Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers v. Raiders, p.II

Can Branden Oliver make it two monster games in a row? Will the Raiders exploit San Diego's in-flux center position? Which pass rusher should rookie Derek Carr be most worried about? SDBoltReport.com's Michael Lombardo answers these and other questions in the second part of our Behind Enemy Lines series with Chris McClain of Silver and Black Report.

To check out the first part of this series, where we talk about Oakland's running game and Vincent Brown's role with the Raiders, click here.

Chris McClain: There have been a lot of comparisons made already between Branden Oliver and Darren Sproles. Do you see that as the case? How do you expect the Chargers offense to use Oliver?

Michael Lombardo: The comparisons to Sproles were inevitable, as Oliver is a diminutive back (5-foot-7, 208 lbs) who wears the same jersey number (No. 43). Also, both players are “do it all” backs, able to run the ball, catch passes out of the backfield and return kicks. But as far as playing style, the two are very different. Oliver is more of a between-the-tackles runner who uses power and an incredible body lean to get yards after contact.

Oliver will start on Sunday with Ryan Mathews (knee) and Donald Brown (concussion) both ruled out. The Chargers also have Shaun Draughn, who signed with the team a couple weeks ago after starting the season with the Bears, and Ronnie Brown, who rejoined the team this week after being released by the Texans. Draughn and Brown will spell Oliver, but Oliver should expect about 30 combined touches by game's end.

CM: The Chargers are now on their fourth-string center. How will the rest of the offensive line and offense alleviate some of the pressure applied to the center position?

ML: San Diego may not be on its fourth-string center, after all. Rich Ohrnberger, the No. 2 center who has been out since Week 3 with a back injury, was a full participant in practice on Thursday and Friday. He will likely start in Oakland; the bigger question is whether he can finish. Behind Ohrnberger, San Diego has third-round pick Chris Watt and Trevor Robinson, who joined the team this week off Cincinnati's practice squad. It may be unfair to expect Robinson to contribute this week, although he and Watt will likely both be active regardless.

It helps that the Chargers have a veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers who is a master at reading defenses and diagnosing blitzes. He will communicate with his offensive line as much as possible and try to keep everyone on the same page. The Chargers know the importance of the quarterback and center being on the same page -- if not for a botched snap late in Week 1 against the Cardinals, San Diego would be 5-0 right now.

CM: One of the few bright spots for the Raiders so far is the fact they have kept Derek Carr off the ground (sacked just four times on the season). How will Dwight Freeney and the Chargers look to attack the Raiders offensive line to apply pressure on the quarterback?

ML: San Diego's ability to pressure the quarterback hinges on the health of its outside linebackers. The question marks are Jarret Johnson (back/ankle) and Cordarro Law (ankle), both of whom are questionable. But regardless of who is active, the strategy will be the same: stop the run and force Carr into obvious passing situations. John Pagano is very good at dialing up pressure in favorable down-and-distance situations.

The pass rusher the Raiders should be most concerned with is not Freeney, but DE Corey Liuget. He will move all over the defensive line, often playing nose tackle on passing downs, and is capable of taking over a game. Young quarterbacks are typically rattled by inside pressure more than anything else, so keeping Carr comfortable in the pocket must start with containing Liuget.

CM: The Chargers are currently giving up a touchdown in the red zone 70 percent of the time (26th in the NFL). What has been the cause of that? How are they so successful defensively, yet when they get to the red zone they struggle to force a field goal?

ML: There are a couple possible explanations for that. Firstly, although the Chargers added a couple excellent corners this offseason in Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, they are both undersized. Secondly, the linebackers have struggled in coverage, with Manti Te'o's foot injury not helping in that regard.

More than anything, the Chargers need to do a better job of creating negative plays in the red zone. With Melvin Ingram (hip) on injured-reserve designated to return, the Chargers need Kendall Reyes, Donald Butler, Marcus Gilchrist and others to do a better job of winning their individual matchups in the red zone.

CM: What is your prediction for the game? Do you see the Chargers keeping their strong season going or will they "play down to their competition"?

ML: Although it's cliche, I think with division games you almost have to throw out the records. The Chargers have played extremely well though the first five weeks, but they have a lot going against them. San Diego is dealing with a ton of injuries right now. Plus, I expect the Raiders to come out with a renewed fight under Tony Sparano as they scrap for their first win of the season.

This is the first of three straight division games for San Diego, as the Chargers host the Chiefs in Week 7 and travel to Denver in Week 8. I can see the Bolts falling in Oakland before rebounding next week against the Chiefs, setting up a first-place showdown with the Broncos on Thursday Night Football. I'm picking the Raiders to pull off the upset at home, 20-16.



Talk about the Bolts-Raiders game in the Chargers boards or the Raiders boards.



Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.


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