's blindside. However, the line has exceeded most expectations and is a major reason for the team's success.

When reference is made to the success of the line, that credit extends beyond the starting five. Lorenzo Neal functions as essentially a sixth offensive lineman, and he was absolutely dominant against the Rams. Brandon Manumaleuna, the 288-lb. former Ram, might as well be called a lineman, too.

"The offensive line was opening holes and getting a great push," said Michael Turner after the game. "Lorenzo Neal was making linebackers' heads hurt today."

The line bounced back strong following a poor game the week prior. Rivers was sacked a season-high four times last weekend in a 30-27 loss in Kansas City. The Chiefs tried to fluster Rivers by bringing constant pressure up the middle, and the Rams attempted to mimic that tactic. St. Louis had considerably less success though, as their only sack came on a safety blitz on the game's opening drive.

The run blocking was considerably improved as well. Tomlinson ran for 111 more yards this week than he did in Kansas City. Those additional rushing yards put him over 8,000 for his career.

"It's an incredible feat," said Tomlinson afterwards. "I have a lot of people to thank, including this offensive line."

This line will only get better. Nick Hardwick and Shane Olivea both signed contract extensions this offseason, and talks are ongoing with left guard Kris Dielman. Right guard Mike Goff is under contract through the 2008 season and is the only starter over 25 years old. His heir apparent, 24-year-old Scott Mruczkowski, appears primed to be a stellar player.

That makes for a bright future in San Diego, but things are equally sunny in the here and now. The Chargers have incredible talent at the skill positions, and strong line play has allowed those players to shine.

"We have been working very hard on our running game and today created a little space," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "When you do that with the runners we have in L.T. and Michael Turner you are going to get yards on the ground."

The challenge now is to maintain this high level of play. If that can be done, this offensive line could push the Chargers right into the playoffs.

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