Young quarterbacks set to duel

Jay Cutler's debut performance against the Seahawks hardly went as planned. He completed less than half of his passes and threw two costly interceptions as his team lost its third-consecutive game. But if the Chargers defenders think they will have their way with the young passer, they may have another thing coming.

Cutler remains an amazing talent, something one poor showing cannot undercut. He has a strong arm and can get the ball downfield in a hurry. He's also proven capable of taking a beating, meaning the Chargers vaunted pass rush is unlikely to rattle him.

That won't keep them from trying, though.

"Cutler likes to sit back in the pocket and show off his arm strength," Shawne Merriman said. "No matter how good he is he is still new to the game. It is going to show, so we have to force him to make decisions he hasn't seen in the NFL."

The San Diego pass rush should be at full strength for the first time in nearly two months. With Luis Castillo expected to return from an ankle injury, the Chargers should have their top three sackers together in the lineup for the first time since week eight.

Even LaDainian Tomlinson, who spends almost as much time in the headlines as he does in the end zone, knows the key to sweeping the Broncos may be found on the defensive side of the ball. One week after getting Shawne Merriman back from his steroid suspension, the defense appears to be reenergized.

"With him (Merriman) and Shaun Phillips at the same time, you have to have confidence," Tomlinson said. "And when we get Luis back, things will look good for us. We have the ability to become scary."

Just don't expect to find Cutler shaking in his cleats. Denver's style of play is well suited for protecting a young quarterback. The Broncos have the league's No. 4 rushing offense, meaning they can move the ball without being reliant on production from Cutler. Also, they boast the league's No. 5 scoring defense, lessening the team's offensive burden.

Still, Cutler will be under plenty of pressure on Sunday – and that goes beyond dealing with the pass rush. Denver is on the playoff bubble and needs a win like the Lions need a new general manager.

Even if the Broncos fail to make the playoffs, going with Cutler was the right move. He is the type of player Denver can build around for years to come, so this will be the first of many Rivers-Cutler duels.

If Rivers can lead his team to the win, the Chargers clinch a playoff spot. If Cutler's team comes away victorious, however, the Broncos may just join the Chargers in the NFL's second season.

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