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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Game Preview: Jokeland VS. Chargers

Source: Associated Press

The San Diego Chargers barely escaped with a win against the Oakland Raiders earlier this season. They didn’t need any late-game heroics in their last contest.

Coming off perhaps their most dominant effort of the season, the Chargers look to win their 13th straight over the Raiders as the AFC West rivals meet Sunday.

San Diego (3-3) hasn’t lost to Oakland (2-5) since a 34-31 road defeat Sept. 28, 2003, averaging 28.2 points during the run. The win streak, however, was in danger of ending before Darren Sproles scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard run with 18 seconds left in a season-opening 24-20 victory Sept. 14.

San Diego lost three of its next four during a stretch against tough opponents, but bounced back with a 37-7 win at Kansas City last Sunday. Coach Norv Turner and quarterback Philip Rivers said it was the team’s most complete game of the season.

“Individuals have to keep getting better and we have to collectively keep getting better as we zero in on what we have to do to prepare and play well against the Raiders,” Turner told the Chargers’ official Web site.

Rivers threw three touchdown passes last week, giving him seven in his last three games.

Against the Raiders, he answered a pair of go-ahead Oakland scores with a TD drive each time.

LaDainian Tomlinson rolled his ankle in that game, causing him to miss the next two. Tomlinson and San Diego’s running game have struggled this season, as he rushed for a season-high 71 yards versus the Chiefs.

Tomlinson’s 36-yard run on the Chargers’ first touchdown drive was his longest since a 45-yarder against Denver on Dec. 28. The Chargers had 135 rushing yards after averaging 57.6 in their first five contests.

Despite their struggles on the ground, San Diego has had little trouble scoring this season, averaging 26.8 points. The Chargers’ defense, however, had given up an average of 27.2 points before holding the Chiefs to 203 yards.

Oakland has been terrible offensively of late. The Raiders lost 38-0 at home to the New York Jets last Sunday and have been held to less than eight points in four of their last five games.

JaMarcus Russell fumbled to set up a Jets score and threw two interceptions before being pulled in favor of Bruce Gradkowski.

Russell finished 6 of 11 for 61 yards as Oakland was shut out for the first time since a 24-0 loss to Atlanta last Nov. 2. Coach Tom Cable, though, said Russell will remain the starter.

“Hopefully it will fire him up so then it doesn’t happen again, that he’ll work that much harder and really put in all the effort that he can to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Oakland tight end Zach Miller said. “Any competitor should want that to never happen. I would never want to be benched. I don’t think he would either.”

One of Russell’s two TD passes this season came against San Diego, a 57-yard throw to rookie Louis Murphy to give Oakland a 20-17 lead with 2:34 left.

Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, has regressed after showing some positive signs late last season. He has completed 46.3 percent of his passes while throwing eight interceptions and losing five fumbles. His 47.2 passer rating is ahead of only Cleveland’s Derek Anderson.

“It’s just something that you have to have a little bit better control,” Cable said. “It’s not something that you like to do, in terms of pulling him and all that. I’ve been pretty strong against it. I want to push him to give him every opportunity to succeed.”

—What are the reasons the Chargers’ running game was slow to develop? Coach Norv Turner has the answers.

“Well, you can go right back to the opening game,” he said. “We started the season in Oakland, and our center, our right guard and our tailback were all injured and missed at least the next two games. And our center has not returned. We have a young right guard that has come back and played. The combination of the change and continuity there and the schedule we played, and the teams the way we played them.

“We played Baltimore and Miami and we had a lot of yards in both games, moved the ball and scored points. They’re not teams that you’re going to zero in and just run the ball every down against. The way the Pittsburgh game went, we struggled to run the ball. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve gotten back into little bit more of a balanced mode where we’re getting a little better run production.”

ILB Tim Dobbins made the most of filling in for Kevin Burnett last week, collecting 11 tackles and an interception in Kansas City.

“(That’s) his best game since I’ve been here,” Turner said. “(He) was outstanding against the run and the pass.”

With Burnett still ailing, Dobbins could get his second straight start.

QB Philip Rivers is coming off his best start of the year, one in which he compiled a 122.6 rating while throwing for three touchdowns and 268 yards with no interceptions. It helped that Rivers wasn’t sacked in Kansas City after being nailed five times the previous game against the Broncos.

WR Vincent Jackson said the team’s 12-game winning streak over the Raiders isn’t the focus in the locker room. “I didn’t know exactly how many it is,” he said. “It’s not really a big deal to us.”

The Chargers need to keep an eye on DE Richard Seymour, their old nemesis from his days with the Patriots. Seymour had two sacks and six tackles when they teams squared off in the season opener. He’s tied for the team lead with four sacks.

Steve Gregory, a former safety, is taking to his new responsibilities as the nickel back.

“Wherever they tell me to play, I’m going to play, and I’m going to do my best,” he said.

Raiders LB Kirk Morrison and WR Chaz Schilens, who has missed the season with injury, are both San Diego State grads.

