Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Broncos I

Our experts, Mike Lombardo of SD Bolt Report and Michael John Schon of Broncos Update, break down Sunday's game. We'll start this series with six questions from Lombardo to Schon, where we look at the battles in the trenches, the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall connection and more.

Michael Lombardo: The San Diego secondary has been exposed in recent weeks by young, physical receivers (Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe). How do you see Brandon Marshall faring in this match-up? Do you see him and Jay Cutler carrying the passing game for years, or do you need more convincing?

Michael John Schon: I love what Marshall has done so far this season: 20 catches, 290 yards and a 14.5 yard-per-catch average. He's got great hands, good speed and the ability to break tackles after the catch. As it stands, he's the biggest threat the Chargers will face on Sunday. As far as the years to come, I'll address that more in question three. But no, I'm not really convinced just yet.

ML: The Denver Broncos' offensive line has been called dirty by many players, including Igor Olshansky. This year's group has a new look, with free-agent addition Montrae Holland starting at right guard and Erik Pears moving to right tackle. How has the new-look right side performed? And who do you expect to win the grudge match on the left side between Olshansky and Matt Lepsis?

MJS: Denver's offensive line has been one of the lone bright spots through the first four games of the season. Holland is a 322-pound rock and Pears is certainly holding his own for a second-year lineman.

Lepsis is coming off a major knee injury but appears close to 100%. Olshansky's got nearly 20 pounds on him but Lepsis has eight more years of experience, plus I heard he knows how to chop-block. I'm rolling with Matt on this one.

ML: What development have you seen in Jay Cutler between his freshman and sophomore seasons? Where has he improved most and where does he still have work to do? In a division loaded with young quarterbacks (Philip Rivers, Brodie Croyle, JaMarcus Russell), where does Cutler rank talent-wise?

MJS: Personally, I still look at Cutler as a rookie - typical mistakes, improper reads and a really bad haircut. In his five games last season, he didn't accomplish much more than Jake Plummer. Additionally, his first four games this season have been mediocre at best. With all the hype and expectation heading into 2007, I'm just a little disappointed in a four-way tie with the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens for nineteenth place in total passing touchdowns. Cutler's shown some great potential but the learning curve seems a little steep at this stage.

ML: What impact have Sam Adams and Simeon Rice so far? Do you expect their roles to increase as the season progresses? Will the new, bulkier defensive line be able to hold the point of attack against the Chargers on Sunday?

MJS: Eight players on the Broncos' roster have more individual tackles than Adams and Rice have combined - that is sad. At this stage, the team's waterboy has more of an impact than these two. I'm not sure if it's Jim Bates' system, the altitude or a lack of motivation - but I am certain it's not working out like everyone had hoped.

ML: The Broncos have an elite pair of cover corners in Champ Bailey and Dré Bly. Given that the Chargers rarely utilize their receivers, how will the Broncos put these corners in position to make plays? Will Bailey move inside to cover Antonio Gates? Will either corner be incorporated in the pass rush?

MJS: As much trouble as the Broncos have had against the run, don't be surprised to see the corners spend the majority of the afternoon chasing down LaDainian Tomlinson. Denver leads the NFL in pass defense because nobody wants to throw deep against two Pro Bowlers. However, they're giving up a 6-8 yard cushion across the middle, which forces Bly and Bailey into more of a stop-gap role just to keep from being embarrassed. Bailey will get the call on Gates as a last measure. I'd be very surprised to see either one incorporated into the pass rush.

ML: The Chargers are one game behind the Broncos, Chiefs and Oakland Raiders in a muddled and unspectacular AFC West. How do you see this division shaking out? Where will the Chargers and Broncos rank when its all said and done?

MJS: I know it's only four games into the season but I can't think of a time when the AFC West has looked as bad as it does right now. Depending on what happens this weekend, this could be the only division in the entire NFL without a team above .500. As the season progresses, I think everybody but Kansas City and Oakland will find a way to get it together. It'll be a two-team race down the stretch between Denver and San Diego, with the eventual winner getting bumped in the first round.

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