Not a single prediction put the San Diego Chargers behind the Oakland Raiders, but Norv Turner…
Are Resurgent Raiders the Best in the West?
The Chargers, fresh from their breakout showing in Denver, welcome the Oakland Raiders to San Diego on Sunday.
In erasing a three-game losing streak last week, the Chargers looked the way everyone thought they would.
But can they do it again and over the rest of a the season, starting this weekend against an improved Raiders team?
An AFC West-leading Raiders team, we might add.
The Chargers have pushed the Raiders around of late, but running back LaDainian Tomlinson said his film work has shown a team with a pulse.
"They're back to playing the way they used to play when they went to the Super Bowl and whatever and they were really good," Tomlinson said. "What they did well is they knew what they did. They had a specific plan in place, and they executed their plan to perfection. They really didn't try to do anything special. You didn't have guys out there trying to do their own thing. They played as a team, and that's what I'm seeing on film. Those guys are playing as a team, and they play all the way through the game. They're in the game to win it."
The Chargers were in this season to go to the Super Bowl. But after stumbling from the gate while losing three of their first four games, they seem to have righted themselves in Denver.
The Raiders, though, are riding a wave of confidence. They have won two in a row after an 0-2 start, and they have enjoyed extra time to prepare following the bye.
Chargers coach Norv Turner, though, believes his team is just scratching the surface.
"I don't think we will play our best game for a long time," Turner said. "We will grow and play better as the year goes on."
It didn't get off to such a great start. That's why Sunday's win in Denver was so important, but only if the Chargers can win this weekend at home against the Raiders.
The Raiders will present a different set of problems.
"They are one of the more improved teams in the league and are running the ball extremely well," said Turner, a one-time Raiders head coach. "It's a different group with five or six new starters than what our guys have played against. They're playing at a high level."
The Chargers know the feeling.
What will be interesting to see is if they can build on the confidence consumed in Denver or just look back on it wishfully.
"We hung in there during the adversity," Turner said.
Turner was referring to the Chargers' start. Come Sunday, they can begin to show their latest performance was no fluke.
SERIES HISTORY: 95th meeting. The Raiders lead the series, 54-38-2, but the Chargers are closing fast in erasing that deficit, as they have won seven straight in the series. That's the longest stretch in the series history. Over that span, the Chargers have outscored the Raiders 195-83.
--QB Philip Rivers was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after leading the Bolts to a 41-3 win at Denver. Rivers completed 13 of 18 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His passer rating of 151.4 was his highest single-game total of his career.
--OLBs Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman both played well last year against the Raiders. Phillips had 3 1/2 sacks in the two 2006 games, while Merriman collected three in the season opener. Neither player got a sack last week in the win over Denver.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson said it was obvious whenever it was Raiders Week under ex-coach Marty Schottenheimer. "Marty, he didn't like the Raiders at all," Tomlinson said. "He couldn't stand the Raiders. I don't think he ever worked there. I don't know, he just never liked the Raiders. It was always for him a little more personal. With Norv (Turner), Norv has a history of being with the Raiders. He obviously coached there and everything. It's a little different in that aspect. Marty downright just hated the Raiders."
--Turner declined to overanalyze why the Chargers improved so much from one week to the next. "In my mind, it is just the result of what we've been doing on the practice field," he said.
--Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is the brother or Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. The Ravens' Ryan interviewed for the Chargers' head-coaching job that went to Turner.
--WR Vincent Jackson said the team kept believing in itself even with the slow start. "We've never taken our eyes off the prize," he said. "In the beginning, we struggled a bit, but that's just how it goes."
--QB Quentin Jammer, as is the rest of the secondary, is often the target of those doubting the Chargers defense. Jammer said he and his teammates can handle it. "I think we can take the heat because we haven't been tackling guys very well and haven't been covering guys great," he said. "(Against Denver), we made an emphasis to come out and make tackles and minimize the gains."
--Rivers said while the team's wide receivers aren't well known individually that they can do the job collectively. "Our wide receivers may not get 70, 80, 90 balls a year, but with this group, they play well as a group," Rivers said. "They're very unselfish."
--Counting the 2006 playoffs, the Chargers have lost two of their past three home games. This after going 8-0 at home during the '06 regular season.
--The Chargers are ending a three-game stretch of playing AFC West rivals, splitting the previous two games. The Chargers don't return to AFC West play until Dec. 2 in Kansas City.
