Chargers Game Day Primer

Painfully obvious to the Oakland Raiders this week: the San Diego Chargers will live or die by running the ball. LaDainian Tomlinson pulled off a 19 yard run in overtime last year at the Coliseum to the give the Chargers a 27-21 overtime victory. With two starters on the offensive line out, the Raiders are looking to tee off.

The Chargers will have to rely on LaDainian Tomlinson to carry this team, not much a difference from the past two seasons. Tomlinson finally got some yardage last week in Baltimore as the team kept the game close for the first half. Behind LT, the team was able to move the ball, they just had problems scoring.

Tomlinson ranks 6th in the NFL with 16 first downs, ten behind the leader, Priest Holmes. Tomlinson is also the fourth leading receiver in the AFC with 18 receptions.

LT will be tested this week. The Chargers will go with Bob Hallen at right guard and either Phil Bogle or Courtney VanBuren at right tackle. Either way the right tackle spot will be manned by a rookie.

DeLawrence Grant and Trace Armstrong will tag team the right defensive end spot while Dana Stubblefield, questionable this week and Rod Coleman play over the guard. The Chargers defense knows he is going to come at them. He said he hurt his ankle getting cut-blocked from behind in the Sept. 14 win over Cincinnati and expects to play.

"He's a speedy and nifty kind of back, and definitely tough," Stubblefield said. "He's going to take his time and see what the linebackers do. He does a really good job reading linebackers. The backside has got to hold it down. If we pop too soon, he will take it to the backside."

It won't be easy to run despite the Raiders ranking 25th, allowing 131.7 yards per game.

"I don't care what other guys have done against this ballclub," Tomlinson said. "This is a good defense. Guys are averaging (3.7) yards per carry, which is not good at all."

Kassim Osgood has been tenacious in his blocks and has used his large frame to seal off the outside corners. That could come in handy this weekend with LaDainian Tomlinson expected to get a ton of work. Look for screen passes to go to his side as he can use his long arms to push cornerbacks out of the play. With his blocking being above average for a Charger receiver, he may line up on the right side to give more support to the battered line.

"We play each other all the time, and games seem to be more tight and different," said Tomlinson. "They know exactly what we're doing, and we know exactly what they're doing."

What isn't so certain, despite what Tomlinson said, is whether the Raiders will run or pass. The talk has been about getting physical and "Bloodying some lips." Still the Chargers must respect the Raiders short passing game, especially with the young secondary they deploy.

"Right now, (opposing defenses) don't have to do nothing but pin their ears back and come after the quarterback," guard Mo Collins said. "We need to go out and punch someone in their damn mouth."

Collins is recovering from a knee injury and listed as questionable for the game. He has said he will play.

The Raiders offense, unbelievable a year ago, is ordinary. They are averaging just 237.3 yards per game, good for 30th in the NFL. Amazingly the Raiders are averaging just over 163 yards per game passing. They had the number one passing offense last season.

"More or less, we need our running game to help us with the passing game," Collins said. "They're keying on our wide outs right now."

The Raiders backs are averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and the hobbled offensive line finally got a boost with the return of Barret Robbins.

"I don't have any doubt I'll be a better player and the reason I say that is that I'm a better person," Robbins said. "I feel I've come so far in my personal life."

"I think it is a positive move to help us as we move along and begin to not change the offense, but modify the offense," Coach Bill Callahan said. "I'm excited for him and for our team."

With the return of the mobile All Pro, Charlie Garner may see more room, not only in the running game, but on screen passes. The Chargers have yet to show they can defend the screen, especially playing man when there backs are o the quarterback.

One receiver being keyed on is Tim Brown. He is looking old and slow, a bad combination. In fact, someone within the Raider organization mentioned that he would have a hard time cracking 5.0 seconds in a 40 yard dash.

"It's important for us to do what this offense is meant to do," Brown said, "and that's to dink and dunk, keep the ball, get a couple of first downs and move the ball on first downs. ... We got a lot of different stuff going on that we tried to implement. Some of it's working and some of it's not."

"There is a time when you know it's time to go. Those guys, they don't scare anybody anymore." -- former Buffalo Bills standout wide receiver Andre Reed on Raiders receivers Jerry Rice, 40, and Tim Brown, 37, on 'The Best Damn Sports Show Period' last Wednesday.

Truly the offense in Oakland is stumbling, and playing the Chargers could be the remedy.

"We have a lot of concerns offensively," Rich Gannon said. "We're not able to move the ball consistently, and we're not able to generate any big plays, and we're not able to convert any third downs. Other than that, we're in pretty good shape."

Three and outs are killing the Raiders. They have converted just 7 of 37 third down attempts on the young season. With that kind of production, it is amazing the Raiders have been able to score at all. Against Denver a week ago, that didn't happen in a loss.

"In all my time here, I've never really seen, at the end of a game, the defensive line standing up, bouncing around, jamming to the tunes in between plays," Collins said. "Usually those guys are on one knee, bent over, just trying to get to the next play. I've never seen a defense so fresh. Running the ball, that's what takes it out of them."

Changes are coming for the Raiders offense and the Chargers defense better be ready for a fight. Herm Edwards would tell you, "The season isn't over." He knows -- he brought his team back from a 1-4 start last year to win the AFC East. The Chargers can take a step in the right direction with a win this week.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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