Overall Optimism Heading Into Monday Night

San Diego may be fresh off of a bye week heading into Monday night’s game with the Denver Broncos, but their lineup will likely still be somewhat depleted come kickoff time. A number of Bolts were nursing injuries heading into the week 10 bye hoping that the extra week off would give them the opportunity to heal in time for the primetime showdown.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look good for several key components of the Chargers’ squad and the headliner of that group is undoubtedly all-world tight end Antonio Gates. With a plantar fascia tear in one foot and a bad toe and ankle on the other, Gates has been hobbled for the last few weeks in recovery and heads into the game listed as questionable. As has been the case in the last two games, Gates’ playing status will likely come down to the wire and be a game-time decision depending on his pain threshold.

Rookie running back Ryan Mathews as well as veteran wideout Legedu Naanee are both in worse shape listed as doubtful as Mathews struggles with an ankle issue of his own while Naanee has a bad hamstring. The wide receiving corps will at least get one member back as Malcom Floyd’s hamstring has improved enough to list him as probable and he will likely see his first action in three weeks.

Kicker Nate Kaeding will also likely return to action following a month long hiatus after tweaking a groin earlier in the year. He will be joined by linebacker Brandon Siler who is finally ready to go after struggling with a foot injury for a similar period of time. Some depth players in defensive end Travis Johnson and tight end Kris Wilson are listed as questionable for the game as they have shoulder and back injuries respectively.

This laundry list of injuries has been a common theme for the Chargers this season as the team has dressed 67 different players thus far. That figure already exceeds the total number of players used during the entire 2009 campaign. These injuries have only exacerbated some nagging issues for the team as a whole with special teams play headlining those problems.

With four different long snappers already in and out of the lineup for the Bolts, the entire special teams unit lacks a continuity which would only aid those guys on the third phase of the game in improving their suspect play to date.

Even though the bad news is undeniable, the Chargers have to be relatively upbeat to have their collective destiny in their own hands heading down this stretch run of the season. With the Pittsburgh Steelers helping out the Bolts defeating the Oakland Raiders by a 35-3 margin on Sunday, only the Kansas City Chiefs (who took down the Arizona Cardinals 31-13) have more wins than the Chargers in the AFC West division. Both the Raiders and Chiefs have already beaten the Chargers once this year, but the Bolts still have each of those teams visiting Qualcomm Stadium in the upcoming weeks.

Clearly the ascension to the top of the division begins with the game Monday night against Denver and that will be a tricky task for the Bolts to conquer. Getting pressure on Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton should be the primary objective of the San Diego defense in this meeting with their division rivals. Orton is a top tier quarterback when he has time to survey the field, but when he is pressured, the ball has a tendency to leave his hands quickly and sometimes end up in unintended places.

Forcing erratic decisions from Orton with a heavy pass rush will be vital if the Bolts want to spare themselves the agony of being dissected by the former Purdue Boilmaker’s arm. The secondary has been average at best this season, but if defensive coordinator Ron Rivera dials up some blitzes at the right times, the guys back in coverage can look much better at the end of the night.

Time for the fans’ assessments. Will this laundry list of injuries hamper the Bolts in terms of depth or will the ‘next man up’ mentality prevail to help get the team a victory? Aside from Antonio Gates, which of the fallen Chargers will be the most missed if he is unable to go against the Broncos? With the Raiders loss already this week, how would you rate the Chargers’ chances of winning the division at this point in time? Can this Bolts defense pressure Orton enough to keep him off balance or will the Broncos’ signal caller have a field day against the Bolts defense? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

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November 22, 2010

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