Rock'Em Sock'Em Fight for the West

Not a single prediction put the San Diego Chargers behind the Oakland Raiders, but Norv Turner prepares to stop his former team's run. The staff at Qualcomm implements pat down searches and stricter alcohol limits to stop Raider Nation from imitating the action on the gridiron.

The Oakland Raiders come off a bye week to face the Chargers, which means an extra week of practice for the AFC West leaders. The additional preparation before a rival match-up would normally be welcomed, but Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said his guys lost their focus this week. That mindset does not apply to running back Dominic Rhodes.

After a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, Rhodes will have a lot to prove to a team that did just fine without him. Rhodes is ready to do just that and hopes to see a lot of carries. Kiffin would like to get him 10-12 touches but cannot guarantee such a workload. The first-year coach does not want Rhodes to do too much too fast.

Both coach and player agree on the different dimensions that Rhodes brings to the offensive side of the ball. After splitting carries with Joseph Addai last season in Indianapolis, Rhodes wants more opportunities to show what he can do on his new team.

It would seem Norv Turner would want to do the same. After facing so many former teams because of the way he has bounced around the league -- a tidbit that made the coach smile -- he said that where past paychecks came from is not a factor in Sunday's match-up.

"This is a big game, it doesn't matter if I've coached there or not," Turner said. "It's a big football game for everyone in our organization, for everyone in their organization. We are preparing for it in that matter and we got a good start today, with the way we practiced."

Despite the "big game" label, LaDainian Tomlinson said his new coach does not get as fired up about the Raiders as Marty Schottenheimer did.

"Obviously, it was personal with Marty for the fact that he just really didn't like the Raiders, so it was always a little something extra," Tomlinson said. "With Norv, he's a little more laid back." Turner's California cool attitude does not blur the bigger, more aggressive picture.

"It's going to be one of those knock down, drag out type match-ups."

The Chargers got a bolt of confidence in their 41-3 win over the Denver Broncos, but their Sunday opponents are on cloud nine.

"I know where the Raiders are. They're playing with confidence and I know how they believe this game will be, in terms of building what they're trying to do, so it's going to make for a very physical game, very competitive game," Turner said.

Both sides of the ball will have their hands full, but San Diego's number one emphasis is to stop Oakland's running game, including that of their quarterback.

Daunte Culpepper's ability to run the ball does not intimidate the Chargers because of the size and speed of their outside men. Also, the return of Matt Wilhelm on the inside is crucial.

Turner said that Wilhelm's presence provides a calming effect and the line missed him; it showed in his comeback game in Denver. Turner added that Wilhelm is a young player that can continue to get better.

The focus of the Raiders is the same as every other opponent the Chargers face: stop Tomlinson.

"We have to tackle, it's no secret," Kiffin said. "He is the best back in the league. His numbers have started off slow compared to what he is used to, but we know all about him and it's a huge situation for us to be in to go against him. They've also had their backup come in [Michael Turner] and light it up, which makes it a very dangerous twosome."


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