Raiders, like everyone, eye Tomlinson

The Raiders got an eyeful in the Monday night game. Kirk Morrison was in attendance – trying to figure out how he will take LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers.

Oakland has its goal for the week. Stop the run and establish the ground game for themselves.

That makes for an interesting parlay. The Raiders, everyone assumes, are best when throwing the ball. They are often at their worst in stopping Tomlinson.

The Raiders know San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson all too well.

"He reminds me of Barry Sanders back in the day," DE Bobby Hamilton said.

What is reminiscent of Sanders is the way Tomlinson is able to stop on a dime, change directions, and be back at top speed almost within a single step. It makes for the biggest conundrum a defensive player can face -- go at him for the tackle full speed and be prepared to whiff or pause to wait to see where his next move is and risking being too late to make the stop.

"It's been my experience in this league with guys like that that you have to shoot your shot," MLB Danny Clark said. "So, if you are an outside guy, you take the outside leg away and send him back to the other 10 guys on your defense. That's playing good, smart team football."

Hamilton agrees.

"You just have to go full bore and play ball," he said. "That's because you never know -- he might do a spin on you, might cut, might make you break an ankle. You can't think about it (what move he will make). When you think like that, it slows your game up wondering `What's he going to do next?'

"You can't prepare for that. You just have to have 11 guys on the same page. You've got to gang tackle. He's like the great backs who rushed for over 10,000 yards. You never get a solid lick on them. You might get them, but it has to be a deep team effort.

"We know this guy is a big-time back. The dude can do a lot of things, so we have to prepare ourselves ... and if we don't, it's going to be a long day for us."

Over the last three years, Tomlinson is averaging 146 yards a game against the Raiders. During that time, he has averaged 5.7 yards a carry. The killer was his 243-yard outburst in San Diego in the final game of the 2003 season when he averaged 7.8 yards a pop.

So, are the Raiders serious? They say they are and only needed to look as far as Tomlinson's 18-carry, 62-yard showing against Pittsburgh -- after which Tomlinson said he had never faced a better rush defense -- to gain confidence it could be done.

"They were very disciplined in terms of no one jumped out and gave up a gap," Raiders coach Norv Turner said of the Pittsburgh effort. "Second, they are a zone blitz scheme so they're going to hit some runs for no gain. Third, they tackled extremely well."

All have been Raider issues. Their lack of discipline was their hallmark a year ago. They are not a zone blitz team. Their tackling has been hideous in the past.

But the Oakland players believe things are different this year and for evidence they cite that they held Corey Dillon, Priest Holmes and Julius Jones under four yards a carry -- in fact, combined, New England, Kansas City and Dallas averaged 3.2 yards.

"In the past, we were a totally different team," LB Danny Clark said of this year's Raider defense. "The mind set, the accountability, the man-for-man (commitment) was totally different than it is now. Now, everyone really understands where they fit in this defense.

"Everyone knows where to be and we play to the strength of our defense. That (strength) is gang tackling, understanding you have support on the inside ... and that is where we have become a better football team."

The other part of the San Diego equation involves the Raiders' offense. Run or pass, what will it be?

Turner says it will be run -- and it has a lot to do with the Tomlinson threat.

"I'd like to see LaMont Jordan get 25 carries in the game," he said. "That would do two things. It would help us do the things we have to to win the game and that is to keep the ball some. If we can get some run going, it would help (wide receivers Jerry) Porter and (Randy) Moss and the guys in the passing game."

All of which runs counter to what has happened up to now this year. San Diego ranks No. 26 in pass defense, the Raiders No. 5 in passing offense. The Raiders want to run but currently rank No. 27 in that department while San Diego is No. 7 in run defense.

It may not make sense or it may be a ploy to throw the Chargers off the scent. But it certainly appears to be the way they plan to go in the game that will go a long way toward determining their 2005 future.

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