Loss Cranks Up the Pressure in Week 3

The Chargers were looking to avoid something they had done the past two years: get off to a slow start.

But they have to scratch that notion, hoping to get back to their winning ways against the visiting Dolphins on Sunday.

The Chargers dug a huge hole last year in going 4-8 and then making a mad dash -- thank in part to the Broncos' collapse -- to make the playoffs for the third straight year. And they swore they learned their lesson, even after a less-than stellar opening-game win at Oakland.

But the Chargers are seeking to rebound again, against a team that beat them last year in Miami.

And they will do so with a patchwork lineup as serious injuries have already derailed the first team. The Chargers were without four opening-day starters Sunday in their 31-26 home loss to Baltimore.

"I'm not going to blame anything," said coach Norv Turner, who is 10-10 in his last 20 games, including the playoffs. "It is what it is. "Everyone wants to try to analyze why this and why that. There are things we have to fix."

One of them isn't the play of quarterback Philip Rivers, who is coming off a career-high 436 passing yards.

But the running game has gone AWOL with LaDainian Tomlinson being sidelined with an ankle injury and the offensive line losing two starters in Week 1.

There are also serious concerns about a defense that has allowed 677 yards and 51 points in two games.

LB Shawne Merriman
Jacob de Golish/Getty
Linebacker Shawne Merriman, who is coming off knee surgery, has yet to record a sack. The Chargers had hoped an increased pass rush would aid a pass defense that was ranked next-to-last in 2008.

"I feel like I'm getting there," Merriman said. "I feel like each week I'm getting a little bit better and getting my timing back. That was one of my big concerns, getting my timing back. Physically, I am feeling pretty good."

While Merriman is still finding his feet, the defensive line has been on its heels. Part of that is due to three-time Pro Bowler Jamal Williams being lost for year with a triceps injury.

So despite a dynamite quarterback and running back Darren Sproles continuing to make defenders look back with his amazing cutbacks and speed, the Chargers are in trouble. And their once invincibility at home is also being tested as they have lost four of their last nine games here.

The Chargers are a long way from cooked -- they still have talent, especially on offense, and they play in the watered-down AFC West.

Still, they need to get right and on a roll because after facing the Dolphins on Sunday they face the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Among the most glaring areas the Chargers need to improve is in the red zone: they went 0-for-5 there in the loss to the Ravens.

LINEUP WATCH: The starting unit could be sprinkled with second-stringers Sunday against the Dolphins. Scott Mruczkowski figures to be at center for Nick Hardwick and Brandyn Dombrowski for right guard Louis Vasquez. There's no question DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo will supplant Jamal Williams. LaDainian Tomlinson has a shot at returning; Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett get his carries if not.

BY THE NUMBERS: 542 -- Number of all-purpose yards Darren Sproles has gained in the opening two games.


-- DT Jamal Williams was placed on IR after suffering a triceps injury in the opening game.

-- RB LaDainian Tomlinson is cautiously optimistic he can play this week after sitting out Sunday's game.

-- CB Antonio Cromartie is occasionally bringing back kickoffs with the team trying to lessen the load on Darren Sproles.

-- WR Chris Chambers got back in the passing game mix with two catches for 30 yards; he also had one drop. Chambers didn't have a reception in the opener.

-- DE Jacques Cesaire, who missed the opener and the preseason with a calf injury, returned to the lineup.

-- P Mike Scifres is battling a sore groin and it could cost him some distance this week.

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