Chargers Gameday Primer: Oakland

Team unity is the key to survival in the NFL. Some teams have it and other teams don't. The San Diego Chargers have been speaking with one voice throughout the week and Sunday they hope to provide results.

While the Bolts are averaging 29.1 points a game on offense, the defense has done its part, holding the opposition to 19.2 points a game. San Diego's 9.9 points per game differential is tops in the league.

"Start fast and take the fans out of it, I think it will be our hands again," Donnie Edwards said. He also hoped the offense would put up 42 points again before saying it was unlikely in the Raiders' house.

On Offense:

Drew Brees has thrown nine touchdown passes in the past two games and is ranked third in the league at the quarterback position. He has been on fire and his top target has been Antonio Gates.

In the last matchup, the Raiders' defense acted as if it didn't know who Gates was. That was among the reasons he burned them for two scoring catches from inside the 6-yard line. And the thing was no Raider was within five feet of Gates, as he easily caught the scoring tosses. In fact, after the second one, DT Warren Sapp got into a heated argument with coach Norv Turner.

Marques Anderson and Ray Buchanan will be giving the cornerbacks and linebackers more help in containing Gates, especially with linebacker Travian Smith out. Oakland may also opt for a part-time spy on Gates such as rookie Stuart Schweigert.

Brees set a team record when these two teams last met by completing 88 percent of his passes, shattering the previous team mark of 82 percent, set by Rick Neuheisel on Oct. 11, 1987 at Tampa Bay. Brees went 22 of 25 for 281 yards with a career-high five touchdowns and no interceptions. He finished the day with a passer rating of 153.1.

"Although it is going to be the same people, it is going to be a much better defense than we faced the first time around," said Brees.

The Chargers are hoping to play the game exactly as they did in San Diego. Brees hit eight consecutive passes to open the game and the pass turned it into a rout. Besides the comfort level with Gates, Keenan McCardell is opening up lanes.

"We have some chemistry," McCardell explained. "Just two guys going out and playing pitch and catch. When you have guys working hard, that is what makes chemistry work."

And last but not least is the running game. The Chargers actually had 175 yards rushing on Halloween. LaDainian Tomlinson appears to be healthier than ever, although he has been downplaying it all week to possibly throw Oakland off. A big run is in the not-so-distant future.

On Defense:

"You hear a lot about buying into systems," said linebacker Steve Foley. "I don't know if that is their case right now. Guys are maybe not on the same page. Their minds and hearts may be elsewhere. It is hurting them."

That was then and this is now. The Raiders played well last time out against Carolina and want to work on a running game that was held to 22 yards when the two teams met three weeks ago.

Establishing a running game will take some pressure off, five touchdowns to 12 interceptions, quarterback Kerry Collins. Something else a running game would do is keep the ball out of the hands of the Chargers' revved offense.

The Chargers' run defense is anchored by Jamal Williams, and is getting a big boost from emerging rookie Igor Olshansky. Edwards and Randall Godfrey are also stout against the run, with Terrence Kiel supplying run-support.

"Our rush defense remains at the top and that is the cornerstone that we have to build our defense around," said coach Marty Schottenheimer.

The Raiders' offensive line, which is missing veteran RG Ron Stone, will attempt to counter the strength of the Chargers' defense.

"We know they are going to come out on fire — with a purpose," added Foley. "They are going to be aggressive and try and be that way for the whole game.

"It is on us, from the beginning, to try and weather that storm. They will come out with an attitude and we just have to keep our heads and keep this train rolling."

On Special Teams:

Last time out, Phillip Buchanon was complaining about the punting. He said Mike Scifres was kicking them too high and wasn't allowing him to return any. Shane Lechler may be getting the Pro Bowl votes and definitely has a heavy leg but no punter has been better than second year Scifres this season. Scifres is the only punter with 25 or more punts, he has 36, to have less than ten returned (9).

Nate Kaeding has kicked two balls out of bounds and hasn't gotten consistent depth on his kickoffs. His field goals have been money and he has a tendency to get amped up when he has to send it deep.

"We were not very good in kickoff coverage," Schottenheimer said of the game against the Saints. "We were fortunate we did not have that blow up in our face.

"I think we can improve our punt return. We have to get a better job in the interior part of that blocking unit for the returns."

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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