<img src="http://photos.signonsandiego.com/gallery1.5/albums/061126raiders/KC_Raiders260211x2302.jpg" alt="LaDainian Tomlinson runs for 7 yards in the third quarter as Thomas Howard of the Raiders gives chase." height="176" width="267" />
By Curtis Egan
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
It is that time of the year again, time to board up your windows, lock the doors and prepare for the onslaught of black and silver clad hooligans. It is a time when we see grown men dressed as all sorts of strange things to come out in public. Usually this only happens at specific times. Mardi Gras, Halloween, Dia de Muertos, Any game at the Oakland Coliseum, and when the Raiders come to San Diego.
We will see Darth Vaders, tinfoil hats and shoulder spikes, as well as grease paint galore. It is a special time of the year when you can look at your fellow man and honestly say "What were you thinking? Do they really think that looks intimidating?" as look upon the Raiders fans. Yes, it is an interesting day of the year-
Raider's week ha returned to San Diego. What used to hit the town like a storm now comes in list a stale fetid breeze.
The San Diego and Oakland rivalry has taken a turn of late with the Chargers dominating the Raiders. In fact one must go back to September 28, 2003 to find the last time that the Raiders have defeated the Chargers The Raiders currently are suffering through a streak in which they have lost the last 15 games they have played against AFC West opponents.
Raiders will be starting Quarterback Daunte Culpepper has managed two wins for the Raiders, but in each has passed only sparingly. Against the Dolphins he only threw the ball 12 times the entire game, completing only 5. However, of those 5, 2 were for touchdowns. He has not yet thrown an interception in the two games he has played. But he is a big bodied quarterback at 6' 4", listed at 265 pounds, and has a 40 time that can be clocked with a sun dial. The Chargers Speedy Defense should be able to provide pressure on him to make him throw the ball up for grabs.
The Raiders do come into Qualcom, on Sunday boasting a good running game, however, this will be their first game against a team which is in the top portion of the league in running defense.
The Chargers have an excellent chance to get pressure on the quarterback in this game, but they also will be going against a defense that has not been able to get on track. They have not shown an ability to consistently defend the run, and they are also weak in their pass coverage.
The question is will Oakland have the wherewithal to keep up with San Diego on offense. Running Back, LaDainian Tomlinson has been a Raider killer, and now Tight End, Antonio Gates is looking to put up career numbers, as he currently leads the Chargers in pass receptions and yardage.
Oakland enters the game as the AFC West leading team, with the number one scoring offense in the division. They currently have a record of 2 wins and 2 losses. The losses the Raiders have suffered from Denver and Detroit, and their wins coming over the Browns and the Dolphins. The Raiders have not won three consecutive games since their 2002 season, and it doesn't get any easier for them this week going against the Chargers. Three of Tomlinson's seven touchdown passes have come against the Raiders, and this week could see more if the Raiders defense bites too hard on Tomlinson running to the edge of the field.
The Chargers enter with a record of 2 wins and 3 losses, their losses coming to the Patriots, Packers, and Chiefs, with their wins coming over Denver, and the Bears. They are eager to show that last season was not a fluke, and want to continue their recent success against the Raiders who lead the series with 54 wins, 38 losses and 2 ties to the Chargers.
It is no secret that the Chargers have struggled in their first few games, but they appear to have rediscovered some of their continuity on both sides of the ball as they come off a game where they handed the Denver Broncos their largest home loss since the AFL NFL merger. It was the most complete game the Chargers have played, and it could be the wrong time to go up against the Chargers. Although the Raiders had an extra week to prepare for the game as they are coming off of their bye week.
<strong><em>Chargers on Offense, Raiders Defense:</em></strong>
For the Chargers the offensive game starts with Quarterback Philip Rivers. That means that the offensive line will be a big key for the game. It is easy to say that the key player will be Tomlinson given his excellent career average against Oakland, but the Raiders will be keying on Tomlinson, daring the Chargers to beat them through the air.
