Source: USA Today
Heading to the Black Hole never sounded so soothing to the Chargers.
The Chargers, during their 2-2 start, have looked dynamite at home and have blown up twice on the road. Yet playing in Oakland on Sunday is A-OK with the Chargers.
The Chargers won 13 consecutive games against the Raiders. That includes six wins in a row in Oakland.
So away they go.
They do so for the first time since the departure of Raiders-killer LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored 25 touchdowns against Oakland.
Quarterback Philip Rivers takes his squad to Northern California watching it get further from the Tomlinson influence while molding its own identity.
"You get used to seeing guys' faces in the locker room and all around, it is different when a guy like LT and handful of our other veteran players are not here," Rivers said. "Throughout training camp, it was kind of interesting to see what the personality of this team was going to be and how it maybe had changed. A lot of the core players are still here.
"I like the mind-set of the team. It's been good. Obviously we've had two tough losses on the road, but I like where we are focused and our mind-set right now."
That puts the Chargers in the right place — in Oakland, seeking the maiden road victory of 2010.
Coach Norv Turner was on the other side of the streak in 2004-05 when he was the head coach of the Raiders. He's cognizant of the Chargers' recent run but downplays its importance.
"Those things are more for the fans and the people on the outside, or for people to look at when they're done playing," he said. "When you get into game week, I don't think there is much that matters other than looking at the people you're getting ready to play against and what they have been doing over the last two or three weeks. The things you feel you can do best against them.
"I always start with the point of who are the guys that are playing at a really high level that we have to make sure we don't let them control the game or change the game. The Raiders certainly have a number of guys that if you're not smart and you don't play it right, they are guys that change the game."
The Chargers need to flip their road ways. They are plus-five in takeaways at home, minus-four on the road. They have allowed three returns for touchdowns in losses at Kansas City and Seattle.
This from a team that rocked to a 7-1 road mark last season.
"Things happen, and things that we needed to get corrected have gotten corrected," Rivers said. "We could easily be 4-0 just as easily as we are 2-2. We are going to learn from it and move on."
SERIES HISTORY: 101st regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 55-44-2, even with the Chargers seeking their 14th straight head-to-head win. At one time, it was the Raiders dominating their old AFL foe, winning 18 consecutive times from 1968-77. This is by far the Chargers' most heated rival, and the teams do something in common: They have both called Los Angeles at home at one point. The Chargers won the first meeting in 1960, blasting the Raiders 52-28 at the L.A. Coliseum.
—QB Philip Rivers said he wouldn't be surprised to see Raiders star CB Nnamdi Asomugha covering TE Antonio Gates.
"You do so much preparation and you watch so much tape, and you still have to get out there and see what their plan is for the day," Rivers said. "Obviously that goes both ways. Nnamdi is a great cover guy. Going against him twice a year now for a handful of years, he's as tough as there is. I don't think you necessarily prepare that he is going to be on Gates. We have some good players on the outside as well. But it certainly wouldn't shock you just because of the success and the way Gates is playing right now."
—The Chargers' top-ranked offense is ranked No. 3 passing and No. 10 rushing. Coach Norv Turner loves the balance.
"When we've been at our best offensively, we've had balance," he said. "A couple of things, obviously: the way people play you, (if) everyone up in there and making it hard to run, then obviously we have a quarterback that can throw it and guys that can go get it. So we really want to do whatever we have to do to move the ball and score points."
—OLB Cyril Obiozor was signed off the Cardinals' practice squad. With various injuries, the Chargers are desperate for depth in the linebacker corps.
—OLB Jyles Tucker was placed on injured reserve with a chest injury. It's the second consecutive year he's gone on the IR. "We got great play from Shaun Phillips, got great play from (Antwan) Applewhite. (Brandon) Lang will be asked to step up," coach Norv Turner said.
—CB Dante Hughes, released by the Chargers on Saturday, was re-signed Tuesday.
—QB Philip Rivers has thrown a touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games, three shy of Dan Fouts' franchise mark.
—Yep, Al Davis was once a Chargers assistant coach, helping the wide receivers. He was instrumental in luring future Hall of Famer Lance Alworth to the AFL's Chargers instead of the rival NFL.
—Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is a Bay Area native and was a standout linebacker at California.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2003 — The last year in which the Raiders beat the Chargers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Growing up in Alabama and going to N.C. State, I didn't know anything about Chargers and Raiders, but when you get here, you learn quickly what it means to the fans and to the state, and you know, it's exciting every time you play them." — QB Philip Rivers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
It will be interesting to see how the Chargers respond in the defensive backfield after losing SS Steve Gregory on a four-game suspension.
Paul Oliver, who sees field time in various packages, will be first up, but the team also signed Tyrone Carter, who played the last six seasons with the Steelers — he started 12 games in 2008.
Eric Weddle could also slide over from free safety and be replaced by C.J. Spillman. Plus, Quinton Teal who was signed to boost the special teams, is also a safety.
Fourth-round pick Darrell Stuckey has been active for only one game, and he has been nursing a hamstring injury.
Gregory wasn't a blow-up type hitter, more steady than spectacular. But there was a familiarity with him in the lineup, one that already has a first-year starter at cornerback, Antoine Cason.
—LB Shaun Phillips was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording four sacks and returning an interception for a score.
—RB Darren Sproles was advertised to be part of the revamped running attack. But so far, he has only 16 carries in four games, averaging 4.4 yards.
—TE Antonio Gates continues to compensate for any offensive firepower missing from the unsigned Vincent Jackson. Gates already had six touchdown receptions and 386 receiving yards.
—K Nate Kaeding has had his woes in the playoffs, but he saw an amazing streak end Sunday. He had made 64 consecutive field-goal attempts from 40 yards or less in the regular season before missing from 38 yards. He did rebound to convert from 48 and 47 yards.
—SS Steve Gregory's production will be missed during his four-game suspension. He was second on the team with 29 tackles.
GAME PLAN: One team is starting to the run the ball effectively, and the other has been having trouble stopping ground attacks. That explains why the Chargers might hug the Oakland turf Sunday. The Raiders were rolled last week when the Texans piled up 249 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, Mike Tolbert was producing his first 100-yard game and Ryan Mathews was scoring his first NFL touchdown. The San Diego offensive line is coming of its best showing in the running game as well. The Chargers would be wise to run the ball and keep QB Philip Rivers out of too much danger with Pro Bowl LT Marcus McNeill's return still one week away.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass rush, which piled up nine sacks last week, vs. Raiders front line, which has allowed 13 sacks in four games — Shaun Phillips showed an impressive burst last week, compiling four of the team's sacks. Kevin Burnett had a career-high two sacks, and Antwan Applewhite is also starting to show from the outside. The Raiders could be had, especially if they fall behind early or they forgo a running attack with the injury to Darren McFadden.
Chargers coverage units, which looked much better last week, vs. a Raiders return game that can be dangerous — The Chargers have allowed three returns (two kickoffs, one punt) on the road this year. But they sprinkled some starters into the units last week, and with some other regulars getting healthy, and overall, the coverages were markedly improved. The Raiders offer rookie Jacoby Ford and his 25.4-yard average — ninth-best in the NFL — with a long of 64. PR Johnnie Lee Higgins hasn't done much (7.8-yard average), but he does have a long of 53.
Chargers' run defense, which is ranked No. 7 in the NFL, vs. Raiders running game, which is dealing with injuries — San Diego's defensive front has settled in with less rotation of players, and Travis Johnson is leading the steady unit. The Raiders would like to run, but their main cog, Darren McFadden won't play due to a hamstring injury. If the Chargers can shut down a questionable running attack and get the Raiders into third-and-long, they can unleash the pass rush that caused such havoc last week.
INJURY IMPACT: OLB Larry English (foot) is out for another four weeks.
—SS Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday, and he likely to be out Sunday. He might have been a healthy inactive anyway.
—ILB Brandon Siler (foot) didn't participate Wednesday, and he could be a late-week decision. Siler is a key player on special teams.
—OLB Shawne Merriman (calf) was limited in practice Wednesday. Merriman has played only a handful of plays in the past two games. Even if he plays Sunday, he won't be on the field for an extended period of time.
—RG Louis Vasquez (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday, and he is expected to be out at least another week. Tyronne Green would get the start.