SS Clinton Hart (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)
Everyone knows about the Chargers' high-powered offense, with Pro Bowlers at the skill positions in LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers.
But the Dolphins, who welcome the Chargers to South Florida on Sunday, would be wise not to go to sleep on San Diego's defense. While the headlines often scream about the offense, the defense is rounding into a solid unit.
"Of course, but that is OK," said cornerback Antoine Cason, on the offense getting the publicity. "But once we start rolling, people will recognize us if we come out and play well as a defense and gel every week."
The defense has had to wade through some early-season obstacles. Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman was lost for the season after one game with a knee injury. Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper served a four-game suspension. Tackle Jamal Williams was slow getting into shape after offseason knee surgeries. Free safety Eric Weddle is a first-time starter in his second year. Cason, a rookie, is the nickel back.
So as the Chargers head for Miami -- which is coming off a bye -- they feel the defense is becoming a cohesive unit.
"We are building, getting going," said strong safety Clinton Hart, a second-year starter. "We look to minimize the big play -- they are going to make some -- but we know eventually our offense is going to get rolling, it is going to score points.
"What we got to do is just give them a short field. We can't all the time put them in situations where they have to go 80, 90 yards."
In Sunday's 28-18 win over Oakland, the defense was true to its word. It produced an interception and a season-high six sacks, which allowed the offense to erase a 15-0 deficit on its way to its second straight victory.
"It's a team deal," Rivers said. "You don't know how many times the defense will say, 'We will get it back for you, just keep going.'
"That is what our team has been in the past and that is what we are. That's why wins like (Oakland) are good for you to have to fight it out, grind it out. Because offensively, we will find a way and then the defense comes up huge."
Said Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie: "Our whole goal is to get better every single week."
Veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer senses the defensive momentum growing.
"I think we're playing pretty good football," he said. "We are not where we need to be, of course, but we will get there. It is still early and we are still working.
"You can feel it build. You see guys out there doing what they are supposed to do."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Going into Week 5 and we still have stuff to work on and that will make us better." -- CB Antonio Cromartie, on the upside of the Chargers defense.
LINEUP WATCH: The Chargers welcome back inside linebacker Stephen Cooper, their leading tackler last season. Cooper was suspended the first four games after violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy. Cooper not only spearheads the run defense, but gets his unit lined up in the right spots. The run defense has improved of late, and a fresh Cooper coming aboard can only help. With the Chargers figuring to get a full dose of Miami running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams Sunday, Cooper's appearance will be well received.
"We get one of our starters back," cornerback Quentin Jammer said. "We are holding it down until he gets back. He is like one of the hearts and souls of the defense, so it will be good to get him back."
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for his first 100-yard game of the season against Oakland, snapping a streak of seven games -- including the playoffs -- in which he failed to reach 100. He also had two rushing touchdowns for the second straight week.
--C Nick Hardwick is back in the starting lineup after offseason foot surgery.
--OLB Shaun Phillips tweaked his ankle in the win over Oakland but is expected to play Sunday.
--OLB Jyles Tucker, who is starting in place of the injured Shawne Merriman, suffered a hamstring injury. If he can't go Sunday, Marques Harris would step in.
--WR Buster Davis, the team's first-round pick last year, didn't have a reception for the third time in four games this year.
--After throwing two interceptions in the first three games, Philip Rivers equaled that amount in Oakland. It was also the first game this year he didn't have multiple touchdown passes, getting but one.