AJ Smith understands the San Diego Chargers are heading in the wrong direction. Cutting starting safety Clinton Hart last week was an attempt to change that direction and send a message to the rest of the team. Hart was a sub-par player at his position for years who simply never improved enough. At a certain point, coaches and management have to realize this and cut their losses (Raiders fans wish this would happen with JaMarcus Russell).
The Chargers look like they will start rookie safety out of USC, Kevin Ellison, in Hart's place in running situations and insert slightly more experienced Steve Gregory in passing situations. Look for the Broncos to attempt to flip these situations and attempt to get Brandon Marshall or Eddie Royal deep against Ellison in what appears to be running situations. Ellison showed his ability to come up to the line with some pop in the preseason, but the knock against him is his lack of optimal speed for his position. If the Broncos can exploit this lack of experience, it could be the difference maker in what will be a close game.
Denver Coach Josh McDaniels has proven he's a good student, learning the lessons from the Genius in New England and beating him last week. The key feature of the New England and now Denver coaching philosophy is a great ability to adjust, finding and taking advantage of their opponents' weaknesses. San Diego's weaknesses? There are many, but the run defense has been the most glaring, so look for Denver to attempt to pound the run, while taking a few shots down the field against the weak side safety.
If Rivera has been unable to figure out a way to shore up the middle of the defense, this could be a long day for the Bolts. San Diego brought back Ian Scott this week, who they cut after training camp, to shore up the middle. 33 year-old Alphonso Boone, brought in from the street two weeks ago will be used more at defensive end. Travis Johnson, brought off the street after being cut by Houston, then out two weeks with a groin injury, will also fill in at defensive tackle.
Are any of these guys in true playing shape? Were they even good enough to begin with? This position will continue to be the fatal flaw of this defense unless someone steps up and surprises us or AJ manages to pull off a trade and bring in someone who can really play.
On offense, look for the Chargers to pull out all the stops, getting aggressive, tricky and desperate from the start. Despite the Broncos top ratings on defense, San Diego will be able to move the ball and score touchdowns on their home field this week. The run game won't be great, but with a healthy LT, it will be enough of a threat to open up other possibilities.
When it comes down to it, the Chargers are not as bad as they played in their last game, and the Broncos are not as good as they think they are. Kyle Orton is not John Elway, and will be fallible this week. The Chargers, on their home field, in a game that means everything to the future of this organization, will pull out a win.
San Diego 31, Denver 28