SAN DIEGO – The quintessential Shawne Merriman moment came when the San Diego Chargers linebacker moved from one side of the defense to the other Sunday. Standing in an unfamiliar spot with the football about to be snapped, Merriman could hear what sounded like half the St. Louis Rams' roster screaming his name.
"The whole offensive line pointed at him," Chargers safety Marlon McCree recalled with a grin, after Merriman notched three sacks and multiple quarterback hurries in San Diego's 38-24 win. "When he moves, they know where he's at. We can tell how they are protecting, which way the offensive line is going to slide based on where Shawne is. And when we moved him today, they didn't know what to do."
This is what Merriman has become to this team. He's the soloist you can't afford to live without – the compass you can't afford to lose. Asking what happens to San Diego's defense if he is subtracted is like asking what the Earth would rotate around if the sun suddenly disappeared. It's generally not a pleasant concept. And yet, thus is reality for the Chargers.
"Better than Shawne? I would say one guy is as good – Julius Peppers," McCree said. "When I was in Carolina last year, I had never been on a team where a guy didn't play and I actually felt the difference on the field. I've always played on teams that if a guy missed a game or two, we always had a guy that could pick up the slack. If Julius Peppers missed a game, I knew it. And it's the same with Shawne Merriman. If he misses even a series, I can tell it."