Chargers-Raiders, Happy Halloween?

The NFL schedule makers sure picked a dandy. A rivalry that doesn't need much hype gets a little extra as the playoff hopeful San Diego Chargers (4-3) host the reeling Oakland Raiders (2-5) on Halloween Sunday. Two teams that, on the surface, appear to be heading in different directions.

"The rivalry is there," Drew Brees said. "It is strong as ever. They are going to come ready to play and we need to be ready as well."

The Chargers, winners of three of their last four and two-straight on their own grass, may be feeling the playoff itch. The recent additions of veteran wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Bobby Shaw coupled with a favorable schedule could have the Chargers at 6-3 heading into their bye-week.

While the Chargers have thoughts of making the postseason for the first time in eight years, the Raiders, losers of four straight, continue to rack up the injuries.

Rookie wide receiver/ return man Carlos Francis (IR) and guard Frank Middleton are out for Sundays game, while mammoth defensive-tackle Ted Washington, cornerback Charles Woodson, guard Ron Stone, running back Tyrone Wheatley and starting linebacker Travian Smith are listed as doubtful.

As if that's not enough, receivers Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel are nursing sore hamstrings and are listed as questionable.

For fairness sake, the Chargers are banged up as well, mainly LaDainian Tomlinson's groin injury but he, of course, will play and practiced on Friday. Cornerback Drayton Florence is out with an ankle problem. Tim Dwight (toe), Jesse Chatman (toe) are more questionable after missing Friday's workouts and Steve Foley (knee) is probable.

Chargers on offense-Raiders on defense

A statistical mismatch. The Chargers are the sixth highest scoring team in the league averaging 25.3 points per game while the Raider defense allows 25.9 points per game, which is bad enough for 29th in the league.

The Chargers offense has proposed some problems for opposing coordinators. Its starts with running back LaDainian Tomlinson, sore groin and all. Teams continue to stack the line of scrimmage to stop Tomlinson which, because of solid pass blocking, improved play from quarterback Drew Brees, and opportunistic receptions, has enabled the Chargers to beat teams through the air.

The player to watch is stud tight-end Antonio Gates, who has been money when the team needs a first down. He leads the NFL in third-down receptions with 18. Gates is also tied for the AFC lead in catches with 44.

At 6-4, 260 with surprising speed, quick feet and cotton-soft hands, Gates uses his pure athletic ability and crisp route-running to get open and make drive-sustaining catches. Hard-hitting safety Marques Anderson will likely draw some coverage responsibility on Gates, which could be bad news for the Raiders. Anderson may hit like a Tyson uppercut but is known for being caught out of position against the pass.

With teams playing predominantly man coverage on Charger wideouts, quarterback Drew Brees has answered the challenge more often than not. He ranks sixth in the NFL with a quarterback rating of 95.5, which is one notch above New England's Tom Brady. Oakland ranks 26th in the league allowing opposing quarterbacks to average a 95.6 rating.

One of the keys to Brees' success has been the play calling as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has come out throwing allowing Brees to get into rhythm.

With the injury to Woodson and the make-a-big-play or give-up-a-big-play style of Phillip Buchanon the Charger wideouts may have the edge. McCardell, who was solid in his first game as a Charger, and Eric Parker should have some opportunities. Shaw is expected to make his Charger debut.

The Raider pass rush ranks 22nd in the league with 13 sacks on the season. Conversely, the Chargers have allowed just 10 sacks through seven games which is seventh in the league.

"They probably played as good as they have all season in the game last week," Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "You hold an opponent to 1.5 yards per rush attempt, that is pretty good defense."

Raiders on offense-Chargers on defense

The Raiders have struggled without quarterback Rich Gannon (IR) and the lack of a running game. They rank 29th with an average of 89.1 rush yards per game. The Charger defense is second in the league allowing 90 yards on the ground.

Power runners have had the most success against the Chargers, but with Wheatley doubtful to play and Middleton out, the Raiders may not have the ammo – and we haven't even talked about Robert Gallery's injury status. Running back Amos Zereoue should get the bulk of the work.

The Raiders passing game has been dreadful at times, but quarterback Kerry Collins is coming off his best game as a Raider. He threw for 350 yards, two touchdowns and a pick against the 28th ranked (QB rating) Saints secondary.

Collins strength is his down the field ability, and receivers Jerry Porter, Gabriel, and Ronald Curry have the speed to get there. The question is how healthy they are, and will Collins have time to throw.

"Obviously, when you go through tough stretches like this, you start questioning every thing that you do,'' Collins said. ``The one thing you got to do in these kinds of situations -- and we've all been through them -- is put the blinders on and keep getting better."

The Raider have allowed 15 sacks which ranks 16th in the league. They go against a Charger front seven that has been mediocre at sacking the quarterback (t22nd, 13 sacks).

Charger cornerbacks have had a penchant for drawing pass interference and illegal contact penalties on deep balls, so the Raiders may use that to their advantage.

The stats show advantages in favor of the Chargers, but this is a rivalry and the Raiders would love nothing more than to slip a needle into the Charger playoff candy.

Will Mortensen can be reached at will@sandiegosports.net

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