--Raiders owner Al Davis was on the Chargers coaching staff from 1960-62 as a defensive assistant.
--Chargers receivers coach James Lofton played for the Raiders from 1987-88.
--New Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable was a graduate assistant at San Diego State.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Number of LaDainian Tomlinson's seven career TD passes coming against the Raiders. Tomlinson is one shy of tying Walter Payton's NFL mark for non-quarterbacks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Now we have to take the next step and do it two weeks in a row." -- Chargers coach Norv Turner on following up last week's impressive 41-3 victory over the Broncos.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
WR Craig Davis will get the majority of looks opposite starter Vincent Jackson. Jackson has come on of late and will get more attention from the Raiders secondary -- if his sore shoulder holds up. Davis was nursing a sore ankle last week and didn't have the speed he needs to stretch the field. The Chargers should look Davis' way after establishing the run, possibly going to Davis on the play-action.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson always loves going against the Silver and Black. Tomlinson has rushed for 1,455 yards, the most yards he has against any opponent. He also has 12 rushing touchdowns in the 12 career games against Oakland. His seven 100-yard games are the most he's had against any rival as well.
--TE Antonio Gates leads all tight ends with 40 receptions for 489 yards. Gates had his third 100-yard receiving game in just five contests last Sunday.
--With the Broncos getting just 72 rushing yards, one of the game balls went to DT Jamal Williams.
--ILB Matt Wilhelm did well in his first start last week after missing the previous two starts with a strained calf. The Chargers run defense appreciated his contribution of six tackles, the most by any San Diego linebacker.
--With Wilhelm back, his replacement, Carlos Polk, turns his attention to special teams, where he shines. It was Polk's crushing hit on Brian Clark that forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Brandon Siler.
--WR Malcom Floyd, who is having a tough time getting on the field, could see some additional action if Vincent Jackson's ailing shoulder acts up. Jackson will start, but he's worth watching as the game wears on.
--K Nate Kaeding, with two field goals in Denver, now has 73 in his career. He takes over third place on the team's all-time made field goals list.
GAME PLAN: The past three teams have tried to spread the Chargers out. The Raiders, however, are built more to pack it in, run the ball and give veteran QB Daunte Culpepper plenty of protection. So the Chargers should sell out against the run and not be overly concerned about Culpepper hurting them with the pass. Culpepper proved, too, he can still scoot, scoring three rushing touchdowns in their last game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers run defense, led by DT Jamal Williams, vs. Raiders running game.
The Chargers figure to get a heavy dose of a resurgent Oakland running attack. LaMont Jordan's availability will be iffy, but Dominic Rhodes is back from his suspension, and Justin Fargas has shown promise. The key is the Chargers, behind Williams, being able to solve the Raiders' new zone run-blocking scheme. That's where Williams must win his battles with the interior of the Raiders' rebuilt offensive line. If the Chargers can stone the running attack, that could open up Daunte Culpepper for a full heaping of the Chargers' pass rush, which had its way with the team last year.
Chargers passing game, behind Philip Rivers, vs. Raiders pass defense, which includes the pass rush of Gerard Warren, Thomas Howard and Derrick Burgess.
The Chargers were stout in protecting QB Philip Rivers last week, as the Broncos didn't sack him and seldom pressured him. That played a big part in keeping Rivers away from those costly turnovers. The protection will be put to a test by the Raiders. Warren has resurrected his career and leads the team with three sacks. LT Marcus McNeill is coming off a good game after struggling early in the season. He needs to be on his mark.
Chargers running game, with Pro Bowl FB Lorenzo Neal and C Nick Hardwick leading the way, vs. the Raiders run defense, with LBs Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard.
The Chargers running attack showed some signs of life last week, but the Broncos stink against the run. This week, they will get a better feel for where their all-important run game is against the active linebackers of the Raiders. The Raiders are allowing 129.5 rushing yards per game, and the Chargers will see if they can increase those numbers. Look for SS Mike Huff to lend a hand in trying to prevent that as well.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Vincent Jackson (shoulder) didn't work on Wednesday but is expected to go Sunday...ILB Brandon Siler (back) didn't practice Wednesday but should be OK for Sunday...DT Jamal Williams (coach's decision) didn't practice Wednesday. He is fine, but the Chargers are keeping him well-rested...FB Andrew Pinnock (knee) is out two to three more games...WR Eric Parker (toe surgery) is out two to three more games.
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