Key Matchups

The success of the Chargers hinges upon execution this week. They face a tough Denver team that is fuming over an overtime loss against Indianapolis last week. The Chargers have their own demons to expel and will look to win without one of their primary weapons, Curtis Conway. That alone makes how the receiving corps fares a primary key.

Curtis Conway is out for this weekend's game with a shoulder injury. That leaves the Chargers with three receivers, not all of whom are healthy.

In the place of Conway rookie Reche Caldwell will start. Caldwell has shown a nose for the end zone and has worked hard of late but is still raw.

Tim Dwight is nursing bruised ribs but will give it a go. Dwight is a gamer and should step up, but if the injury gets worse it could really kill the Chargers chances of going down field.

Eric Parker is all that remains on the roster and has one NFL catch to his name, albeit an overtime catch that helped the Chargers beat San Francisco.

Stephen Alexander has now had two good games, but when he has been relied upon, the Chargers have lost.

Josh Norman is returning from a calf injury that has sidelined him for a number of games and he may be rusty.

Justin Peelle is a rookie tight end that has yet to make an impact in the receiving game.

You have just met the Chargers receiving corps. Feel better yet?

Reasons to be optimistic:

Denver has managed only eight interceptions; Deltha O'Neal has five of them. At their current pace, Denver will finish with only 12, the fewest since getting eight in 1995, and would rank as one of the lowest figures in the franchise's past 20 years.

O'Neal, of course, had one of those interceptions in the end zone off Drew Brees the first time these two teams met. The play came after the Chargers had drove the ball down to the Denver 6 yard line and helped extend the Denver lead from 7-0 to 14-0 after the Broncos drove the length of the field for a score.

The lesson learned:

Brees needs to be mindful of his throws. The Denver secondary is weak right now and can be exploited, but Brees must wait for those opportunities to unfold.

Norman must be a big part of the offense. Forget that he is just returning from injury. He is a matchup nightmare on the field. He has size and speed from a tight end spot. As a former wide receiver he has the tools to get open and must be used to stretch the field.

The unknowns must also step up their game. Peelle, Parker and Caldwell are all rookies but must plat like seasoned vets.

If no receiver gets open, Brees will not be able to deliver the ball with confidence.

The Other Side

Wide receivers Ed McCaffrey (148) and Rod Smith (187) set career highs in receiving yards in the 2000 when they faced the Chargers. That type of game cannot be tolerated this time around. Nor can any 69-yard passes like the one McCaffrey had in the first meeting this year. The Chargers also cannot give up quick strikes as that 69 yarder came on just the second play from scrimmage.

Ryan McNeil will miss the game with a fracture to his arm. Rookie first round draft pick Quentin Jammer will step into the starting role.

Jammer's has handled himself well in his first Pro year despite a contract holdout that cost him the first few weeks of the season. He has collected 37 tackles and six passes defensed on the year and the six passes defensed are but one off Donnie Edwards' team-high seven. He has also had his own strife to deal with after getting burnt on touchdowns by the Rams' Isaac Bruce and the Dolphins' James McKnight.

Now he will be lined up against powerhouses Smith and McCaffrey.

"They have two All-Pro receivers in McCaffrey and Smith, so no matter how they match up on him, they are going to challenge him,'' safety Rodney Harrison said. "Quentin is excited about going out there and competing against the best, because growing up that's all he wanted to do.''

Make no mistake, Jammer will have his hands full and get his wish. For the Chargers to compete he must keep the receivers in front of him and make smart plays on the ball.

Alex Molden will line up on the opposite receiver and will have to be the steadying force on coverage. He appears to have lost a step and has gotten beat by quicker receivers.

Right now the secondary is not playing well. Throw in the wrench that has McNeil not playing and a nightmare situation arises. These are the defining moments for a team on the rise. Are the champions who overcome adversity or just chumps playing the role.

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