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Inside Slant - 12/27/07

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Dec 27, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm?loc=interstitialskip" target="_blank">USA Today</a>
    <p class="inside-copy"><img src="http://photos.signonsandiego.com/gallery1.5/albums/071014raiders/JM_Raiders_Chargersx2x276806x0307.jpg" alt="Chargers lineman Ryon Bingham holds Raiders running back LaMont Jordan to no gain in the second quarter." align="left" height="243" width="173" /> A regular-season ending for the Chargers few predicted is here.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The sizzling Chargers face the host Oakland Raiders on Sunday, putting a bow on a wacky 17-week run.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> There was that 1-3 start, the three-game winning streak, another hiccup, then a five-game run that leads them to Oakland.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> And just maybe, beyond.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Regardless of Sunday's outcome, the Chargers' playoff invitation is secure. But yet another win over the embattled Raiders locks up the AFC's No. 3 seed. It gives the Chargers a home game the following weekend against the Titans or Browns. And if the Chargers can win their first playoff game since the 1994 season, they would head to Indianapolis rather than New England.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But that's getting ahead of the cart a bit, and the Chargers know what happens then. Last year, they hit the playoffs with the No. 1 seed and a 10-game winning streak. Big deal, as they were kicked to the curb by the visiting Patriots.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers are looking ahead only so far as Oakland.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> When LaDainian Tomlinson looks back, he said it's clear why the Chargers enter Sunday's game with their original Super Bowl goal still alive.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "The perseverance that we have as a team is something that I'm really proud of because of the way we started," he said. "At the point when we were 5-5, we could have went either way. We had some tough games in there and we could (have) gone either way.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "We could have folded and just said, 'It's not going the way we want it to go. It's not our year.' But we didn't. We kept playing and that's how good teams get it done."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers are good, there's no question about that. But they were good last year and still lost to the Patriots in the playoffs. Tomlinson, though, is hopeful the harsh lessons learned earlier this year will pay off Sunday and in the future.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "We just believed in ourselves and what we were doing," he said. "We believe we had good enough players to get it done. We believed across the board we could match up with anybody."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> That certainly includes the 4-11 Raiders, a team leaning toward the tape of yet another disappointing season. If nothing else, the Chargers will see the first NFL start of rookie JaMarcus Russell.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> What they figure to get is a loose Raiders team with nothing to lose. The Chargers don't know, though, if Oakland will stay interested long enough to make it a game against one of their bitter AFC West rivals.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers are hoping to jump on the Raiders early and ease off the pedal. If they can get some rest to starters Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo and Tomlinson, all the better.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Still, the Chargers want to stay revved and hungry in ways to get better.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "Keep improving each week," coach Norv Turner said, "and get ourselves ready to make a run."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Raiders are in the path Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>SERIES HISTORY:</strong> 97th meeting. The Raiders lead, 55-39-2. The Chargers are going for their ninth straight victory over the Raiders. The Raiders haven't defeated the Chargers since doing it in Oakland in overtime on Sept. 28, 2003. Otherwise, the Chargers have won four of the past five games in Oakland and look to set a record for most consecutive wins against an opponent on Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-DE Luis Castillo was ecstatic to return to game action Monday night after being out since Nov. 4. "I've been working my butt off to get back and have the opportunity to play with this team," Castillo said. "We are finally putting it together. We are doing the right things. To be part of this run, it just feels great to be back out there." Castillo had two tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-S Clinton Hart said it was big that inexperienced players came through when Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman was out the previous week. "We have young guys that have stepped in and made plays and that is what it's all about," Hart said. "Shawne has got some guys backing him up and they came in, made plays and were eager. We have depth in every position."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Among the things getting your attention regarding the Chargers defense is how fast it plays. Coach Norv Turner said that's not luck, as he strives to keep his defenders fresh. "We work real hard with our practice schedule to make sure we're rested," he said. "I think the players are very, very comfortable with what we're doing and that confidence, I think, comes from having success."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Turner on Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell: "Well, it's interesting, when the Raiders were down here before, JaMarcus was inactive, or I guess maybe the third, he went through an extensive workout before the game and I got a chance to watch him really for the first time in person and I was just kind of blown away, impressed with his ability, his physical ability, his ability to throw a football, his accuracy and all that. He's going to be an outstanding player and he's going to go through what all young guys go through. There's a process to where you get to where you're ready to play."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers was getting his verbal jabs in with other Chargers, directed at Broncos QB Jay Cutler. "It's part of the game and it's the way I've always played," Rivers said. "Once the game is over, I think nothing else about it." Rivers is, if nothing else, always animated on the field.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Turner was the head coach of the Raiders from 2004-05, going 9-23.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Good after halftime: The Chargers scored a touchdown on their first offensive possession of the third quarter Monday night, the ninth time they scored a TD on their first possession of the third quarter to take over the lead for most in the NFL. New England is second with eight.