Running game powers Chargers over Broncos

For much of the 2009 season, the San Diego Chargers’ running game has been non-existent. But in the past two weeks, it has helped the Bolts recapture first place in the AFC West.

One week after rushing for 119 yards in a win over the Eagles, the Chargers racked up 203 rushing yards in a dominating 32-3 victory on Sunday. LaDainian Tomlinson was solid, rushing for 73 yards with a touchdown on 20 carries while Mike Tolbert finished with 58 yards and a touchdown on seven totes.

The Chargers revived another part of their game today too: Their pass rush. They sacked the combination of Kyle Orton and Chris Simms three times and intercepted Orton once when they blitzed a defensive back on the play. If they can get a similar effort from their pass rush moving forward, than this is going to be a tough team to beat over the final month of the season.

Denver is in a free fall right now. In their current four-game losing streak, they’ve allowed 29.3 points per game after allowing just 11 PPG in their six game winning streak. They couldn’t stop the Chargers’ running game and even when San Diego put the ball in the air, Denver got zero pressure on Philip Rivers.

Offensively, Simms started but was brutal again. Orton came in and immediately started moving the offense, but the drive stalled when Knowshon Moreno fumbled at the goal line and killed a scoring drive. After that, Orton failed to move the ball the rest of the contest and the Broncos’ offense fell flat.

Considering Denver is only one game behind with six remaining, I don’t want to overstate things. But San Diego has completely seized control in the AFC West and they look like they’re going to roll to another division title.

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Biggest injury concern: Orton, Turner, Brown or Benson?

Last week, several teams’ playoff hopes took major hits as key players all left their respective games due to various injuries.

The Broncos (Kyle Orton), Falcons (Michael Turner), Dolphins (Ronnie Brown) and Bengals (Cedric Benson) seem to be bitten he hardest by the injury bug but which injury should concern their respective teams the most? Let’s break down all four situations.

Broncos: Without Orton, Denver stands little chance of beating the Chargers at home this Sunday and even less of a chance of winning the AFC West. Orton isn’t Peyton Manning, but he might as well be the Broncos’ version of the star Colts’ QB because Chris Simms proved last week that he isn’t capable of keeping Denver afloat if Orton misses significant time. Now maybe with more preparation Simms will be better, but chances are the Broncos’ hopes of making the playoffs will fall flat with him under center. Orton says that he will play this weekend, even though he has torn ligaments in his left ankle. He admitted last year that he shouldn’t have tried to grit out a right ankle injury when he was playing for the Bears, so there’s a chance that he’s about to make the same mistake twice. This Sunday will be a good indication of how severe Orton’s injury really is.

Falcons: After getting off to a slow start, Turner was back in 2008 form the past couple weeks and even compiled 111 yards on only nine carries against the Panthers last Sunday before suffering a high ankle sprain. Usually those types of injuries take months to heel, but the Falcons don’t seem concerned about Turner missing more than a couple of weeks. The problem is that the Falcons are in the midst of a Wild Card chase in the NFC and they need their bruising back on the field – especially as Matt Ryan continues to struggle in his second year. Atlanta has capable backups in Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, but the latter can’t stay healthy and the former doesn’t have much experience. If Ryan can step up and prove he can lead the Falcons through the air, then Turner can rest up and be ready in time for a late-season run. If Ryan falters again like he has been, then Turner might feel the need to rush back from his injury sooner than he (or the team) intends.

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Fantasy Football Quick-Hitters: Benson, Westy, Orton, DeAngelo, Ronnie and Norwood

Cedric Benson did not practice on Thursday. Rotoworld reports that Bengals players who don’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday usually do not play on Sunday, but that an exception might be made for Benson, who is the league’s 6th-leading rusher. Cincy’s game against Oakland is at 4:15 PM, so fantasy owners with Bernard Scott can simply wait it out and see if Benson is active on Sunday. Those without Scott have a tough decision to make.

Brian Westbrook should make a full recovery. This is great news for Westy, but his 2009 is still in doubt. The doctors are recommending he be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks, which makes his return in Week 13 at the earliest. The Eagles were told to take a conservative approach, so even if he’s healthy enough to play, I’d expect the team to shut him down if they fall out of the playoff hunt. Fantasy owners should hold onto him in the event that he comes back for the fantasy playoffs, but if there is a good option on the waiver wire, it might be time to cut bait.

