Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Broncos II

Our Scout.com experts, Mike Lombardo of SD Bolt Report and Michael John Schon of Broncos Update, break down Sunday's game. Part II of this series features six questions from Schon to Lombardo, where we look at the primary problems facing the coaching staff, secondary concerns and more.

Michael John Schon: In hindsight it looks like losing Marty Schottenheimer and Wade Phillips has really taken its toll – what's the players perspective on this and what will it take for new coach Norv Turner to win back the Charger faithful?

Michael Lombardo: Losing Schottenheimer and Phillips is a big reason for the Chargers' regression but don't discount the loss of former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to the Miami Dolphins. Although his head coaching career is off to a rough start, Cameron was instrumental in the team's success.

The players are staying positive, at least when there's a microphone in front of them. It is hard to gripe because the new coaching staff was brought in specifically to tailor to players already on the roster. That means a lot to the players in a league where many new coaches come in an clean house.

Norv Turner needs to get this team to the playoffs and win a game to earn the respect of the fans and the confidence of ownership. This team is uninterested in regular season success, although it takes a certain amount of that just to get to the second season. Luckily for Turner, an 8-8 record just might earn him the division crown.

MJS: Shawne Merriman was recently on NFL Network shouldering the blame for the Chargers performance, saying it's the players that make the tackles, not the coaches. On the players side, what's been the most disappointing aspect of the season so far, and on the flip side what are you most pleased with through the first four games?

ML: The biggest disappointment is the poor play in the secondary. Marlon McCree shows zero awareness in coverage and Antonio Cromartie is officially a first-round bust. Drayton Florence has failed to step up as many thought he would in a contract year and Quentin Jammer has taken a step back after playing shutdown ball much of last season. The defensive backs are taking poor angles to the ball, showing poor technique and giving the pass rush no time to get to the quarterback.

Where the team has excelled is in kick coverage. The Chargers are one of five teams in the league whose opponents' average starting position following kickoffs is inside their own 20-yard line. Also, punter Mike Scifres uses his directional skills and stellar coverage team to allow an average punt return of 2.7 yards, well below the league average.

MJS: The Broncos have some pretty obvious problems stopping the rush. Will Norv Turner use this as his main point of attack or will he continue to mix Philip Rivers into the equation to try and get him back on track?

ML: Norv Turner will lean heavily on the running game and hope that lifts some of the burden off Rivers' shoulders. LaDainian Tomlinson showed flashes of his 2006 form last week, running for 116 yards in the first half, and should approach 30 touches against Denver.

Coach Turner will also work to get Michael Turner back in the mix. The talented halfback has already lost his kickoff return job to Darren Sproles and is seeing few carries on offense. This could be the game Turner receives his most extensive playing time, as his powerful north-and-south running style is effective against Denver's small, speedy linebackers. The shiftier Tomlinson historically struggles against defenses built around speed.

MJS: Dating back to 1971, the Chargers are 6-30 in the Mile High City. How heavily, if at all, does this play into the equation?

ML:In all fairness, most of those Chargers teams were far less talented than their mile-high opponents. That is not the case this year. The Chargers gained a lot of confidence by sweeping the Broncos last season, including a 17-point comeback win on the road.

The biggest challenge this week will be dealing with the noisy Denver fans. If San Diego can jump out to a quick lead, that will go a long way towards securing a victory. If Denver gets in front and the fans start rocking Invesco Field, that will be bad news for a Chargers team struggling with communications breakdowns on both sides of the ball.

MJS: LaDainian Tomlinson is by far one of the best in the NFL on pure talent, yet Turner seems to shy away from him at certain times in favor of the pass. Is this by design or are there unknown factors that play into his reduced carries?

ML: The primary reason for this is a fundamental difference between Turner and Schottenheimer regarding what to do when the running lanes aren't there. Schottenheimer would continue with a heavy barrage of running plays, counting on the defense to wear down and let up some big plays.

The classic example of this is last year's 32-25 win over the Cleveland Browns. The Cleveland defense shut down Tomlinson for most of the game but Schottenheimer kept feeding him the ball. Eventually, the defense cracked and Tomlinson scored three second-half touchdowns and had to runs of 30-plus yards after intermission.

Turner is much quicker to abandon the running game. He has always run balanced offenses and believes that, if teams stack the box against the run, the best way to counter is through the air. However, teams will always stack the box against No. 21 and Turner must devise a way to get a consistent rushing attack in spite of it.

MJS: With Javon Walker officially out of the lineup for Sunday, Brandon Marshall becomes Jay Cutler's go-to guy. How do the Chargers plan to counter this attack and can we expect to see more of the blitz against the inexperienced Cutler?

ML:The Chargers will come at Cutler with pressure from all angles. San Diego has some talented pass rushers who have yet to register their first sacks this season, with Luis Castillo and Marques Harris foremost on that list. The Chargers will also look to get their inside linebackers reintegrated in the pass rush. In 2006, the inside linebackers combined for 7½ sacks. No inside 'backer has taken down a quarterback this season.

With Walker down for the game, the Chargers will roll extra attention Marshall's way. McCree will spy Marshall and provide coverage over the top, while Shawne Merriman and Matt Wilhelm will try to get a hand on him on short routes out of the slot. Jammer, Florence and Cromartie will all get their chances against Marshall; the Chargers need at least two of the three to provide solid defense.


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