Bolts Veer Down Dangerous Road

The Chargers are at a crossroads. They are reeling in a sense, having played poorly in their first two games. Yes, they sit at 1-1 as they welcome the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, but what they wanted to do this year isn't being done.

The Chargers were bent on starting fast -- not so. And staying healthy -- not so.

An injury report which already included three-time Pro Bowler Jamal Williams being out for the season now has Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick on it. Hardwick is out for at least eight weeks for an ankle surgery which could eventually cost him the season.

The two big studs in the middle are gone and the question is do the Chargers have the fortitude to overcome it.

Coach Norv Turner, who is 10-10 in his last 20 games, startled many observers earlier in the week when he said there are too high of expectations placed on the Chargers.

"After two games I don't think right now we're as good as you that cover us think our expect us to be," Turner said. "I don't think we're as good as what our fans want us to be."

Wow.

That's quite a statement for a coach who has a team shooting for its fourth straight AFC West title. That's quite a statement for a coach who has a team many believe is Super Bowl caliber.

But if the Chargers are going to get anywhere this season, they have to flat out play better, starting Sunday with the Dolphins.

The Chargers catch a break of sorts with the Dolphins flying across country after losing a Monday night game. A short week for an opponent is something the Chargers need to take advantage of.


Chargers fans will look to help San Diego restore its home-field advantage.
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The Chargers also need to prove their dominance at home, something that was a foregone conclusion when they lost one home game from 2006-07.

But last year they were an ordinary 5-3 at home and they are 0-1 this year.

It's imperative that the Chargers get their mojo back at Qualcomm Stadium. With a road schedule that features the Steelers, Giants, Cowboys and Titans, the Chargers need to take advantage of playing in front of their fans.

But so far little has gone right for the Chargers -- although we must remind the naysayers they are 1-1 and in a division that isn't considered very strong.

Still, the limping Chargers' sights are set on goals much higher than yet another AFC West crown. Now is the time for the team to start playing like it.

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series 12-10, and have won the last seven matchups. The Chargers haven't defeated the Dolphins since a playoff victory in 2005. Last year, the Dolphins stuffed LaDainian Tomlinson at the goal line on fourth-and-1 late in the game to preserve a 17-10 win in Miami. These teams always will be remembered for that 1981 AFC divisional playoff game, the overtime classic the Chargers won, 41-38.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Philip Rivers said the Chargers aren't sweating their 0-for-5 effort in the red zone Sunday.

"We just keep playing," he said. "It's early in the year. We might be the best team in the red zone when it's all said and done. We also didn't execute."

--What sticks out over two games on the defense is terrible tackling.

"It's a big concern," OLB Shawne Merriman said. "We have got to address it, with myself included. We have to be better at tackling."


DE Luis Castillo
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--DE Luis Castillo is trying to look on the bright side now that the team has lost DT Jamal Williams for the year and C Nick Hardwick for at least eight weeks.

"We've been put in some situations early where we're going to be tested," Castillo said. "We're being tested on the defensive line and offensive line, but it's going to help us in the long run and that's the way we're going to look at it."

--Turner on the play of Rivers, especially his game Sunday where he threw for a career-high 436 yards, "You can put a highlight reel together of the things he did."

--Dan Henning, Miami's offensive coordinator, is back at Qualcomm Stadium for the first time since getting canned after his third season as the Chargers' head coach after the 1991 season.

--Dolphins WR Greg Camarillo played in San Diego from 2005-06.

--The Chargers have won five of their past nine home games which isn't much considering the team is 20-5 at home since 2006.

--Rivers now has 36 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a starter at home.

--WR Chris Chambers was with the Dolphins from 2001-07 and ranks fifth in Dolphins history with 405 receptions and fourth with 5,688 receiving yards.

--Turner was the Dolphins offensive coordinator from 2002-03.