The Chargers can indeed do this as there is a big mismatch in the size of the Chargers receivers, who average 6'5" in height, going against the Oakland secondary that averages just 6' in height, their tallest players being 6; 2". The Chargers receivers and tight ends are excellent blockers and have the ability to use their bodies to shield the ball from the defenders.
The protection at the line will be very important in this game. The Chargers need to focus on keeping the Oakland Defensive Tackles Warren Sapp, and Tedrell Sands from causing too much havoc in the middle of the line. This means keeping an extra body back to block, which this season has meant that Chargers Tight End Brandon Manumaleuna will be tasked with the job of providing extra protection. Both Sapp and Sands are very big individuals and can bull rush an offensive lineman back into the pocket. Sapp 6' 2", 300 lbs is in his 13th NFL season but can still get the job done, he currently has 10 tackles. Sands is a huge body to move at 6' 7" and 335 pounds, he has 3 tackles, Defensive End Tommy Kelley has 16 tackles and a sack, at 6' 6" and 300 lbs he has had success against the run and in delivering pressure to the quarterback.
The Raiders will look to cheat a Safety up to the line of scrimmage in order to help defense against the run, something they have has some troubles against as they are currently ranked 26th in the league against the run. This is much the same as Denver attempted to do, and while Denver has some success, it opened up the passing lanes for Gates and Jackson. The big question is can the Raiders defense show enough different looks to keep the Chargers offense guessing and off balance, without giving up coverage against the pass? The Raiders currently rank 22nd in the league in defending the pass, and they may have to pick their poison as the Chargers have the 17th ranked running offense, and the 14th ranked passing attack both of which is improving every week. At a high level it is San Diego's 18th overall ranked offense going against Oakland's 26th ranked defense.
The Raiders have not been very successful as a team in pressuring the quarterbacks so far this season. They have 7 sacks through 4 games, 1 forced fumble and 8 interceptions they currently have a give away, take away total of -1. San Diego's offense has fumbled the ball 7 times losing 4.
<strong>Key Match Ups:</strong>
<strong><em>Sapp vs. Goff:</em></strong> Warren Sapp's tackles are down this year but he is still a big body and can move his man backwards. Mike Goff is struggling a little bit this season but is a crafty veteran who knows how to use his opponent's weight against him. If Sapp can push Goff back this could make for a long day for Rivers, who has not been responding well when pressured so far this season. If Goff wins the battle in the trenches, Rivers should have time to let the route develop or find his dump off man, which means Tomlinson.
<strong><em>Kelley vs. Olivea:</em></strong> Tommy Kelley is a mountain of a man, and has long arms, he is going against Shane Olivea, who has the knock against him of having short arms. Olivea protects Rivers' blind side and if Kelley, Oakland's most productive defensive lineman this season, can man handle Olivea then Rivers will have to scramble, pass quickly or take the sack. Olivea will have to get the first hit on Kelley and remain low to keep Kelley upright.
<strong><em>Jackson vs. Washington:</em></strong> Fabian Washington at 5' 11" will have a difficult task in defending 6' 5" Vincent Jackson who currently ranks second on the team in receiving yards, accumulating 315 through the first 5 games. Washington is fast but has no interceptions on the season. He has accumulated 12 tackles so far but will definitely be miss matched when defending against Jackson, or Gates if the big Tight end moves into his zone of coverage.
<strong><em>Gates vs. LBs:</em></strong> The Raiders will have to rely on their Line Backers Kirk Morrison, and Thomas Howard to be their primary defense against Gates across the middle of the field. Both Howard and Morrison lead the Raiders in interceptions, both with three. Howard at 6' 3", and Morrison at 6'2" match up better in height against the 6' 3" Gates, although they will have to find a way to defend him, something teams have had a very difficult time with this season.
