RB Darren Sproles (Donald Miralle/Getty)
The San Diego Chargers look to put together back-to-back victories for the first time this season when they host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. This pre-game notebook sets the stage for the big game by going inside the numbers, highlighting some players to watch and much more.
Big Plays on Big Downs
The Chargers converted 41 percent of their third-down opportunities versus Oakland in the season-opener, and they'll look to do even better in the rematch. The players to watch on third down are Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson. Sproles' 177 receiving yards on third down are the fifth most in the NFL while Jackson's 176 yards rank sixth.
Sproles leads the NFL with 1,206 all-purpose yards. He's already authored six plays of 50-plus yards this season: three kickoff returns; one punt return and two receptions. Two of his long kickoff returns (66 and 59 yards) came in Oakland in Week 1.
Jackson, who leads the team with 561 yards, is a big-play specialist in his own right. Last week, he became the first player in the league to have two receptions of 50-plus yards in the same quarter since Lee Evans did it in 2006. Jackson is one of six players league-wide with three catches of 50-plus yards this season.
It's been a rough season thus far for Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell, and the Chargers aim on extending that trend this weekend. Russell ranks second-to-last in passer rating (47.2), ahead of only Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson.
San Diego's pass defense is coming off its best outing of the season, as last week the Chiefs finished with just 82 net passing yards. QB Matt Cassel finished with a season-low 25.3 passer rating while getting sacked four times and picked off three times.
The Chargers flustered Russell during their meeting earlier this year, when he completed just 40 percent of his passes with a 47.6 passer rating. San Diego picked off Russel twice in that contest and sacked him once.
The Chargers will look to extend their streak of 12 consecutive wins over the Raiders. It is the longest winning streak by either team in the Chargers-Raiders rivalry, although Oakland still holds a 55-43-2 edge in the all-time series. San Diego's streak is tied for the NFL's longest of one team over another, joined by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots over the Buffalo Bills.
The key to San Diego's streak has been QB Philip Rivers, who has won all seven of his career starts versus the Raiders. A win Sunday would give Rivers eight in a row, which would be the third-longest streak by a QB to start his career versus any opponent.
Since Rivers joined the Chargers in 2004, San Diego has dominated the AFC West. The Chargers have won 25 division games since that time, tied for most in the league with the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. San Diego's 0.758 winning percentage in the division since 2004 has helped the team win four of the last five division titles.
Raiders to Watch For
Oakland's defensive line features a pair of productive defensive ends in Greg Ellis and Richard Seymour. The duo has combined for 124 career sacks. Ellis, who has 81 of those sacks, ranks eighth among active players. Ellis and Seymour have combined for eight sacks this season, three of them coming against the Chargers (two by Seymour and one by Ellis).
TE Zach Miller leads all tight ends in yards per catch amongst players with at least 15 receptions (16.0). Miller has posted receptions of at least 20 yards in three games this season, including the contest against the Bolts, where he went off with six catches for 96 yards.
Russell played at LSU with Jacob Hester and Buster Davis. … Mario Henderson and Antonio Cromartie played together at Florida State. … Chaz Schilens and Brandyn Dombrowski played together at San Diego State, the same alma mater shared by Kirk Morrison and Kassim Osgood. … Robert Gallery and Nate Kaeding played at Iowa.
Which Chargers players must step up on Sunday? Talk it out in the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.