Chargers Play in the Passing Lane

There's little doubt why the Chargers are 2-1: the passing of Philip Rivers. The Chargers' quarterback is picking up where he left off last year and continues to blossom under the coaching of quarterback-friendly Norv Turner.

But in the long run, can the Chargers make a long run through the regular season and the playoffs without a running game?

Interesting question as the Cardinals proved last year -- ranked No. 32 in rushing -- that it doesn't take a stout rushing attack to reach the Super Bowl.

Although, as Turner points out, the Cardinals running game got untracked the last month of the season and that is among the reasons they were able to advance to the Super Bowl.

But the Chargers know they have to run the ball better than they have -- 66.3 yards per game.

"You can move the ball," Turner said, noting his offense is averaging 382 yards a game. "But if you're going to be the type of football team we want to be, you have to run the football."

The Chargers have been stuck in quicksand for a couple of reasons. The line has two new starters in center Scott Mruczkowski and right guard Brandyn Dombrowski; Dombrowski could return to the bench this week if Louis Vasquez's knee allows him to go.

Plus, LaDainian Tomlinson hasn't played since rolling his ankle in the season-opening win at Oakland.

QB Philip Rivers
Ezra Shaw/Getty
The Chargers also know a good running game keeps the heat off their most prized possession -- Philip Rivers. He was sacked twice in Sunday's win over the Dolphins and took numerous other hits.

"We've played two real good run defenses," Turner said of Baltimore and Miami. "And (when) you're playing these guys, you do have to take some more opportunities in terms of throwing the football. You do have to create some big plays in the passing game because you're probably not going to get them in the running game, but we need to continue to run the ball. We need to continue to run the ball better, and it will help - no question it will help us in our protection."


--QB Philip Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career, and that's saying something after he tied Drew Brees last year for the most touchdown passes (34) in the league and led the league with his 105.5 rating. In the past two games, Rivers has thrown for 739 yards -- the most in a two-game stretch since Dan Fouts went for 784 in 1985.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson might play on Sunday night. Then again, he might not. The Chargers have to consider if it is worth the risk to have him play after missing two games with a sprained ankle, with the thinking that if he doesn't play and then gets another week off with the bye, he will be close to 100 percent.

--RB Darren Sproles keeps chugging and the Chargers have to be careful not to wear him out before the first month of the season is gone. Sproles continues to get touches as a rusher, receiver and returner -- that's a lot to ask from someone standing 5-foot-6 and weighing 185 pounds. But so far, Sproles has shown he can take the punishment.

--WR Vincent Jackson might be the NFL's best receiver that no one talks about. Following up on his 1,000-yard season of last year, Jackson continues to be QB Philip Rivers' favorite target on deep balls. Jackson's 317 receiving yards are second only to Indy's Reggie Wayne in the NFL.

--WR Malcom Floyd is usually the other long-ball target if Philip Rivers doesn't aim for Vincent Jackson. Floyd has pushed Chris Chambers to the shadows of the passing game, getting the ball with more regularity. He had two more catches Sunday for 65 yards -- Chambers didn't have a reception.

--TE Antonio Gates needs to be used more in the red zone, a place where the team continues to struggle. The coaches have said the taller receivers -- Jackson and Floyd -- are being blanketed when the team gets close to the rival's goal line. Why that doesn't translate into a Rivers rocket headed Gates' way is baffling. Gates did have five catches for 64 yards in the win over the Dolphins.

--DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo continues to show growth as he fills in for Jamal Williams, who is out for the season. Nwagbuo has gone from being on the Chargers' practice squad the last month of the 2008 season to being the anchor of the 3-4 early in the 2009 season. That is quite a jump and how well he fares going forward will go a long way in determining how successful the Chargers' defense will be, especially against the run.

--DE Luis Castillo is playing some of his best ball in years and it comes at an appropriate time after injuries have decimated this unit. Castillo has one of the team's three sacks and of his four tackles Sunday, two of them were for losses.

--ILB Kevin Burnett was brought in as a free agent to add speed to the interior of the linebacking crew, and he continues to do just that. Burnett had the team's lone sack in Sunday's win and has added an athletic dimension to the inside part of the unit which was missing before. Burnett had a game-high 12 tackles Sunday, including two quarterback hits.

--FS Eric Weddle is known as a ball hawk and he lived up to that reputation when he jumped a route Sunday and returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown. Weddle, while undersized, is also getting a reputation as one of the team's hardest hitters in the secondary. Weddle also had a tackle for a loss and a pass defensed against the Dolphins.

--OLB Shawne Merriman could be down this week as he tries to rebound from a groin injury, which he said is a result of getting his rebuilt knee back in shape.

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