Chargers Gameday Primer

The Chargers are rolling – and last year the roll led to an AFC West Championship. The roll this year will give them a playoff berth – but should the wheel fall off it could mean no postseason, making Sunday's night game at Oakland vital.

On Offense:

No Warren Sapp. And the Raiders will sorely miss him – with their 17th ranked run defense taking the biggest hit.

LaDainian Tomlinson is always at his best against the Raiders, making the loss of Sapp that much more pronounced. In this season's earlier matchup, he had a receiving, rushing and passing touchdown. Tomlinson got his career-high 243 rushing yards against the Raiders two years ago; his career-high rushing attempts (39) at Oakland three years ago.

"Warren is a leader for the defense," said Tomlinson. "He does a lot of things to help their defense. I think they will miss him."

Defensively, the Raiders were gashed for an even 100 yards rushing in the second half against Miami - an indication that the defensive line was showing signs of wear with the absence of Sapp.

Stepping up for Oakland has been rookie linebacker Kirk Morrison. He has a team-high 76 tackles and will be juiced in his return to Qualcomm – he went to San Diego State.

The Raider have been running a base defense that deploys an extra defensive back, losing a linebacker in the process. That could point San Diego into clear running mode. What better way to attack a nickel defense than with Tomlinson.

"They are playing a nickel defense," head coach Marty Schottenheimer confirmed. "They have done a nice job with it. It probably fits the personnel that is available to them."

In the passing game, the Chargers' success will be predicated on stopping Derrick Burgess, who is the NFL leader in sacks.

Burgess had two sacks last time these teams played.

"Burgess – who leads the NFL in sacks – he is a pass rusher and a very good one," Schottenheimer said. "He has a terrific first step. He is slippery – he has the ability to get his body in strange positions and can still move towards the quarterback."

As long as they can stop Burgess, there should be some open lanes with Charles Woodson, the best corner on the team, out.

Woodson has held the duty of covering Antonio Gates in the past – and given a full week of practice there may be no one who can cover him, giving Drew Brees his favorite target back with the hands to match.

"My foot had nothing to do with my hands," said Gates. "My hands are doing well."

"We know there is no room for error," Brees added. "We need to prepare as if each week is the Championship game."

On Defense:

Last time these two teams played, Randy Moss was dropped early and the Raiders with him. Moss hasn't appeared to be near 100 percent – but he could just be dogging it.

"One of the keys for us is you don't fall asleep – Randy will walk off the line and even when he is running a route he will jog the route," safety Bhawoh Jue began. "One time he will jog and then it is a jump ball and a foot race."

At some point, Moss will break out – and there is only five games left to do the breaking.

Schottenheimer was honest when he said he hoped it did not come against the Chargers. He is one of the toughest players to defend when he is feeling the vibe.

"It is going to be a great test for us," cornerback Quentin Jammer said. "They have one great one and two dang good ones."

The Raiders, however, have changed little on offense - they look to pound the ball inside with LaMont Jordan when the game is close and hope for the play-action big play downfield.

Kerry Collins is being urged to locate secondary receivers, either Jordan in the flat or TE Courtney Anderson, when the big play is not there.

Which brings the talk back to Jordan. The powerful back scored twice against the Bolts last time they met but was nullified quickly when the Chargers pounded to a 24-7 halftime lead.

"Lamont Jordan has always been a good back," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "His legs are thick and you can't just arm tackle him. He is pretty elusive out of the backfield.

"He is the one that the offense is build it around and that is the guy we have to put the squash on."

On Special Teams:

Schottenheimer said the kickoffs have been fine but the truth is Nate Kaeding has been kicking them short – albeit with some height.

Schottenheimer said the coverage team was better – but they had far less ground to cover with the short kicks. It would be nice to see a kickoff that actually reaches the end zone and the coverage swarm. No drive for Washington started within the 25 after a kickoff.

Want the crowd involved and pumped to stay involved, crush them on a kickoff after a score, pinning them at the 16 and hear them roar.

Fourteen players have longer runbacks on kickoff returns than Darren Sproles. He has come so close on more than one occasion to breaking it – and he will have a few before he hangs them up – but it would be nice to see one this year.


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