Merriman Ready to Flip the Switch

LB Shawne Merriman (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Time to turn the lights out on the Chargers' slow start. So says Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has grown tired of seeing the Chargers down near the bottom of the AFC West.

Merriman gets to prove his point Sunday when the Chargers (1-2) entertain the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2). It's the first of three games against AFC West foes for the Chargers.

What's got Merriman going is seeing the defense get abused in consecutive games in losses at New England and Green Bay.

The Chargers defense is ranked No. 22.

"I just want to hit somebody," Merriman said. "It really gets under my skin seeing two teams able to march up field. That's not our defense missing tackles, not being as physical as we can be."

So the Chargers, picked by many as being among the NFL's elite teams, vowed to change their soft defensive approach. The tempo was up on Wednesday, when the team started preparing for Sunday's Chiefs visit.

"We've done everything possible to change that and let people know that the San Diego Chargers aren't going to play that way," Merriman said.

The way up in the Chargers' eyes starts Sunday against a Chiefs team that has been struggling, especially offensively. The importance of this weekend's game is evident with the Chargers sticking their toe in the AFC West waters for the first time this season.

"It would be important if we were 3-0 right now," Merriman said. "But the fact our record is what it is makes it more intense going into this game because we realize how much this game weighs."

It seems like the weight of the NFL world has accompanied the Chargers to date. With so many expectations, there hasn't been much of a honeymoon for a squad breaking in a new head coach and two coordinators.

"We've got a team that's very good, but we haven't play up to what we are capable of," Merriman said.

And while the Chiefs have a new look as well at key positions, Merriman said it's the same as it ever was.

"Nothing changed about who they give the ball to," he said. "Larry Johnson wants to get the ball and wants to run hard. And Tony Gonzalez wants to get the ball. Those are the two playmakers, the game-changers. No matter what's going on our there they are going to get the ball. "They got some threats, some playmakers out there who can plays. It's up to us to go out there and stop them." Merriman was optimistic the Chargers can do just that. He was upbeat over Wednesday's practice, where the urgency was evident.

But to Merriman, that doesn't mean squat.

"You can look like a practice all-star every day," he said. "But you gotta go out there and do it during the game."

SERIES HISTORY: 94th meeting. Chiefs lead series, 49-43-1. The Chargers have won three straight in San Diego and four of the last six. But the Chiefs were one of only two teams to slap a loss on the Chargers in 2006. These two original AFL rivals -- when the Chiefs were then the Houston Texans -- have met once in the playoffs. In 1992, the Chargers prevailed on a rain-soaked field in San Diego, 17-0.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson downplayed his sideline argument with Philip Rivers along the sidelines of Sunday's loss. Tomlinson was miffed he was open on a play in which Rivers instead threw an incomplete pass to Antonio Gates. "Sometimes in the heat of a battle, different players, and maybe with a player and coach, stuff like that happens," Tomlinson said. "Really it's just a competitive conversation. Philip wanted to make the point that he has a certain progression. We're going to be fine."

--Norv Turner hears the talk that the Chargers running game, ranked 30th, isn't clicking. But he's sure it will switch. "We should be running the ball better and that is something that we are going to get it done."

--OLB Shaun Phillips isn't among those panicking over the Chargers' sluggish start. "We're 1-2, not 1-10."

--Tomlinson looks at his numbers and knows they will get better. He has a theory about it. "Fast horses run fast but they don't run very long," said Tomlinson, who is averaging 2.3 yards per carry. "What's it going to be at the end of the year."

--Rivers said rookie WR Craig Davis' game grew in Green Bay. "Last week was a big step for him," Rivers said of Davis, who had four catches for 31 yards and a score. "He's going to continue to get better and take off."

--DT Jamal Williams realizes the importance of playing an AFC West foe on Sunday. "We always consider division games to count more like 1 1/2 games so it's very important to win your division games if you want to get into the playoffs," Williams said. "We know that we have a lot of competition in the (AFC) West so we've got to step up our game. It's very important to win at home."

--In the Chargers' last 25 regular-season games at home, rivals have rushed for more than 100 yards only six times. During that stretch, opponents have averaged 85.9 rushing yards per game. In their home opener, the Charger restricted the Bears to 80 rushing yards.

