The Week Ahead

The San Diego Chargers face off against their division foes the Oakland Raiders at Network Associates Coliseum this Sunday at 1:05 PM PST. First place is on the line as the 5-1 Chargers look to win at 4-1 Oakland, something that has not proven easy.

The Raiders come off a 28-13 loss to St. Louis. This is not the same Rams team though as they came into the game with a 0-5 record. Add to that Marc Bulger, the former 6th round draft pick two years ago and 3rd string quarterback, won the game for the Rams with 3 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions while also running one in for a TD. Rich Gannon threw for over 300 yards but threw 2 costly interceptions in the 4th quarter. Jerry Rice continues his assault on the record books with 7 catches for 133 yards on his 40th birthday. Marshall Faulk ran the ball effectively against the Raiders gaining 158 yards on the ground to go with 22 yards receiving. The Rams also stopped the Raiders on a 4th and 1 from the 3-yard line as Tommy Polley came up with a huge stop on Zack Crockett.

The Chargers came from behind to beat the Chiefs 35-34. Drew Brees connected with rookie Reche Caldwell from 2 yards out for the go ahead score with 14 seconds remaining. Brees threw for 319 yards on the day and overcame 2 interceptions to lead the Chargers back to victory. The Chiefs created 5 turnovers on the day but were unable to capitalize and put the game away. The Chargers limited the NFL's leading rusher Priest Holmes to 63 yards on 23 carries. Holmes did have 7 catches for 96 yards and it leads us into the matchup of the week.

The key to this game is how the Chargers handle the backs coming out as receivers. They have done a decent job at it this year but Holmes may have exposed a serious hole in the pursuit-oriented scheme of the Bolts. The linebackers tend to drop back in coverage on pass plays and playing the cover 2, the safeties are deep as well. That opens up the lanes for Charlie Garner who is a fantastic receiver to make plays in space. With Jerry Rice and Tim Brown running patterns, Garner almost becomes an after thought. For the Bolts to win they must stop Garner in every facet of his game.

Just as crucial the special teams must turn in its first good game. Thus far they have had 2 punts blocked and have been unable to get any good returns from Ronney Jenkins or Tamarick Vanover. The long on the year is 39 yards for a kickoff return and that came this past week against KC. Vanover has fumbled 2 punts and muffed a kickoff. The punt return game is averaging 4.4 yards per return. These numbers will have to get better.

The Raiders are another team that can be passed on as they are giving up close to 260 yards per game and rank 29th in the league. Another good gameplan must be instituted in order to keep a good run defense off balance.

Last year the Raiders held the Chargers offense to just 2 field goals in a 13-6 win at Qualcomm on Dec. 15th.

Charles Woodsen has a chance of returning from a fractured shoulder this weekend against the Bolts.

Oakland's run-stuffing tandem of former Charger John Parrella and Sam Adams will key on LaDainian Tomlinson who has rushed for 632 yards and six touchdowns this season. Parrella left the Chargers to sign a six-year, $24 million contract with the Raiders in the offseason.

The Raiders have won eight of the last nine meetings, including the last four in the division rivalry. The Raiders lead the series, 53-30-2.

Keys to a Charger victory

1. Handle Garner. As outlined above Garner cannot be the force Holmes was this past week. The Raiders will look to him often if Rice and Brown are covered.

2. Pressure Gannon. With the Chargers not pressuring the QB as they did in the first 3 weeks of the season, it places more emphasis on the secondary. The secondary cannot stay with the excellent Oakland receivers for long so this is a primary concern.

3. Pass happy. Brees will again have to go to the air. The Raiders boast a sturdy defense against the run. Woodsen may return but he will be rusty if he does come back.

4. Take the crowd out of the game. Score first. The crowd at Network Associates gets insane for division games. Scoring first will take the air out of the crowd and the Raiders 12th man.

5. Protect Darren Bennett. The Chargers have allowed punts to be blocked in consecutive weeks. A punt block this Sunday and the game is over.

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