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Chargers' depth provides another edge

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Dec 16, 2007.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    There are games when depth in the NFL is essential and times when depth is a luxury.

    The Chargers' backups provided both elements Sunday with a 51-14 win over the Detroit Lions to clinch the AFC West title.

    Two backups forced into starting roles were fullback Andrew Pinnock for Lorenzo Neal and outside linebacker Marques Harris for Shawne Merriman.

    The Chargers barely missed the two Pro Bowlers with Pinnock contributing to clearing the way for 274 yards rushing and Harris helping the defense pressure Lions quarterback Jon Kitna into five interceptions.

    "We had guys coming in on all phases of the game that normally don't get a lot of reps and they did a great job," center Nick Hardwick said. "Guys were able to sit down late in the fourth quarter and that's what we wanted. We wanted to wear them out early, make them roll over and they did."

    Among the backups that gave starters a rest once the Chargers built a comfortable lead were nose tackle Brandon McKinney for Jamal Williams as well running back Darren Sproles replacing LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Billy Volek filling in for Philip Rivers in the second half.

    Sproles finished with 25 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

    By the end of the game, the Chargers were emptying the bench. Scott Mruczkowski and Shane Olivea were in at guard in place of Kris Dielman and Mike Goff, Cory Withrow for Hardwick at center and rookie tight end Scott Chandler replaced Antonio Gates.

    "To see the whole team play so well collectively was a lot of fun all the way around," Gates said. "We understand how hard the backups work and how much time they put in."

    One backup who starts so many games as a replacement that he seems like a full-time starter is defensive lineman Jacques Cesaire, who was in for Luis Castillo at defensive end. He had up-close view of McKinney's performance in the middle.

    The Lions finished with only 26 yards rushing, although Williams was pulled early once the Chargers jumped out to a quick lead that was 17-0 by the end of the first quarter.

    "He (McKinney) did a great job holding the point in the middle," Cesaire said. "Jamal was a little dinged up, and we've got to take care of the Big Fella. He got some cheap shots taken at him last week. He did his job when he was in there and the coaches felt he didn't need to play anymore."

    Harris felt a responsibility to not let the team down while filling in for Merriman, but he also takes pride in the fact adjustments weren't needed to compensate for him replacing Merriman.

    "I'm sure (the Lions) knew Shawne Merriman was out all week and that was part of their game plan," Harris said. "But obviously they weren't able to expose anybody - myself or the defense. We were able to play our game plan without changing up anything or putting in special calls. We were able to get the job done."

    As backup who also plays a lot of special teams moving into the starting lineup, Harris need someone to fill his normal job of rotating into the defense in certain down and distances. Rookie Jyles Tucker, who started the season on the practice squad, played that role.

    "Marques and Jyles did a great job," said inside linebacker Stephen Cooper. "Our front seven did a great job against the run and the pass. We wanted to make them one dimensional, and they were having to throw the ball around at the end."

    Cooper wasn't one of the veterans in need of a rest, but the Chargers know even with the AFC West title clinched, there is much to play for in the season's final two games Dec. 24 against Denver at home and Dec. 30 at Oakland.

    "It's real big the tail end of the season when you have a lot of guys banged up," Cooper said. "It's a long season. We want to be able to get guys some rest, but at the same time we're playing for that No. 3 seed in the playoffs."

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