Turner went 9-23 as Raiders head coach from 2004-05.

Oakland owner Al Davis was a wide receivers coach for the Chargers from 1960-62 and was instrumental in the signing of Hall of Famer Lance Alworth.

The Chargers cut DB Simeon Castille, who played special teams against Kansas City after being signed off the practice squad the day before. It re-signed CB Dante Hughes, who was signed last week before being cut for Castille.

OT Joe Toledo was added to the practice squad.

Sunday marks the end of a three-game swing through the AFC West. The Chargers lost to the Broncos before beating the Chiefs last week. The Chargers only have two divisional games remaining after Sunday, which could make it more difficult to make up that three-game deficit to the first-place Broncos.

By The Numbers: 8—Number of wins QB Philip Rivers has in eight starts against the Raiders.

Quote To Note: “They beat the Eagles, who I think most people consider one of the best teams in the league. That’s the Raiders team we’re going to prepare for.”—Coach Norv Turner in building up the Raiders, despite their 2-5 record.


This will mark week two of the Chargers’ revamped secondary and base on last week, the changes are working.

In the wake of releasing starting strong safety Clinton Hart, the Chargers moved rookie Kevin Ellison over to Hart’s spot and switched safety Steve Gregory to the nickel cornerback spot. Paul Oliver also worked some at safety and the results were impressive.

With defensive coordinator Ron Rivera calling numerous blitzes from corners and safeties, safety Eric Weddle had a sack; Oliver and Gregory had interceptions.

Antoine Cason, a second-year pro, was the odd man out in this realignment. But the Chargers don’t plan to tinker with the success they had last week.

Player Notes

P Mike Scifres was a full participant in practice which was a good sign. Scifres has been battling a groin injury, but may be past it.

WR Buster Davis, a former first-round pick, continues to be looked over on game days. He has yet to suit up, despite being healthy on most game days. His time in San Diego could be come to an end after this season.

OLB Shawne Merriman is showing more speed than earlier in the year. He still is looking for his first sack of the season. He was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury but it is not considered serious.

RG Jeromey Clary hopes to build off his performance in Kansas City in which he had his best game of the year.

WR Chris Chambers needs a decent game Sunday or he will continue to lose snaps to Malcom Floyd. Chambers had two drops Sunday, including one that would have gone for a touchdown.

Game Plan: Considering the troubles the Raiders have in stopping the run, giving up 169 yards per game, the Chargers are expected to give them a steady dose of the running game. That’s not to say the Chargers won’t do what they do best—heave it down field with regularity. But LaDainian Tomlinson showed last week with a season-best carry of 36 yards on a season-high 71 yards that he can still gobble up yards when given the chance. And the Chargers had some trouble with pass protection that last time these teams played. Running it will give Tomlinson confidence going forward, as well as keep the heat off of Rivers in the pocket.

Matchups To Watch: Chargers pass defense vs. Raiders TE Zach Miller. The Chargers are notorious for having trouble covering tight ends and this week should be no different. Although the team hopes its new look on the back end will deliver a different result with new starting SS Kevin Ellison likely tracking Miller, who had 96 receiving yards on six catches against the Chargers in the opener. Last year against the Chargers, Miller had a 95-yard game. With Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell having accuracy problems down field, look for him to try to involve Miller heavily in the passing game. It’s going to be up to Ellison and the linebackers to keep Miller’s production down.

Chargers pass rush vs. Raiders front line. With the Chiefs falling behind early, the Chargers were able to work on their pass rush and blitzes and it was a welcome showing, resulting in four sacks. The secondary got into the act with numerous blitzes and OLB Shaun Phillips got his first two sacks of the season. The Raiders’ front hasn’t blocked with any consistency and Russell looks like a quarterback with happy feet. The Chargers will go after Russell in various ways out of their 3-4 alignment to get Russell jittery and not allow him to go through his reads. OLB Shawne Merriman doesn’t have a sack this season but he always seems to play well against the Raiders.

Chargers run defense vs. Raiders RBs Michael Bush and Justin Fargas. The Chargers were exposed up the middle in the wake of losing Pro Bowl DT Jamal Williams. But lately the rotation of Ian Scott, Travis Johnson and Ogemdi Nwagbuo has fortified that area and no longer are gaping holes being seen up the middle. With Russell struggling, it figures that the Raiders will offer their two-headed monster. Both Bush and Fargas have 56 carries for 204 yards, with Bush adding two touchdowns—one of which came against the Chargers in the opener.

Injury Impact: DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) was limited in his practice and could be compromised on Sunday. The Chargers can ill-afford any more injuries to the defensive line. DL Travis Johnson (groin) will be limited in practice this week but should play Sunday. He won’t be at 100 percent. C Nick Hardwick (ankle) is starting to do some work on the side but still isn’t expected to return until mid-November. ILB Kevin Burnett (ankle) didn’t practice and will likely be down this week.