Although they toiled in relative anonymity last year, the San Diego Chargers' defense finished the 2005 season as one of the better units in all of football. They did struggle mightily in pass defense, finishing 28th in the NFL, but even so, they averaged fewer than 20 points per game.
The defense figures to be even better this year, thanks in large part to this beast of a LB:
The ferocious Shawne Merriman makes (She)-Li Manning grimace
Merriman was drafted by the Chargers in the 1st round as the 12th overall pick out of Maryland. In college, Merriman played exclusively as a defensive end, rushing the passer and making plays off of the corner. In the NFL, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has asked Merriman to assume some linebacking duties in his 3-4 scheme. Merriman is fast enough to drop back in coverage when the Chargers play zone, yet still strong enough to play a major role in run support. Merriman, who was last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year, really earns his stripes rushing the passer though. In just his first season, Merriman racked up 10 sacks, good for 15th in the NFL. He picked up right where he left off last year in the Chargers opening game against the Raiders, sacking Aaron Brooks 3 times on Monday Night Football.
Here's one clip from this preseason that sufficiently displays the kind of athletic ability he has:
Merriman will make his plays against us in the running game; he's just that good. It will be hard for us to consistently run outside the tackles against San Diego, mostly because of their team speed. However, if we can keep Merriman and the other blitzing Chargers from pressuring Roetlisberger, perhaps he will break out of his mini-slump and make sound decisions throwing the football.