Denver at San Diego; Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers battle in week-two of the NFL season.

Denver Broncos (1-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Brent Jones
SERIES: 87th meeting. The Broncos hold a 47-38-1 edge over the Chargers. But the Chargers have a clear advantage as the home team, with a 27-16 record. Denver has won nine of the last 11 meetings, but the Chargers claimed the last when, prevailing in overtime at home, 30-27. The Chargers have really had their troubles with Mike Shanahan-coached Broncos team, winning but five of the 19 meetings.
2003 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 20th (1st rush, 30th pass); defense 14th (3rd rush, 23rd pass). Chargers: offense 29th (26th rush, 23rd pass); defense 28th (25th rush, 29th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: San Diego struggled in pass protection last weekend and now must face Trevor Pryce, who can get to the quarterback rushing from almost any position on the line. The Broncos' linebackers stuffed Cincinnati's Corey Dillon in the opener, and Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson won't fare much better if he doesn't get improved run-blocking from his offensive line. San Diego can't afford to fall behind big early, but if the Chargers stack the box to stop Broncos RB Clinton Portis, they expose their inexperienced secondary. In that case, it's up to Denver QB Jake Plummer to cut down on the mental mistakes he made in throwing three picks last weekend.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: Coach Mike Shanahan's 14 wins against San Diego are his most against any team. ... Denver has had a .500 record or better for an NFL-best 44 consecutive weeks. Chargers: RB LaDainian Tomlinson had 220 yards rushing in the last meeting. ... For the first time since becoming the Chargers coach in 2002, Marty Schottenheimer is under .500 at 8-9.
 ... San Diego is 29-14 in home openers.

PREDICTED SCORE: Broncos 24, Chargers 20

   --DT Daryl Gardener hopes to practice Friday for the first time since mini-camp after wrist surgery in July. Gardener had pins removed Sept. 4, but will have to be careful with the wrist. He'll also have to wear a cast during games. He is shooting for the third game, Sept. 22 against Oakland
   --RG Dan Neil returned to practice after missing Wednesday with the flu. Neil is crucial to the Broncos running game, and was a big part of Clinton Portis' 120-yard effort last week.
   --DE Bert Berry knows the Chargers will try to run at him since he's the lightest of Denver's front four. His answer has bee to spend extra time studying so he'll be quicker to react against LaDainian Tomlinson.
   --DT Mario Fatafehi earned a little job security recently when the Broncos gave him a two-year contract extension. He didn't receive a bonus, but will earn $455,000 in 2004 and $540,000 in 2005 and $100,000 both seasons if he reaches certain performance levels. He starts in Denver's nickel defense.

   -- With David Boston out, Eric Parker or Tim Dwight would move into the starting lineup opposite Reche Caldwell. Parker had a 20-yard touchdown catch on Sunday.
   -- TE Stephen Alexander is primed for his first appearance of the season. He's had no setbacks with his groin in practicing this week.
   -- No changes at left tackle, where Damion McIntosh struggled badly in the opener. Rookie tackles Courtney Van Buren and Phil Bogle did stay after practice to work extra on their techniques.
   -- Drayton Florence will be the first nickel back in on Sunday, with free safety Jerry Wilson rotating with him.
   -- When Wilson goes to nickel, rookie Terrence Kiel would play free safety.
   -- CB Tay Cody (hamstring) didn't practice and it's unlikely he'll play this week.
   -- CB Sammy Davis (leg) worked, and is a go.
   -- RG Solomon Page (back) practiced and will play Sunday.

   The Broncos did their best to atone for one miserable performance on defense, holding Corey Dillon to 34 yards in the opener.
   Now they have another daunting task, stopping San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, who rolled up 220 yards on them in the last meeting, along with 51 yards receiving.
   The Broncos admit they have confidence going into the Chargers game after stopping Dillon, who ran for 278 yards on them the previous meeting.
   "We're facing a different guy, a different team, a different attitude," said defensive tackle Darius Holland. "You can't be thinking last week we did good and this week we're going to do OK. It just doesn't work that way. You've got to play every week."
   The Broncos know they can stop Tomlinson. They did in earlier last season, limiting him to 48 yards.
   The key, coaches said, was getting a lead.

   It appears the Chargers are going to have to wait another week to get a return on their investment on David Boston.
   The team's $47 million wide receiver isn't expected to play this week as the Chargers open their home schedule against the Broncos. Boston didn't practice again on Thursday, and sounds doubtful he'll go Sunday.
   Essentially, if he doesn't practice Friday, that seals it. Coach Marty Schottenheimer has a steadfast rule that if you don't practice during the week, you don't play come Sunday.
   "I probably will not play in the game this week, simply for the fact that I'm probably going to stay off it this week and give it a chance to heal," Boston said.
   Boston, a costly free-agent acquisition last offseason, was a non-factor in the team's 27-14 opening day loss to the Chiefs. Despite the Chargers falling behind 24-0 and needing a big push from the passing game, quarterback Drew Brees looked Boston's way but three times. Boston caught two balls for 20 yards, and fell down on another route.

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