ENGLEWOOD – Not long ago, the mention of San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson made the Denver Broncos sweat. With good reason: Tomlinson has 1,344 yards and 18 touchdowns in 16 career games against Denver.
Tomlinson still gets a lot of respect around the Broncos’ headquarters, even though his numbers have plummeted.
Tomlinson missed two games with an ankle injury and has only 70 yards on 20 carries in two games. He had 15 yards on seven carries in San Diego’s last game, against Pittsburgh.
Still, the Broncos figure Tomlinson will be a heavy part of Monday night’s plan.
“I would be surprised if they didn’t,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “Coming off a bye week, he’s probably feeling good as ever. I’ve got a feeling they’re probably going to feed him more than they ever have. He’s a special player.”
Tomlinson turned 30 in the offseason. He is coming off a season in which he had a career low in rushing yards, and his fewest yards per carry and touchdowns since his rookie year. Still, the Broncos aren’t questioning if Tomlinson has lost a step.
“I am seeing this cat making moves in the hole, making people standing in the dust,” safety Brian Dawkins said. “They are sitting there waiting for him to come to them and make a tackle and leaning forward and diving and he is no longer there. He is going somewhere else. As long as he is continuing to do that, continuing to make people miss like that, you guys can write about whatever you want to write about him.”
The Chargers as a team have struggled to run the ball. Tomlinson hasn’t done much and backup Darren Sproles is averaging only 2.4 yards per carry. San Diego ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing offense, and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said he has told his team that the Broncos “don’t want to be the team they get it going against.” McDaniels thought that the success of the Chargers’ passing game, the strength of the rushing defenses they’ve faced and the high-scoring games they have been involved in have skewed their rushing statistics.
“They’ve been in a couple shootouts,” McDaniels said. “Sometimes when you get into those games and start throwing the ball well … as a play-caller, and something is working like that, sometimes you stay with it. Whether Norv (Turner, San Diego’s coach) has done that or not, that’s for him to say. But we’re very aware of their ability to run the football.”