Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Raiders II

Our experts, Mike Lombardo of SD Bolt Report and Denis Savage of Silver & Black Illustrated, break down Sunday's game. Part two of this series features six questions from Denis to Mike, where topics include Norv Turner, Raider Nation and San Diego State alum Kirk Morrison.

Denis Savage: Are the Chargers the team that beat Denver 41-3 or the team that lost three straight?

Michael Lombardo: The Chargers are in the middle of that wide spectrum and moving in the right direction. The turnover in the coaching ranks set this team back more than most expected. Norv Turner more than doubled the offensive playbook and Ted Cottrell changed the defense from an attacking unit to one that reads and reacts.

As the coaches get more comfortable with their players, the Chargers will more closely resemble the team that tore through the '06 regular season. The 38-point road win against the Broncos was a sign of progress, but the Chargers still have a long way to go before they are ready to challenge the likes of the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots in the AFC.

DS: The Raiders know the futility of Norv Turner. What makes his stay in San Diego different than the disaster he was in Oakland?

ML: The Chargers are a far more talented team than Turner ever coached in Oakland. When he was hired by Al Davis, he took over a team ranked No. 25 on offense and No. 30 on defense. In San Diego, he inherits a team that ranked in the top 10 on both sides in the ball after leading the league in points scored and sacks.

It also helps that Turner is paired with A.J. Smith, a general manager who has a knack for drafting superb talent and properly managing the salary cap. In Oakland, Turner was impaired by Al Davis' tendency to draft track stars instead of football players and to Band-Aid his mistakes by signing over-the-hill veterans.

DS: The run defense doesn't seem as strong as in years past. What is the difference?

ML: The run defense is still solid. The Chargers rank No. 10 in run defense and allow just 92.8 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry. Most of that damage came late in losses to the Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom were milking two-score leads.

There are a few reasons for the slight regression. Jamal Williams is playing fewer snaps. Part of that is to rest his knees and part is because of the surprisingly strong play of second-year nose tackle Brandon McKinney. Also, linebacker Matt Wilhelm missed three games with a calf injury. He returned last week and led the linebacker corps in tackles.

DS: Is there one player on the Oakland team that scares you and how do you scheme for that player?

ML: The player with the potential to wreak havoc is linebacker Kirk Morrison. The third-year pro averaged more than 120 tackles in his first two seasons and is on pace to crack triple digits for the third consecutive season. His ability to quickly diagnose plays and make tackles from sideline to sideline makes him a serious thorn in LaDainian Tomlinson's side.

The Chargers will let three-time Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal handle Morrison in the running game. In the passing game, Philip Rivers will likely avoid throwing to Tomlinson over the middle. L.T. and Rivers have struggled with miscommunications in the passing game, resulting in two interceptions, and cannot risk another mistake with a playmaker like Morrison lurking.

DS: Can the Raiders exploit the San Diego secondary?

ML: The Chargers will give up yards in the passing game. The key for the secondary will be to make sound tackles and limit the yards after the catch. Cottrell wants to make the Raiders drive 10 or more plays to earn points. That gives playmakers like Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo plenty of opportunities to make big plays and get the defense off the field.

Culpepper has a big arm and live targets in Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry. San Diego has struggled with big, physical receivers (Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, etc.) so Porter could be in for a big day if Culpepper has time in the pocket.

DS: Do you expect the crowd to be full of silver and black and does that give an advantage to Oakland if it happens?

ML: I expect there will be about 20,000 Raiders fans in attendance. Raider Nation is always a vocal group, so the crowd will cheer just as loud when the Raiders score as when the Chargers put points on the board.

The crowd's impact on the game will depend on how close the score is. If the Chargers jump out to an early lead like they did in Denver, the Raiders fans will be taken out of the game -- and possibly out of the stands, courtesy of Qualcomm security. If the game is close, the Raiders will get a boost from their large contingent in the stands. Several Chargers players get frustrated by their minimal home-field advantage and that could have an effect on Sunday.

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