BY THE NUMBERS: 524 -- Number of yards Darren Sproles has gained in two games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to make sure we win at home, because we know what we have on the road ahead of us." -- QB Philip Rivers on the importance of getting back to winning at home after losing the home opener.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Chargers addressed their woes along the defensive line by signing Alfonso Boone. The hope is Boone, who played for coordinator Ron Rivera at Chicago, can play some nose tackle and gobble up some snaps now that Jamal Williams is out for the year.

That said, Boone has never played in a 3-4; he does have 34 starts and has seen action in 113 games in his nine seasons.

Boone is needed with the Chargers thin on experience at that unit after season-ending injuries to Ryon Bingham and Williams.

The team also added veteran offensive lineman Dennis Norman. He can play guard and center, two spots where the Chargers have been hit by injuries with center Nick Hardwick out for eight weeks and Louis Vasquez possibly missing another game Sunday with a knee injury.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--CB Antoine Cason is going for an interception in his third straight game.


QB Philip Rivers
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--QB Philip Rivers has the top passing game in team history -- for a QB not named Dan Fouts. Rivers went for 436 yards last week, which ties Fouts for the fourth-most in team history. Fouts has the three highest games as well.

--RB Darren Sproles is known for his quick rushes and for his returns. But his 124 receiving yards against the Ravens were a career high and his first 100-yard receiving game.

--ILB Tim Dobbins lost his starting job to Kevin Burnett in camp, but that doesn't mean he isn't seeing the field. His snaps are increasing as he continues to provide physical play in the middle.

--RB Michael Bennett should see increased playing time, especially if LaDainian Tomlinson doesn't play or is limited. Bennett averaged 4.8 yards on four carries.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers should fill the air with the football, as that has become the team strength. With LaDainian Tomlinson still not 100 percent -- he might be by Sunday - and with two new faces along the offensive line, it would be wise to rely on Rivers' quick release instead of asking them to run block with consistency.

With the Dolphins' pass rush, passing the ball still will be a challenge. But that gives the Chargers their best chance of moving the ball as they are still trying to get their running game figured out -- and healthy. Plus, the Dolphins have been dynamite in defending the run, allowing but 65 yards per game.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Chargers pass defense vs. Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington.

The Chargers haven't received any help from a tepid pass rush, while Pennington always plays well against the Chargers. He is 4-0 against the Chargers as a starter and has completed 74 percent of his passes for 1,018 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. That 112. 7 rating can't be ignored and the secondary is having trouble -- like any secondary -- that isn't getting any help from the pass rush.

Chargers pass protection vs. the Dolphins' pass rush.

The Chargers, with a makeshift line, felt way too much heat from the Ravens in the last week and that must be shored up. But it will be down with two backups along the line and two other linemen -- Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman -- who have missed practice time this week while ill. No tandem has more sacks than Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, who have collected 205.5 sacks. The Ravens threw a ton of different looks at the Chargers in the last game and the Chargers had trouble figuring them out, especially early.

Chargers run defense vs. Dolphins running game.

The Chargers struggled to stop the run early in both games, and with Jamal Williams out it has been common for the linebackers to see runners virtually untouched by the time they reach the defense's second level. Against the Ravens, the Chargers allowed 85 yards on their first 17 carries after the Raiders collected 91 yards on their first 16 rushes. It's imperative this new-look line with Ogemdi Nwagbuo in the middle shows a more physical presence. The Dolphins feature Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat formation, which produced 34 yards and a touchdown on seven carries against the Chargers last year. Brown added 91 yards on 17 carries outside the Wildcat formation. He is coming off his game against the Colts when he gained 136 yards and two touchdowns.

INJURY IMPACT:

  • RB LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday.
  • OLB Antwan Applewhite (hamstring) didn't practice.
  • LG Kris Dielman (ill) didn't practice but could go Thursday.
  • LT Marcus McNeill (Ill) didn't practice but could go Thursday.
  • DE Travis Johnson (groin) didn't work and could be down Sunday.
  • LOLB Shawne Merriman (groin) didn't work but should try later in the week.
  • RG Louis Vasquez (knee) didn't practice and could be down this week.
  • FS Eric Weddle (ill) will likely go later in the week.
  • P Mike Scifres (groin) was limited and will go easy this week.

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