Jerious Norwood returns to limited practice. It looks like Michael Turner will be out this week, but he’s optimistic that he’ll be back soon. It’s not inconceivable that Norwood would get some work with Jason Snelling in a RBBC against the Giants, though he’s been out a while with a hip injury.

Kyle Orton has torn ligaments in his left ankle. Brandon Marshall owners should keep an eye on this. If Orton isn’t able to play through this injury, it’s a big blow to Marshall. Orton isn’t great, but he’s a lot better than Chris Simms right now.

Ronnie Brown reportedly has Lisfranc injury. This generally requires surgery and recovery takes a while. If this is indeed the type of injury he has, he will enter the 2010 season as a question mark.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both expected to play tonight. Williams sat out practice on Wednesday just to rest, nothing more. He’s a good RB1 play and Stewart is a solid RB2/flex play in most formats.

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Broncos: Struggling team or overrated?

When a team loses to a good Ravens squad after starting the season 6-0, nobody questions it.

When that same team drops a home game on national television to the physical Steelers, again, nobody questions it.

But when that very same team can’t beat the hapless Redskins (whether it’s on the road or not), then it’s only fair that the “O” word starts to rear its ugly head.

I actually don’t think the Broncos are overrated – I think they’re just sputtering. Had Kyle Orton not suffered an ankle injury right before half, there’s a good chance he and Brandon Marshall (who had an excellent game while catching five passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns) would have continued to torch Washington’s secondary on their way to a victory. Instead, the highly incapable Chris Simms came in and was incredibly inaccurate while missing open receivers and lacking composure in the pocket.

Denver also had to travel cross-country, which is tough for any team, nevertheless one that played on Monday night. The Broncos were worn out from their loss to the Steelers and it showed today.

That said, I don’t want to completely make excuses for this Broncos team because they were playing the Redskins – a team that gave up weeks ago. Their defense gave up 27 points to a Sherman Lewis-led offense, which is ridiculous – I don’t care if they played on Friday night and had to travel Washington from China. They also allowed Hunter freaking Smith to throw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Mike freaking Sellers on a fake freaking field goal, which is ludicrous.

The bottom line is that Josh McDaniels and his coaching staff have their backs up against the wall and they need to figure out how to fight out of the situation. Teams have obviously figured out what the blueprint is to beat the Broncos and now it’s time for the rookie head coach to adjust. They’re still in a great position at 6-3, but the Chargers are breathing down their necks so a sense of urgency is a must.

Fantasy Quick-Hitters: Boldin, Pierre, Berrian and more

Anquan Boldin returned to a limited practice. Boldin said, “It’s only week one. I’d rather sit out game one as opposed to sitting out four or five other games. You just have to use your discretion.” That doesn’t sound good for his prospects of playing in Week 1. Steve Breaston would be first in line to start, but he’s dealing with a sore knee, so Jerheme Urban could potentially eat into Breaston’s snaps.

Pierre Thomas has been officially ruled out for Week 1. Mike Bell, Mike Bell, Mike Bell. I wrote on Tuesday that Thomas owners (and even non-owners) should grab Bell. He’s a solid RB2/flex play against the hapless Detroit rush defense.

Cassel is questionable for Week 1. Not a big surprise here. Owners should probably keep Cassel on the bench even if he does play. The Ravens are a bad matchup for any passing game.

Bernard Berrian and Kevin Walter are both game-time decisions. It would be wise to sit both players even if they do play, assuming that you have a decent option to plug in. It’s tough to battle back from a hamstring injury and be effective right away.

Kyle Orton will start against the Bengals. It’s not a terrible matchup, but Orton’s preseason performance is not encouraging. Only use him if you’re desperate (or you’re in a 2 QB league). It does help that Brandon Marshall is behaving.

Raiders name Darren McFadden as their starting RB. He has had a very impressive preseason, so this is just a formality. Even if he didn’t start, he’s going to play a ton of snaps because he is easily the Raiders most explosive player. (And he better perform, because I started him over Santonio Holmes this week!)

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