Game Primer: Chargers vs. Raiders

The Chargers-Raiders rivalry is one of runs. After San Diego won 13 straight meetings, Oakland bounced back to take three in a tow. But the Chargers won the 2011 season finale in the Black Hole and look to start another streak of their own. To break down this divisional tilt, Brian Ducoffe offers a detailed preview of each phase of the game.

When The Chargers Run

San Diego's run game took a hit early in the preseason when Ryan Mathews broke his clavicle. Despite Mathews stressing his desire to play, he has only recently returned to the practice field and is still being withheld from contact drills. That puts the running game in the hands of three newcomers: Ronnie Brown, Le'Ron McClain and Jackie Battle. Brown gets the starting job and will see the bulk of the snaps, especially in passing situations, but this will be classic running back by committee.

A key matchup to watch is fourth-year guards Tyronne Green and Louis Vasquez going against Oakland's tackle tandem of Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. The Raiders had the No. 27 ranked run defense in 2011; it will be interesting to see how quickly defensive-minded head coach Dennis Allen can shore that up.

When The Chargers Pass

Philip Rivers is coming off of his fourth consecutive season of 4,000-plus passing yards, a franchise record. However, he recorded a passer rating of just 88.7 in 2011, his lowest since 2007. Much of that is due to his carelessness with the ball, as he set a career high for interceptions (20). With four interceptions in three preseason games, Rivers' interception total will be the stat to watch in the weeks ahead.

Rivers had one of his better games of the season last year in Oakland, throwing for 310 yards and three scores. With Mathews likely out, anticipate Rivers putting up similar numbers.

Undrafted rookie Mike Harris will be charged with protecting Rivers' blindside, stepping in for the injured Jared Gaither (back). Rivers was sacked 30 times last season, so leaving his blindside in the hands of a rookie could lead to mistakes. With Gaither's return uncertain, Harris may become a fixture in the starting lineup.

Rivers is amped to have Antonio Gates back at 100 percent. After going four straight years without missing a start, Gates missed a total of nine games over the past two seasons due to multiple foot injuries. Rivers still needs to adjust to most of his other receivers, including Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Michael Spurlock.

When The Raiders Run

New defensive coordinator John Pagano will get tested early going up against Darren McFadden. The Chargers, who boasted the No. 1 ranked defense in 2010, dropped to number 20 last year, giving up an abysmal 1,955 rushing yards, none of which came from McFadden, who did not play in either of the two matchups against the Chargers.

The key to this matchup is the group of recent draftees on San Diego's defensive line: Vaughn Martin ('09), Cam Thomas ('10), Corey Liuget ('11) and Kendall Reyes ('12). San Diego needs a big game from Thomas, as Antonio Garay is still recovering from an ankle injury.

When The Raiders Pass

The Chargers are excited about first-round pick Melvin Ingram, who had an impressive preseason (two sacks and a hit on QB Aaron Rodgers that resulted in an interception). On the back end, Eric Weddle is coming off the best season of his career, one that included seven interceptions and first team All Pro honors.

Raiders QB Carson Palmer enters his first full season in Oakland. He tore up the Chargers secondary in two games last season, throwing for 716 yards and four TDs. While newcomers like Jarret Johnson and Atari Bigby should help, what San Diego needs most is bounce-back efforts from Shaun Phillips and Quentin Jammer.

Just For Kicks

The goal for the Chargers is to keep Nate Kaeding on the field for more than one play this season. After suffering a season-ending injury on the first kickoff in 2011, Kaeding returns as the most accurate kicker in history, hitting 86.5 percent of his field goals.

After cutting special teams leader Jacob Hester earlier this week, S Darrell Stuckey was named special teams captain for the 2012 season. Coach Rich Bisaccia is a big Stuckey fan, believing the third-year safety was a big reason for San Diego's vast improvements on special teams in 2011.

*For the first time in his career, ESPN anchor Chris Berman will be calling an NFL game Monday night in San Diego. The Swami is expected to bring obnoxious nicknames and an abundance of bad one-liners.



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