Charger at Raiders Week 5 Preview
Chargers on Offense
Quarterback Philip Rivers is 8-0 against Raiders and comes into Sunday’s game red hot. He has thrown touchdowns in 17 consecutive games. Rivers is facing a team that is highly ranked against the pass. Last week he was an efficient 15 of 20 for 241 yards and two touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals. I would expect something similar this week as the Chargers continue to show a more balanced offense.
I don’t get it. How many years have teams tried to cover tight end Antonio Gates with a linebacker? It just doesn’t work!
Last week, Gates ran wild against the Cardinals, catching 7 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. It was the eighth straight games with a TD, an NFL record for tight ends. He also leads all NFL receivers with 6 touchdown catches through four games. He is on pace to smash all of his already impressive single season personal records.
I’m not sure what the Raiders can do to stop Gates. They may put arguably the best cornerback in the league Nnamdi Asomugha on him, hoping his cover skills are enough to slow down the best tight end in football.
If Asomugha isn’t going to cover Gates, it’s a pretty good bet that he will shut down Malcolm Floyd on Sunday. So, it’s time for another receive or receivers to step up. Legedu Naanee has been MIA at home games this season, hopefully going back on the road will kick start his production. He has just two catches for a combined 18 yards at home, while accumulating 9 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown on the road.
Last week, we also saw Thunder and Lightening in the back field. Mike ‘Thunder’ Tolbert ran for a career high 100 yards last week on 16 carries and a touchdown. Ryan ‘Lightening’ Mathews came back from injury scored for the first time in his professional career.
The only time the Chargers offense was derailed against the Cardinals last week, was when Darren Sproles fumbled the ball.
Raiders on Offense
Oakland was to start anew with Jason Campbell at quarterback. Well, that lasted a game and a half. Head coach Tom Cable went back to veteran back up Brad Gradkowski to get the offense started. Gradkowski led the team to a comeback victory in week 2, against the woeful St Louis Rams. Since then, the Raiders lost the last two games, both started by Gradkowski.
There weapons on the Raiders roster for Gradkowski to use. He has pretty good chemistry with tight end Zach Miller, who had 11 catches last week. Linebackers Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett will have to be on top of their game to limit the passing game over the middle. Miller leads the team in receptions (33), yards (278) and touchdowns (2).
The rest of the receiving group for the Raiders is pretty nicked up going into Sunday. Emerging wide receiver Louis Murphy is battling a shoulder issue, which limited his participation last Sunday. The other starting wide out, Darrius Heyward-Bey has been playing through a groin problem. Both will likely see playing time against the Chargers, though both may be limited.
The injury bug has also hit the Raiders in the backfield. Starting running back Darren McFadden, who this season finally showed why he should have been selected 4th overall in 2008, has a sore hamstring and it sounds unlikely he will play. He has averaged nearly 100 yards per game this season.
Veteran Michael Bush, who was tabbed as the starting running back heading into training camp will start if McFadden can’t go. Bush played for the first time last week after recovering from a broken left thumb.
Chargers on Defense
San Diego can boast about having the number one defense in the league. Though they have played very well at times, the statistics can be a bit deceiving. Many defensive opportunities disappeared when the Chargers allowed special teams touchdowns.
With all of that being said, the Charger defense made the Cardinals plain stupid last week. Line backer Shaun Philips was a beast last week, collecting four sacks and returning an interception for a touchdown. It was arguably Philips’ best game in the NFL.
The joy of the drubbing of Arizona was short lived. Safety Steve Gregory has been lost for the next four games due to suspension, which is definitely a big blow. He has been all over the field this season and is currently leading the team with 30 tackles. Paul Oliver will likely be the one to fill in at safety in Gregory’s absence. Oliver has had flashes of greatness, but Gregory’s steady play will be missed.
Raiders on Defense
This is a tough match up for the Oakland defense. They just don’t have the horses to keep up with the Chargers.
The Raiders were brutalized on the ground last week by the Houston Texans. They gave up 249 yards. Houston running back Arian Foster, who has a similar skill set to Mathews, torched the Raiders for 131 yards and a touchdown in just half of the game.
The Raiders do have the third best pass defense in the NFL. Is that because they are so terrible against the run or is the pass coverage that good?
Texan tight ends caught six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown last week against the Raiders. Being susceptible to tight ends is not good when facing the Chargers. Historically though, Gates does not has gaudy stats in his career against the Raiders. Last season, Oakland held Gates to a combined 8 catches and 132 yards and did not score a touchdown.
Oakland does have some recognizable names on defense. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour is still a very solid player, but not quite the threat he was when he was with the Patriots.
The line backer group of Kameron Wimbley, rookie Rolando McClain and Quentin Groves are solid, but not spectacular. McClain is second on the team with 24 tackles, while Wimbley is tied for the team lead in sacks with defensive end Matt Shaugnesy.
If Asomugha is not the chosen one to cover Gates, a combination of the linebacking group or safeties Tyrone Branch and Michael Huff will draw the duty. This is just not a favorable match up for the Raiders.
Chargers Special Teams
Along with some personnel changes, San Diego also changed up tactically on kick off return coverage last week. Nate Kaeding began directional kicking to corners. Look for the Chargers to do the same this week. If they stay in their lanes and keep to their assignments, they should have success again this week.
San Diego hasn’t quite hit their stride returning kicks this year. Something seems a little different about Sproles this season. His shake n bake has not gotten going yet.
Raiders Special Teams
Rookie Jacoby Ford will test the Chargers special teams on Sunday. The 5-foot-9 inch rookie from Clemson broke a 64 kick off return last week.
Sebastian Janikowski is still the Raiders kicker. He is one of the few Oakland players that know what it is like to beat the Chargers. He still has a huge leg, but has made only 9 of 14 attempts this season. Earlier this season, he missed a potential game-winning 32-yard field goal attempt against Arizona.
Punter Shane Lechler is an All Pro punter and a perennial Pro Bowler.
Despite as a team not playing well on the road this season, you can’t pick against Philip Rivers against the Raiders. He will go to 9-0 against Oakland and the Chargers will make it 14 consecutive wins. San Diego has outscored the Raiders by 188 points during the streak. I think this one will be a blow out also.
Ryan Mathews will get close to his first 100 yard game of the season and Mike Tolbert will pound on the Raiders until they tap out in the 4th quarter.
The balanced Chargers offensive attack will continue.