Key Matchups in Week 7 (1 of 2)

In the Raiders first four games this season their revamped defense faced Shaun Alexander, Jerome Bettis, Eddie George and Travis Henry and the Raiders responded by limiting all four. The Raiders held the first Big Four they faced to a combined 161 yards and 3.2 per carry. One week later St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk shredded the Raiders' top-ranked run defense for 158 yards and 6.1 per carry Sunday in the Rams' 28-13 victory.

Of course the Raiders have held sizeable leads in its first four games which compelled teams to pass more than run. This past week the Rams were more than in the game and could afford to run more. No back the Raiders have faced thus far is playing as well as Tomlinson has this season.

LaDainian Tomlinson visits the Coliseum this week and has emerged as one of the best backs in just his second season. He is running, catching and has shown greater patience this year in waiting out his blockers and then exploding to the hole. In last week's game vs. KC, Tomlinson seemed to literally stroll downfield for positive yardage as he waited his linemen out and just followed their blocks as if it were a walk in the park.

With 632 yards rushing, he trails Priest Holmes by only 21 for the league lead. Tomlinson also is averaging 4.7 per carry and one touchdown per game.

"We've got to be sound and play good gap control," Raiders defensive end Trace Armstrong said. "Tomlinson's a special back. You don't see many guys come in and have as many tools as he has. He's able to accelerate through the hole and very rarely do you see him falling back."

Tomlinson, 23, rushed for only 114 on 39 carries for a 2.9 average per carry in two games against the Raiders. Last season the Raiders allowed 124.3 yards rushing a game, 22nd in the 31-team NFL. Shaun Alexander decimated them for 266 yards in one game, and Priest Holmes burned them for 168 in another. Enter the new wave of run defense.

Free-agent tackles John Parrella and Sam Adams joined the squad in the offseason. Parrella the ex-Charger is known for his stout defense against the run as is ex-Raven Adams. The job they have is to clog the middle and make plays on running backs. So far they have been admirably as the unit is 3rd against the rush, allowing 79.2 yards a game.

Tomlinson has changed as well. He said what he learned last season opened his eyes and played a major role in his developing into a more consistent player this season. "I just feel like I know a lot more," Tomlinson said Wednesday. "I'm more experienced and I just understand defenses better. I understand the blocking schemes we're trying to do and that makes me a better runner."

"If you do your job and get LaDainian beyond the first level of the defense, he can go all the way," offensive tackle Vaughn Parker said. "Secondly, he doesn't go down with arm tackles. The play doesn't necessarily have to be totally clean for him to make a play."

The Chargers will need Tomlinson to have a breakout game against the Raiders this weekend. Ball control is the word of the day. Keeping the explosive Raider offense off the field is a big key to stopping them. Tomlinson can also open up the play-action-pass and when he is running well it keeps the defense honest. A tough challenge lies ahead, but as Tomlinson continues to grow, so do the Chargers.

After Tomlinson visits the Coliseum, the Raiders face the league's leading rusher in Kansas City Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, then the duo of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow, both of whom average more than 5 yards per carry.

"Talk about not getting a break the first half of the season," defensive end Tony Bryant said. "Every time we turn around, we're facing a running back better than the one we just played. We're up for the challenge, though."

The Chargers need to be the ones to set the trend on how to beat the Raiders this week. Run the ball and run it well.

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