--Chiefs receivers coach Charlie Joiner was a Hall of Fame receiver with the Chargers.

--Chiefs coach Herm Edwards played football at San Diego State.

--TE Antonio Gates has caught a touchdown pass in four of the Chargers' past five home games.

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Chargers winning streak at home. Of course, that is regular season only as the Chargers fell to the visiting Patriots in last season's playoffs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no question we need to run the football. That's what this team has been built around; the runner. We need to continue to get back to running the football the way we are capable of running it." -- Coach Norv Turner, on the Chargers' running game woes.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Chargers might be ready to employ their nickel defense as much as their base defense if the Chiefs do what the Patriots and the Packers did -- go to a spread offense.

But the Chiefs don't have a Tom Brady or Brett Favre to orchestrate it, so it might be asking much of Damon Huard to pull it off. But this is a copy-cat league and the Chiefs should at least consider that approach, and the Chargers need to be ready for it.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--TE Antonio Gates always shines when sharing a field with Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez. Gates has eight touchdown catches in six games against the Chiefs.

--OLB Shawne Merriman is one sack shy of No. 30. Nine times he has had two sacks in a game, including last October against the Chiefs. When Merriman has at least two sacks, the Chargers are 8-1, with the only loss coming two weeks ago in New England.

--ILB Carlos Polk, and not Tim Dobbins, is expected to replace Matt Wilhelm in the starting lineup. Turner, though, said both would play.

--Rookie Craig Davis has passed Malcom Floyd as the No. 2 wide receiver. Davis will start opposite Vincent Jackson.

--Jackson is coming off a big game as well -- six catches for 98 yards and a score.

--Philip Rivers had nine interceptions in 16 regular-season games last year. In two games, he already has four.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers not only aren't winning, they've lost their swagger. Ex-coach Marty Schottenheimer wasn't without warts, but at least other teams knew they would be in for a physical encounter whenever playing one of his teams -- especially last year's Chargers. But after three games, the Chargers identity is what exactly? No one knows, but it's not running the ball -- which is strange with LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield. The Chargers need to get back to doing what they did best, which is ram the ball down the throat of a young Chiefs defense. The Chargers seemed to get the passing game going in last week's loss with Rivers throwing for 306 yards and three touchdowns.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Chargers pass rush, which was very ordinary against the Packers, vs. the Chiefs pass protection. The Chargers need to get after somebody and that somebody is Chiefs QB Damon Huard. The Chiefs will trot out a rebuilt offensive line that has yet to get on the same page. This is where the Chargers unleash the pass rush they were known for last year when leading the NFL with 61 sacks. It's time for Ted Cottrell to start blitzing more and doing it from various different angles and people. This Chiefs offensive line isn't very good and the Chargers could pick on ex-Charger, LT Damion McIntosh.

--Chargers running game vs. Chiefs run defense. Really, this can't last too much longer. The Chargers will at some point get their running game going and why not this week. Sure, the Chiefs will expect them to run. But it's time for the Chargers' offensive line to impose its will on a rival -- something it hasn't done in three games. The Chiefs ends, Tamba Hali and Jared Allen, are pretty good. So look for the Chargers to test that middle, which might mean more carries for the bruising Michael Turner.

--Chargers passing game on the outside vs. the Chiefs secondary. We know Ty Law and Patrick Surtain are good, but they are getting long in the tooth. The Chargers need to test them -- and the two young safeties, Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page -- by stretching the field with Jackson and Davis. If the Chargers can at least get the safeties on their heels, it will open up the running lanes for Tomlinson and underneath routes for Antonio Gates.

INJURY IMPACT: RT Shane Olivea (back) worked and will go this week...ILB Matt Wilhelm (calf) didn't work and won't play Sunday...CB Quentin Jammer (migraine) was limited in his work...DE Luis Castillo (foot) didn't practice and there's a strong chance he will be done Sunday...LG Kris Dielman (foot) worked and will play Sunday...RG Mike Goff (knee) worked and will play Sunday...WR Eric Parker is out two-to-three more games after toe surgery.

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