Chargers Gameday Primer: Oakland

Perhaps the wounded Raiders will come out on the field this weekend when they face the Chargers at Qualcomm. Wrapped in casts and bandages – something that resembles Dawn of the Dead – they would fit right in with their fans.

On Offense:

Charles Woodson is doubtful and the Raiders as a team have 11 players that are listed as questionable or worse – not counting those who are definitely out. That is an entire unit – offense, defense or special teams.

"They have a couple of injuries back there," Chargers wide receiver Keenan McCardell began. "The guys that come in step up to play. If Charles does play, he is going to play well.

"You can't underestimate these guys. You have to go out and play hard just as if Charles was there."

McCardell set the bar pretty high last week, catching five balls for 65 yards, despite only joining the team on Tuesday. So with another week under his belt, he should be even more comfortable to increase his workload.

Oddly enough, McCardell isn't happy about it the Raiders missing a guy like Woodson. One would think that his team has the upper hand with Woodson potentially out of tomorrow's game.

His preference, however, is to play against the best competition available every Sunday. It brings out the best in the veteran receiver.

"In the past they have been the type of team that wants to challenge you," he said. "If you are any type of competitor you like to be challenged each and every Sunday."

That doesn't mean one of the better cornerbacks in the league needs to be on the field. While every team wants to beat a team while it is at its best, the Chargers have an opportunity to beat the Raiders and injuries are part of life in the NFL. Philip Buchanon could be lined up opposite McCardell and that means there is an opportunity for the big play.

Ted Washington, Napoleon Harris and Travian Smith are also listed at 50-50 which could mean more running room for LaDainian Tomlinson – sore groin and all.

"He knows what he is doing and how to take care of himself," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

But will he last the whole game? Tomlinson has pulled himself out of three games this year and Jesse Chatman has stepped up in his stead. But Chatman could miss the game this week, despite being listed as probable.

With the bulk in the middle not nearly as bulky should Washington not play, Tomlinson may have some extra room to work with. Warren Sapp has been more talk than actual contribution and the Raiders could be down to just one of their starting linebackers – Danny Clark.

"That guy is one of the best backs in the league," Clark said. "We just have to be disciplined football players."

Even the backups.

The Chargers are preparing for both Washington and Sapp to play on the inside and could take advantage of outside running lanes with the linebacking crew also banged up.

"They are a load inside, the two of them," said quarterback Drew Brees. "They are both good players and do a good job in the run game and Sapp is a very good pass rusher. It is something we are going to have to handle."

On Defense:

Brad Hoover went for 99 yards against the Chargers run defense last week a good slap in the face to a team that was beginning to believe they could not be run on.

The unit gave up more rushing yards than it had since Sept. 19.

The run-defenders will be looking to get back on track against a running game that appears as though it will be featuring Amos Zereoue, with Tyrone Wheatley still hurt.

What the run defense has to do is get back to being physical, and tying up the blockers so the linebackers can collect the tackles. That didn't happen last week, as the Carolina line had its way with the Chargers defense – for the first half, anyway.

The defensive line could shine with Raiders RG Ron Stone (knee) hurting and LG Frank Middleton (quad) out for the year. Besides, four wide receivers showed up on the injury report this week and each was listed at 50-50 or worse.

The Raiders may have no other option but to pound the ball inside, just as Kerry Collins was beginning to hit a nice roll.

"Their offense looked strong," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "Their running game is getting back into the groove again. They have a pretty strong offensive line and the running game once it gets going."

Edwards, in particular, has not been having the standout games that have become his custom. He has an opportunity on Sunday to get back into the rhythm with the front three opening up lanes for the linebackers to attack.

"They are playing real good defense and complimenting each other," Raiders coach Norv Turner said.

One thing the Chargers want to continue to protect against is the big play. They have not been burned by too many deep balls this year – one of the reasons they have been able to keep even their losses close.

Last year it seemed that every week the defense was giving up a huge play and usually it was through the air as they surrendered 36 passing touchdowns. They have given up a more manageable nine in seven games this season

. Oakland quarterback Kerry Collins has not completed a pass over 34 yards this year and has slung nine interceptions compared to four touchdowns.

Good news for the Chargers secondary.

"I think I can be smarter when the shot is not there and take what the defense is giving me," Collins said. "I might be better off getting to my second read sometimes. That's Norv's style and I think it becomes up to me to get it to the right guy."

He is learning. But will he have enough weapons that can make plays. Even with Drayton Florence out, the Chargers appear to stack up better in the secondary than Oakland does at wide receiver. They have two speedy wideouts that could pose problems but the depth isn't there as it was in the past.

Intangibles:

"We have turned the ball over twice in the last four weeks and we are 3-1," Schottenheimer said. "It is very difficult to overcome."

If the team can force Collins to throw off his back foot, ala pressure via blitzes and simply beating the blockers to the punch, they may be able to take advantage of Collins trying to force a play – especially with the Raiders losing four straight.

"(Fans) always ask for two things, the playoffs and beat the Raiders," Zeke Moreno said.

Nothing could be closer to the truth. The bragging rights are nice, but ultimately the Chargers need to find a way to get into the playoffs. Then the talk of fan support will begin to wane.

Prediction:

Chargers 30
Raiders 21

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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