By Curtis M. Egan
BoltTalk Staff Writer
The 2-2 Sand Diego Chargers storm into Oakland to face the 1-3 Raiders, as they attempt to come away with their first road win of the season. Chargers vs. Raiders, you can throw the stats out of the window (not that I will) because these teams do not like one another and get up to play each other each and every time they meet. Of late it has been the Chargers who have dominated the matchup, winning the last 13 games in a row.
The Chargers-Raiders rivalry has seen some donnybrooks and long win streaks coupled with high scoring matches that resulted in large margins of victory. The average margin of victory by both teams during the series is more than 12 points per game. That alone should speak to the emotions these rivals from the old days of the AFL bring to the table.
But let’s not just give way to history repeating itself here. Both teams have some issues they have to deal with. For San Diego, it is playing, and finding a way to win in front of a hostile crowd. They also have to find a way to hold onto the ball. The Chargers have lost six fumbles through four games, which almost match their total for all of last season.
The Raiders have some problems of their own to work out. The only team in the NFL that is worse than the Raiders at stopping the run is the Buffalo Bills. Now the AFC West has undergone a change of late, it used to be that the AFCW was a run first, throw when you can division. Now the teams are airing the ball out with regularity. However, as the season progresses the running game will become more prevalent.
Both teams run the ball reasonably well. The Raiders have the 6th ranked rushing attack currently, and the Chargers have improved to be raked as the 10th top rushing attack. So both teams can run the ball. Both teams have different look backs they can employ. San Diego has a bruiser, Mike Tolbert for San Diego who pounded out 100 yard rushing against the Arizona Cardinals last week. The Raiders came away from their last game beat up at the running back position at Darren McFadden went down after suffering a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury. Their backup, a familiar face in San Diego, Michael Bennett also is nursing a sore hamstring. This brings up Michael Bush who in the past has found some open space and given the Chargers fits at times. However, Bush is coming off of thumb surgery just a few weeks ago, and I am sure the San Diego defense will test his ability to hold onto the ball given this fact.
However when it comes to stopping the run, the Raiders have not shown they have the moxie to prevent the yards on the ground. The Raiders are allowing an eye popping 162 yards on the ground per game. Conversely, when you consider that the Chargers are giving up less than half of the yards on the ground that the Raiders are, allowing only 80.2 you can see that there is a mismatch there.
When going to the pass, this is a closer game than many would tend to believe. The Chargers are arguably one of the teams that have to be feared offensively. They excel at creating situations that force the opposing coverage to choose who to double and who to go man on man with. This is shown in the fact that they are the top rated offense in the league currently and the 3rd rated passing team. The Raiders are no slouches on offense either, their offense is ranked 9th currently, higher than they have seen it ranked in some time. They however are not very good in the passing attack. They rank 20th overall in the league in passing offense. Where the competition heats up is when you put the strength of the Raiders defense, their pass coverage up against the Chargers passing attack.
The Raiders tank 3rd overall in defending the pass. They have a young and athletic secondary that can play sideline to sideline. So you have the 3rd ranked San Diego passing attack going up against the 3rd ranked Oakland pass defense. This should be an exciting matchup to watch.
On the flip side the Chargers do not present an open field to passers either. They are currently ranked 4th in passing defense, and when you consider the Raiders passing attack is ranked 20th in the league, again you see a mismatch. The Raiders are ranked 9th overall in offense mainly because of the effectiveness of their aforementioned running game.
There are a few items of interest when looking at the game offensively. To this point neither of the offensive lines has really wowed anyone. There is a plethora (do you know what a plethora is? *shameless Three Amigos plug*) of reasons for this. If you look at the numbers, the Chargers offensive line ranks 17th overall in the league, giving up 8 sacks so far on the season. Now some might not panic because the Chargers get the Big Mac Attack, Marcus McNeil back next week and that should prove to be a bolstering force on their line. However, the Raiders are 29th in the league and have given up 13 sacks through 4 games.
I am sure that Chargers Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera will be planning plays to take advantage of this. So far his defense has excelled at using multiple look formations to create confusion and opportunities to get to the passer. The Chargers are ranked 4th in the league at putting grass stains on the opposing QBs. They have compiled a very respectable 15 sacks through 4 games. The Raiders have compiled 7 sacks and rank 18th over all…
The Chargers sit right now as the top ranked offense and defense. This is something they have not seen for 23 years. Note that though both units are enjoying success so far this season, they still sit at 2-2. The Chargers have had woes on special team, and have had to plug some starters in on the coverage units. This seemed to have helped as the Special Teams showed some consistency last week against Arizona. However they now have to show they can maintain that. Should the Chargers Special Teams faultier in Oakland the Chargers 13 game winning streak could end right there, this is not a place where the Chargers can give up opportunities and provide momentum and confidence to their hated rivals.
Chargers Linebacker Kevin Burrnett laughed when asked about the Chargers being the top ranked team in both offense and defense “Ask me in another 12 weeks (laughter). Ask me in another 12 weeks. Let’s see if we are still having the same conversation.”
One last stat comparison; The Chargers are ranked 3rd in scoring offense currently. They have compiled 14 touchdowns, 4 on the ground, 9 through the air. They will have to continue to put the crooked numbers on the board to get their first road win. The Raiders are tied for 20th in scoring offense. They have 7 touchdowns, 2 though the air and 5 on the ground. San Diego will look to halt the ground game of the Raiders and dare Bruce Gradkowski to beat them through the air.
If they can force the Raiders to the air, chances are good that the Charges will move closer to tying the Raiders for the longest win streak over the other, 18 games. The Raiders still lead the series 55-44-2, so the Chargers still have some catching up to do.
Who to watch:
Raiders Left Guard vs. San Diego’s D-line; I know this sounds wishy washy, but the Raiders are beat up almost as much as the Chargers and their Left Guard position has taken a particularly nasty hit. Robert Gallery has been suffering from a hamstring injury and missed their last game against the Rams. His backup Daniel Loper has been dinged up as well. There are two other dinged up linemen across the Raiders offensive line. Their task of protecting Gradkowski does not get any easier as they face an active Chargers Defense.
Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Antonio Gates; Typically I would never really consider that a team would put their best pass defender on a Tight End. However, arguably the biggest pass threat the Raiders face is Antonio Gates. He is a Ninja. He can get open like few other tight ends in the league, his soft hands, size and speed make him a definite threat to the Raiders. If Asomugha mans up on Gates, look for Floyd and Naanee to get more passes thrown their way.
Chargers Special Teams vs. Raiders Special Teams; Alright, I admit it. I am shell shocked and irritated that the Chargers special teams cost the team two games. They improved last week against the Cardinals but I am still not to a point that I can be cautiously optimistic about them. They need to prove to me that their heads are in the game.
Ball Control vs. Ball stripping; As mentioned before, the Chargers have lost six fumbles in four games. This almost matches their 2009 total. They have to control the ball. Fumbles and turnovers are a way to give momentum and confidence to the other team. If the Chargers do that, and allow the home crowd to be a factor, it could be a long afternoon.
Chargers by 7
Head to Head:
Total Offense: Chargers
Passing Offense: Chargers
Rushing Offense: Raiders
Total Defense: Chargers
Passing Defense: Raiders (almost a push)
Rushing Defense: Chargers
Chargers big! 34 Raiders 20