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers only allowed one rushing touchdown at home, fewest in the NFL.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-LaDainian Tomlinson has had a rush of 10 yards or longer in 26 games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers didn't allow a first-quarter point at home during the regular season.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers WR Craig Davis and Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell were teammates last year at LSU.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers WR coach James Lofton interviewed for the Raiders head coaching job, which went to Lane Kiffin.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers are 4-0 in December and have won nine straight games in December.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Raiders owner Al Davis was once on the Chargers coaching staff from 1960-62 and a good recruiter in the AFL-NFL recruiting competition. He was instrumental in the Chargers getting Hall of Fame wide receiver Lance Alworth.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>BY THE NUMBERS:</strong> 2 - Times in franchise history the team has had consecutive 10-win seasons - 2006-07 and in 1980-81.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "Each and every game we just have been feeling more comfortable with each other - what I can do and what he can do as well." - WR Chris Chambers, on getting in sync with QB Philip Rivers.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The mind-set is score enough to win, which isn't much against the Raiders. With the Raiders defense struggling and breaking in a rookie quarterback, the Chargers don't have to take too many chances. They would be smart to run the ball and stick to a passing game that is more conservative as a batch of turnovers is probably what is needed to keep the Raiders in the game. The Raiders have scored more than 17 points in just three of their last 11 games. So be smart with the offense - don't go for too much.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-FB Andrew Pinnock has been grading out well as a replacement for the injured Lorenzo Neal (leg).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RT Jeromey Clary has solidified his hold on the starting job over Shane Olivea.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-WR Craig Davis, a rookie, has come on of late and has started to gain the coaches' confidence to be used in critical situations.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers has thrown for 3,000 yards in each of his two seasons as a starter.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Billy Volek looked shaky in the second half of Monday's game. He botched a handoff on his second play and was one-for-three for one yard on the night.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-TE Antonio Gates is coming off a one-catch, 24-yard game. Gates, though, is opening up options for other play-makers as he is constantly drawing the double teams.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>GAME PLAN:</strong> Even Chargers fans wouldn't want to see a bewildered, rookie quarterback thrown to the Chargers' pass rush - OK, maybe they wouldn't care. But the key here is for Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Co. to get after Russell. The kid will have a zillion things going through his head in his first NFL start, and trying to figure out which players are coming from what direction in the 3-4 alignment won't help his cause. The secondary, too, should have some fun disguising its coverages to baffle Russell even more. But while the Chargers offense can stay conservative and that will be enough for a win, it's just the opposite on this side of ball. The Chargers should throw everything they have at Russell and see if he can adjust.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>MATCHUPS TO WATCH:</strong> The Chargers running game, with LaDainian Tomlinson seeing a soft foe in Oakland, vs. the Raiders run defense, which is giving up nearly 148 yards per game. Tomlinson is aiming for another rushing title and he couldn't pick a better defense. Tomlinson has averaged 127 yards and has rushed for 100 yards in three straight games and five of his past six. Among the keys is how motivated Raiders DT Warren Sapp is going to be against Chargers C Nick Hardwick. Sapp lost his poise and was ejected from Sunday's game.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers secondary, which is led by CB Antonio Cromartie, the NFL interception leader with 10, vs. a shaky Raiders passing game with rookie QB JaMarcus Russell and a lack of playmakers. Cromartie didn't get his hands on a pick last game, so he'll be eager to snatch at least one more to quiet his secondary coach, former CB Bill Bradley, as he never fails to mention he got 11 in one year. Russell will be asked to sidestep what figures to be a stout pass rush and make good decisions with his throws. Russell was picked off three times and lost a fumble in the Raiders' loss last week. Russell, though, doesn't have much to throw to with Ronald Curry (54 catches) and Jerry Porter (42).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers punt return game with the shifty Darren Sproles vs. Raiders P Shane Lechler, who leads the NFL with a 49.1-yard average. Sproles is averaging 9.3 yards on returns and has a long of 45, which he returned for a touchdown. But Lechler is a Pro Bowler, and you can bet his hang time and directional work will challenge Sproles. If the Chargers can win in this area, it will give them good field position and put even more pressure on a Raiders defense that is 13th in the AFC. That defense can't spend the day looking at short fields if it wants to stay with the high-powered Chargers, who have scored 74 points in their past two games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>INJURY IMPACT:</strong> K Nate Kaeding (leg) rested but should be able to kick field goals on Sunday. He could leave the kickoff duties to P Mike Scifres. Kaeding didn't work Wednesday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> OLB Marques Harris had an operation Wednesday on a broken hand and is questionable for Sunday. Harris' game is speed, so it's likely it wouldn't hamper him there.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DT Jamal Williams (hip, ankle) will go easy and be a game-time decision. The Chargers will be cautious here. He didn't work Wednesday. Brandon McKinney would start in his place.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DE Luis Castillo (ankle) will be smart during practice this week. But he needs the work, so he will likely go Sunday. He got a full workout in Wednesday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> LB Brandon Siler (shoulder) worked on Wednesday and should be fine.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> FB Lorenzo Neal (leg) is out and has an outside shot to play in the playoffs.</p>
     

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