The Week Ahead

The San Diego Chargers face the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm this Sunday in a battle of two of the top three teams in the AFC West. Currently the Chargers are tied with the Broncos and Raiders at 7-4. This game has major playoff implications and for the Chargers there is a revenge factor after being beat earlier in the season by the Broncos, 26-9 after being up 19-0 at halftime on Oct. 6th in Denver.

In the first meeting between these two teams, Brian Griese hit Ed McCaffrey for a 69-yard touchdown just two minutes into the game. After Drew Brees threw an interception near the Denver goal line the Broncos drove the length of the field and scored again on a shovel pass from Griese to Clinton Portis from 8 yards out. Down 14-0 the collapse continued. Sam Brandon blocked a Darren Bennett punt and Bennett knocked it out of the back of the end zone, a safety for Denver. Three more points were added on a field goal off the ensuing free kick. 19-0 was the score at halftime and the Chargers would do little in the second half.

On the Chargers first possession of the second half the Chargers opted for a field goal from the Denver 6 yard line despite having a fourth and one yard and down by 19. They converted the field goal but remained three scores down. Brees threw his second interception of the game in the fourth quarter and Deltha O'Neal got his second of the game as he returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. The Chargers would then score on their final possession of the game against a prevent defense on a Brees pass to Curtis Conway for the final score of 26-9 after they missed a 2-point conversion.

Key stats from that game:

LaDainian Tomlinson was held to 48 yards on 14 carries, and only had one carry in the second half. Brees finished 26 of 42 for 235 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Junior Seau was injured and missed the game.

Portis rushed for 102 yards on 20 carries in his first NFL start. Griese ended the game 26 of 35 passes for 316 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.

Last Week:

The Broncos lost to the Indianapolis Colts in overtime 23-20 in a snowy Sunday night game. Mike Vanderjagt kicked a 54-yard field goal with three seconds left in regulation to tie the game and then Vanderjagt kicked a 51 yarder in overtime to seal the victory in Denver. Portis ran 18 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns while Steve Beuerlein, subbing for the injured Brain Griese, threw for 185 yards on 15 of 24 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions. Denver is allowing just 67.2 rushing yards per game, best in the NFL despite giving up 128 yards to Indianapolis on Sunday.

The Chargers were embarrassed 30-3 in Miami on Sunday. They allowed 222 yards rushing, 143 of which went to Ricky Williams, and gave up over 400 yards for the fourth consecutive game. Williams also ran in two touchdowns and James McKnight nabbed three catches for 111 yards including a 77 yarder to go along with one touchdown.

The Skinny

Brian Griese is attempting a return for Sunday's crucial game and expects to practice today as he recovers from a sprained MCL in his left knee. Tight end Shannon Sharpe, who dislocated his right elbow Nov. 11 against Oakland, also is working to get back against the Chargers.

This week and the following week vs. Oakland are crucial for the Chargers and could determine whether the Chargers make the playoffs and go from worst to first.

The Chargers are stuck preparing for two quarterbacks this week, the recovering Griese and backup Steve Beuerlein.

The Chargers run defense to a major hit last week and must rebound against Portis who ran for over 100 yards last time they met. Missed assignments cannot happen this week and the defense should be upset about their performance all season. Entering the season, the defense was thought to be the strength. Instead they have looked stale at times and they continue to give up the big play.

The offense must also step up. Without Conway last week no receiver got open or contributed much. Josh Norman is expected back and the converted wideout has been sorely missed. He was developing into a nice target before going down with a calf injury. The Colts did not abandon the running attack versus the Broncos and the Chargers must establish the same philosophy. Although yards are tough to come by, the Chargers should take heed of how the Colts played. Tomlinson is the best weapon they have, and if they fall behind early they must find ways to get Tomlinson the ball as he will make plays with enough touches.

Keys to the Game

1. Pressure. The Chargers have held back too much in their bend but don't break philosophy and it has amounted to 400 yards against in each of the past four games. They must attack and give different looks. The defense is talented and they must use the talent this week.

2. Screen passes. Brees must rollout to the opposite side of screen passes and draw the Broncos talented linebacker trio of Ian Gold, John Mobley and Al Wilson away from the ball. This will give Tomlinson some room to run and help the confidence of a team that has lost three of the past four.

3. Stop the run. It was mentioned before but the trend is, if they allow a 100 yard back they lose. The only time that did not hold true was in St. Louis when they could not hold a lead.

4. Win special teams. More than ever the battle of special teams must be won. Down the stretch it can give the defense and offense position on the field it needs to be successful.

5. Protect Brees. Brees needs time in the pocket to be successful. He did not get that last week and it showed across the board. With the offensive line battling injuries the line must play as a unit. They have still only allowed 14 sacks against on the year but Brees was pressured a ton last week.

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