Is Rivers Ready?

Really, Philip Rivers doesn't look at Denver -- where the Chargers play Sunday -- the way others in the organization do. Never mind the team has won twice there since 1995. Why should he? River did something last year many a Chargers quarterback couldn't do in Denver. Win.

The Chargers traipse up to the Rocky Mountains weighed down by a start few saw coming. It's amazing how quickly the fall from Super Bowl favorite to last place in the AFC West came for the Chargers.

But there's where the 1-3 Chargers find themselves after a wobbly start. They face the 2-2 Broncos, who have their own set of problems.

But they don't compare to the Chargers'. San Diego's offense is inconsistent. The defense can't tackle. The pass rush has dropped off considerably. The secondary can't find the right angles to keep the yards after the catch to a minimum.

And there's the coach, Norv Turner, who walked off the field Sunday with the chorus of "Marty, Marty," ringing through his ears with fans clamoring for his predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer.

So they Chargers throw all that baggage in the overhead bin and head for Denver.

And that's cool with Rivers.

"It's always been one of my favorite places to play, and obviously knowing what's at stake this week for us trying to get back on the right track and with Denver coming off a loss to Indy, it'll be a great atmosphere," he said.

But the mile-high altitude has seldom been comforting to the Chargers -- especially a team struggling to the degree the Chargers are.

Rivers, though, heard all that talk last year when he went to Denver in his first year as a starter. All he did was chew up and spit out the Denver mystique, rallying the Chargers from a 17-point deficit to a 35-27 victory.

The rabid Broncos backers weren't able to get under Rivers' skin, as he completed 73 percent of his passes while collecting two touchdown passes and 222 yards.

"You really try not to get caught up too much in that and not let anything the crowd's doing bother you," Rivers said.

What's bothering the Chargers is the way they are playing. They have lost three straight. Their offense is ranked No. 26 -- after leading the league in scoring last year. Their defense checks in at 25th, including being better than only four teams in defending the pass.

"We've got the right guys to do it," River said of flipping the team's fortunes. "We've just got to keep working and playing. You've got to think it's going to get turned around at some point."

Working in the Chargers' favor is the clustered AFC West. Despite their woes, the Chargers are just a game out of the division lead, with the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos sitting at 2-2.

"That's the positive side of this whole thing," said Rivers, who has already thrown six interceptions after tossing nine last year. "We're by no means out of the mix."

But it's time to mix in a win. Asking them to do so at Denver, though, is no easy request.

"It would be huge, and it would be huge for everybody," Rivers said. "I know the fans here in San Diego are really anxious for a win, and nobody's more anxious for one than all of us in the locker room. So to get back on track would be huge."

SERIES HISTORY: 95th meeting. Broncos lead series, 52-41-1. Denver is especially tough at home, where they hold a 34-12-1 edge. Denver's 52 wins against the Chargers are the most they have against any club. The Chargers won in Denver last year, but that might not be a good sign. The team was still in the AFL the last time it won consecutive times in Denver -- 1967-68. The Chargers have won three of the last five meetings overall.


--The Chargers have some issues to work through, but going hard isn't one of them. OLB Shaun Phillips said the film doesn't lie. "If you watch the game, you will see to the last extra point, guys were busting through trying to make a play somehow, some way," he said. "It didn't go our way."

--QB Philip Rivers points out that the same aspirations the Chargers had in camp -- regardless of the three-game losing streak -- remain. The Chargers are one game off the AFC West pace. "The positive side of this is that as bad as these three games have been, we sit here one game out of big cluster in the division," Rivers said. "That's the bottom line. We can still be where we want to be. Every goal is still there to be achieved."

--Much was made of Phillips yapping at defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell during Sunday's loss. But Phillips downplayed the incident. "I believe in Teddy," Phillips said. "I believe in his philosophy." The Chargers defense has been a mess so far, giving up at least 30 points in three of the four games.

--Coach Norv Turner is hearing it loud and clear from upset Chargers fans and his detractors. "It's my job to get the job done that we're talking about, the inconsistencies, the problems we're having with turnovers and giving up plays," he said. "That's what I've got to do. I've got to get those things eliminated."

--Maybe Vincent Jackson will have a bounce-back game in Denver after dropping a sure touchdown pass Sunday. Jackson attended Northern Colorado and is a native of Colorado Springs, Colo.

--The Chargers are trying to avoid their third road loss in as many games. Last year the Chargers lost just twice on the road -- their only regular-season defeats -- at Baltimore and Kansas City.

--ILB Stephen Cooper, in his first year as a starter after taking over for Randall Godfrey, is easily the team leader in tackles with 44. Next is Marlon McCree at 28.

--The Chargers are trying to erase their longest losing streak (three) since 2003.

--Broncos TE Stephen Alexander played for the Chargers from 2002-03.

--Broncos pro personnel assistant Jimmy Spencer is a former Chargers cornerback (1998-99).

