Merriman injury jolts Bolts' betting odds

Favorites in the AFC West, the San Diego Chargers got some bad news last week when it was discovered that All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman had some serious knee trouble and could miss the season.

Red flags are flying at Qualcomm Stadium. The San Diego Chargers might have to play the entire 2008 campaign without one the NFL’s elite linebackers: three-time Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman, who has torn ligaments in his left knee. It’s the kind of injury that should take some steam out of the San Diego betting odds – both for the season and for Monday night’s exhibition matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.

Since turning pro in 2005, Merriman has collected 39.5 sacks, more than anyone else in the league. But health has been an issue. Dr. James Andrews looked at Merriman last Tuesday, five months after he took care of some cartilage damage from the knee in question. It turns out Merriman has been practicing and playing hurt all summer. Without reconstructive surgery, his career is at risk.

Losing Merriman would put the clamps on what was the second best pass defense in the NFL last year in terms of efficiency. It’s also a defense that got better as the year progressed and co-ordinator Ted Cottrell added more blitz packages to his 3-4 scheme. Now Cottrell is running out of linebackers to send. Stephen Cooper isn’t eligible to play until Oct. 5 because of a suspension, and LB Shaun Phillips missed some practice time last week with a bruised right foot.

Coach Norv Turner confirmed to reporters that his starting unit is expected to play into the third quarter, which is standard operating procedure for Week 3 of the preseason. Whatever decision Merriman makes regarding his knee, San Diego’s defense will be vulnerable on Monday night against the Seahawks. The Chargers do get one important reprieve, though: Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck is supposed to sit this one out because of a tight back.

Expect to see a lot of Charlie Frye. He’s third on Seattle’s QB depth chart behind Seneca Wallace, but Wallace has a “tight groin” and is likely to see very little playing time on Monday. Frye played the entire Week 2 matchup against the Bears; although he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns, the Seahawks (+1) romped for 241 rushing yards and won 29-26 in overtime. The over is now 2-0 for Seattle this preseason (1-1 for San Diego).

Seattle went into the fourth quarter against Chicago down 19-9. That’s when the depth of the Seahawks offense came to the fore. T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett are competing for a roster spot in the backfield; each scored a touchdown during Seattle’s comeback against the Bears, Forsett finishing the game with 136 yards on the ground. As the Chargers go to their back-ups in the second half, Duckett and Forsett should threaten a San Diego rush defense that was already ranked just 19th in efficiency last year.

The Chargers are in better shape on the other side of the ball. They have depth at quarterback with Philip Rivers, Billy Volek and Charlie Whitehurst – none of the three has thrown an interception yet this preseason. With Seattle coach Mike Holmgren also dealing with injury concerns and considering taking his starters off the field earlier than usual for Week 3, Volek and Whitehurst could make hay in the second half.

Turner is 8-6 in the preseason with the Chargers and the Oakland Raiders; San Diego split its first two games this year, but cashed in both times. Holmgren is 20-18 with the Seahawks, including 9-1 in Week 3.

This matchup is a standard Monday Night Football broadcast, starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. San Diego is a 5˝-point chalk with a total between 37˝ and 39˝.