Chargers Hope to Make Up Ground vs. Broncos

LB Stephen Cooper (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The Chargers are good at digging holes. And they proved last year, they are capable of digging out of them.

San Diego welcomes Denver on Monday night, knowing it can ill-afford to drop deeper in its current hole. The Broncos led the AFC West at 5-0, with the Chargers trailing at 2-2.

The Chargers were 4-8 and in second place with four to play in 2008, needing to win every game and needing the Broncos to lose their final three. Guess what -- it happened, and the Chargers won their third consecutive AFC West title.

So does that experience come in handy when grabbing the shovel and going to work on this year's early-season trench?

"We're not really worried about what happened last year," inside linebacker Stephen Cooper said. "We are looking forward to (Monday's) Denver Broncos game."

Coach Norv Turner said last year's dramatic turnaround can help -- to a point.

"Every team is different," Turner said. "We got experienced guys that have confidence, that have had success and have a great belief in themselves. So there is no question that it helps you."

The Chargers will take all the help they can muster after four inconsistent games in which they were pummeled on both sides of the line.

But Cooper is telling all those naysayers to chill.

"I don't ever panic," he said. "There is no need to panic.

" But a loss Monday to the Broncos could have some reaching for that panic button -- even if the Chargers won't admit it.


QB Philip Rivers
Jeff Gross/Getty
PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Philip Rivers will continue to be the focal point of an offense struggling to find its running game. Rivers has thrown six touchdown passes and three interceptions while completing 59 percent of his passes. Rivers has thrown for 1,245 yards with a rating of 90.6. Rivers led the NFL and set a franchise record with a 105.5 rating in 2008.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson is healthy, even if the running game is ailing. Tomlinson had only seven carries against the Steelers in his last game, with not much to show for it -- 15 yards. But he is fit, and if the Chargers can get it blocked right up front, Tomlinson still can be a productive back.

--RB Darren Sproles should have fresh legs after the bye and a game in which he wasn't leaned on very much. The Chargers are being careful with Sproles to not overuse him early in the year. The undersized Sproles didn't have a carry against the Steelers and caught only one pass. Look for him to be active Monday night against the Broncos.

--TE Antonio Gates could be a key Monday. It will be interesting to see how the Broncos try to take away the deep ball with the corners, which could leave Gates free underneath matched up with the Broncos safeties. Gates is running as well as he has in the last couple of years and could be in store for a big game.

--WR Vincent Jackson needs to get back on track after a relatively quiet day in Pittsburgh. Jackson had a two-game streak of 100-yard receiving games end against the Steelers as their defense was bent on tracking him. He did snag four passes for 56 yards.

--WR Chris Chambers is hoping to build on his last game after being an afterthought for most of the season. The veteran is coming off his best game of the year in which he caught four passes for 39 yards and a touchdown.

--OLB Shawne Merriman has been in on only a handful of plays the last two games, as he can't shake a strained groin -- not to mention his return from serious knee surgery. Merriman didn't practice Monday but should give it a go later in the week. But just how effective he can be on game day -- he doesn't have a sack this year -- remains to be seen.

--OLB Shaun Phillips was supposed to get back to his sack-happy ways with the return of Shawne Merriman on the opposite side. But that side of Phillips has yet to show, as he doesn't have a sack in four games. Phillips is nursing an arm injury that is preventing him from shedding blockers as easily as he usually does. Phillips needs to step up his production if the defense is going to get out of its funk.

--ILB Stephen Cooper is the Chargers' tackling machine, but he has been getting steamrolled as much as the other defenders. There might be a reason for that, as Cooper is trying to play through a knee injury that has kept him from the practice field. Cooper is the unit's captain, and San Diego can't afford him to be less than 100 percent -- sadly, that seems to be the case of late.

--CB Antonio Cromartie didn't win over any friends when he ripped the coaches for employing a zone defense in Pittsburgh, a scheme that had Cromartie playing soft and getting picked on with regularity. Cromartie could see his playing time reduced.

--CB Antoine Cason has done OK as the nickel back, and if the Chargers are determined to send a message by benching Antonio Cromartie, Cason could see more playing time. Cason leads the Chargers with two interceptions.

--DE Travis Johnson (groin) is hoping to return after missing two games, but he has yet to practice this week.

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