--You don't have to tell Turner how good Denver CB Champ Bailey is. Turner was the head coach of the Redskins when they drafted him with their first pick in 1999.

BY THE NUMBERS: 15 -- Touchdowns scored by LaDainian Tomlinson (14 rushing, one receiving) when playing Denver. It's more touchdowns than he's scored against any individual opponent.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't care what a coach calls, whether it's offense or defense, it's up to the players to go out there and make plays." -- OLB Shaun Phillips on most of the heat of the sluggish start falling at the feet of new head coach Norv Turner.


Look for Malcom Floyd to get some more work considering the Chargers' situation at wide out. Eric Parker (toe) is out and rookie Craig Davis (sprained ankle) didn't practice Wednesday. Davis' ankle may not bounce back in a timely fashion. Even if he can go, speed is his biggest weapon, and that might be compromised if he has a bum ankle.


--TE Antonio Gates is tied for second in the NFL with 33 receptions.

--OLB Shawne Merriman has 30 sacks in 31 career games after collecting one last Sunday against the Chiefs. That ties ex-Chief Derrick Thomas as the second-fastest to 31. Reggie White took 28 games to get to 30. Merriman has never had one at Denver.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson is two TDs shy of tying John Riggins for fifth all-time at 104.

--RB Darren Sproles will remain the kick returner and punt returner.

--ILB Matt Wilhelm is expected to play this week after leaving early in Week 2. The Chargers' play at the inside spot has been spotty.

--CB Antonio Cromartie, the nickel back, has been taking his lumps on passing downs. But on special teams, his speed has been paying off, as he has three special teams tackles, second only to Carlos Polk on the team.

--WR Kassim Osgood went to the Pro Bowl last year as the special teams pick. He has but two tackles through four games, but some of that is because of the attention he now receives. Osgood routinely gets two rivals blocking him when defending kicks and punts.

GAME PLAN: Is it right to put the ball where everyone knows you are putting the ball? This week, yes. The Chargers' passing game shouldn't be overused on Sunday, not with the Broncos' stout pass defense. Their two corners, Champ Bailey and Dre Bly, could bait QB Philip Rivers into throwing a pick or two. So why not give it to RB LaDainian Tomlinson and show a commitment to doing just that. The Broncos have been allowing a whopping 181 rushing yards per game -- only the Dolphins are worse. And the Chargers' running game showed some signs of life Sunday when Tomlinson went for 116 yards -- in the first half. But for whatever reason, the Chargers stuck the ball in Tomlinson's gut just six more times in the second half. That mistake shouldn't be repeated Sunday.


Chargers secondary vs. Broncos passing game, led by second-year QB Jay Cutler.

The Chargers have been on their heels on the back end in every game except one -- the opener against the Bears' Rex Grossman. Since, it's been a series of blown assignments, shoddy tackling and disastrous angles being taken by a secondary that is being taken advantage of. The safeties, Marlon McCree and Clinton Hart, have to shore up their tackling or it is going to be another long day. Cutler is getting more comfortable with every start, and it has to be comforting feeling watching the game tape of the number of Chargers miscues. That Denver attack could get a boost if WR Javon Walker (knee) is able to go after sitting out the Colts game. But this is on San Diego -- it has to show that it can cover the pass and not allow huge chunks to be lost on the run-after-the-catch with better tackling.

Chargers pass protection, with LT Marcus McNeill nursing a sore knee, vs. Broncos pass rush.

McNeill didn't miss any snaps Sunday, but the number of team doctors surrounding him nearly every time he exited the field shows there may be more there than the team is letting on. McNeill has struggled as well, already allowing at least two sacks after getting beaten just twice last year. A real test, too, comes for RT Shane Olivea. Elvis Dumervil, who is playing behind Simeon Rice, is tied for sixth in the NFL with four sacks. Dumervil has four multiple-sacks games -- two this year -- which is tied for fourth since 2006. Rivers needs some protection, if nothing else than to use the pass to set up a big day for Tomlinson.

Chargers pass rush, with OLBs Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, vs. undersized Broncos offensive line.

The back end of the Chargers defense is looking for a hand, and front seven can deliver one if they can get after Cutler. Consider that the Chargers led the NFL in sacks last year with 61. To date, they have but nine. That projects to just 36 -- quite a drop-off. It doesn't appear the Chargers are blitzing with the same consistency as last year. It's time for Merriman and Phillips -- if NT Jamal Williams can collapse the middle against sturdy C Tom Nalen -- to have big games. But Denver's tackles, Matt Lepsis and Erik Pears, are good. The Broncos have allowed only five sacks.

INJURY IMPACT: DT Jamal Williams (knee) was rested Wednesday. He should play Sunday...WR Craig Davis (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday...ILB Matt Wilhelm (calf) worked the entire practice and looks to be a go for Sunday after missing the past two starts...CB Antonio Cromartie (ribs) was limited in his Wednesday work. But he should be able to fill the nickel role on Sunday...WR Eric Parker (toe surgery) is out three to four more games.

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