<strong><em>Chargers on Defense, Raiders Offense: </em></strong>
The Raiders offensive plan begins on the ground. They enter the game boasting the number one rushing offense in the league, averaging 194.2 yards per game, and will get Dominic Rhodes back from suspension. Running Back LaMont Jordan has averaged 5 yards per carry so far this season and has 424 yards through the first four game, he also has 12 pass receptions on the season. Backup Justin Fargas has been good in relief of Jordan, gaining 261 yards on the ground, 179 of which came against the Dolphins. The Raiders are going to try and push the Chargers front seven and open the rushing lanes. With the Raiders, the run is used to up the pass. They will look to get a Charger Safety to bite up towards the line of scrimmage to open the middle passing lanes for Culpepper and the Raider receivers.
The Chargers are no push over at the line of scrimmage though. The front three have been a little beleaguered this season but still stuff the routes and prevent the run well. The Chargers currently rank 10th overall in defending the run. Where the Chargers have been week is against the pass. The Chargers currently rank 27th against the pass and continue to struggle as the front 7 are not putting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Shawne Merriman has had excellent games in the past and the Chargers will look for him to create confusion on the Raiders offensive line. Making the Raider ends think about who to pick up. The Raiders will be forced at times to keep a tight end in the backfield to provide extra protection against the San Diego pass rush. On the other side, if the Raiders concentrate on Merriman, look for Shaun Phillips to get some pressure on Culpepper.
San Diego will have to do a better job at defending the pass. Their bend don't break defense got some lucky breaks against Denver, but Ronald Curry and Jerry Porter can get yards after the initial contact, averaging 4.3 and 6.3 yards respectively. While Curry has 223 receiving yards on the year and Porter has 144.
Looking at the previous 5 games, Oakland will look to attack the Chargers secondary as long as they are able to protect Cullpepper. However the pass is not their strong suit this year as the Oakland passing attack currently ranks 29th in the league.
The Chargers have had some successful as a team in pressuring the quarterbacks so far this season. They have 10 sacks through 5 games, 8 forced fumble and 5 interceptions they currently have a give away, take away total of +1. San Diego's offense has fumbled the ball 7 times losing 4. Oakland's offense has fumbled the ball 13 times, losing it 4.
<strong>Key Match Ups:</strong>
<strong><em>Castillo vs. Gallery:</em></strong> Luis Castillo is a strong young man with a motor, and Gallery has struggled in pass protection this season. If Gallery is not able to get the first hit on Castillo, Culpepper could find himself being flushed from the pocket into the arms of one of San Diego's speedy line backers.
<strong><em>Jammer vs. Curry:</em></strong> Quentin Jammer will be tasked with defending Oakland's leading receiver. The San Diego pass defense has been soft all season, allowing receiver to make the catch then deliver the hit, rather than attacking the ball or jumping the route. Part of this is due to the pass rush not getting to the opposing quarterbacks, but it also has to do with the bend, don't break scheme that Chargers Defensive Coordinator Ted Cottrell has employed.
<strong><em>Offensive Line vs. Merriman & Phillips:</em></strong> The Chargers pass rush relies on the two large, speedy Outside Linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips to disrupt the offensive protection of the opposing team. If Culpepper drops back deep to go for the big throw he will have to keep an eye out for one of the two Shaun's. Teams have been beating the San Diego pass rush in part due to using short drop, quick release passes. But when quarterbacks drop back for the big pass, the Chargers are able to deliver sacks, much as Phillips did to Bears Quarterback Rex Grossman in the first game of the season.
<p id="post_message_317330"><strong><em>The monkey and the wrench:</em></strong>
There is a long history of bad blood between these two teams. There is absolutely no love lost between the two, and they love to hang a loss on the others. Oakland will be fighting to remain in first place, while San Diego will be fighting to take first place.
Look for the battle of field position to be extremely important in a game that will feature a lot of running. The kick off and punt returns can be the factor that delivers the win to their prospective teams. The team with the shortest field will have the edge.
<strong><em>Concudan's Prognostication: </em></strong>
I look for the Chargers dominance of the Raiders to continue. Though Oakland will be fresh the Chargers are coming together as a team and it appears that they are starting to buy into Head Coah, Norv Turner's offensive scheme.
<strong><font color="Navy">Chargers 28, Raiders 17.</font></strong>
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