Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Raiders I

Our experts, Denis Savage of Silver & Black Illustrated and Michael Lombardo of, analyze Sunday's game between the Raiders and Chargers at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland. Let's start this two-part series with five questions from Denis to Mike.

Denis Savage: Will the Chargers attempt to play this game like they did this week against Denver -- try to build a big lead and sit LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers in the second half?

Michael Lombardo: Yes, the Chargers will stick with the same routine they've utilized over the past two weeks. Norv Turner hopes to build a sizable lead by the third quarter and then pull Tomlinson and Rivers from the game. If the Chargers bust it open, then some other frontline players will be pulled as well. Otherwise, everyone will stay in as long as necessary to secure the win.

Priority No. 1 is to ensure that Tomlinson and Rivers are healthy -- Tomlinson because he is the top running back in the game, and Rivers because there is a massive drop-off between he and Billy Volek. Priority No. 2 is going for the win, which would secure the No. 3 seed and guarantee the Chargers avoid the red-hot Jacksonville Jaguars in round one.

DS: With five straight wins, is this team really peaking or are there areas of concern heading into the playoffs?

ML: The Chargers are definitely peaking on both sides of the ball. The offense has averaged more than 30 points per game during the current five-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the defense leads the league in interceptions (29) and ranks in the top-five in sacks (38).

There are still some areas of concern. Antonio Gates has disappeared for much of the second half of the season. The defense struggles to get off the field on third-and-long. Nate Kaeding has never made a high-pressure field goal. However, San Diego feels pretty good about itself going into the second season.

DS: If you were the Oakland Raiders, how would you attack San Diego to try to squeak out a victory?

ML: On defense, the Raiders need to stack the box and bring pressure on every down. This might allow the Chargers to connect on some big plays; however, if Oakland can hit LT in the backfield and rattle Rivers early on, it will pay big dividends in the second half.

On offense, JaMarcus Russell needs to be smart with the ball. The Chargers thrive on creating negative plays. Russell must take what the defense gives him and throw the ball away when there is nothing there. If Russell can get through his first start without committing multiple turnovers or enduring three or more sacks, the Raiders have a chance to pull off the upset.

DS: With Russell starting, will the Chargers throw the playbook at him to knock his timing and rhythm off or will they play their normal game?

ML: Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell throws in a new wrinkle every week, a trend that will continue in Oakland. Expect San Diego to disguise its coverages and attempt to throw off Russell's pre-snap reads.

Cottrell will also bring pressure early on to see how Russell reacts. The Chargers average more than six sacks per game in their last three meetings with the Raiders and will look to continue that trend on Sunday.

DS: The gaudy interception statistics definitely stand out, especially with a rookie quarterback ready to sling. Who, besides the obvious (Antonio Cromartie), has stood out in the secondary? Is Quentin Jammer still the guy to attack through the air?

ML: Jammer is not the guy to attack. Although his interception numbers are always modest (and occasionally non-existent), he is a physical player who is always in good position. Part of the reason that Cromartie has 10 interceptions is that Jammer's tight coverage forces teams to throw Cromartie's way.

The player to pick on is FS Marlon McCree. The Chargers keep McCree on the field because of his leadership and veteran savvy, but he has limited range and gives up a lot of big plays over the top. McCree is now splitting time with rookie Eric Weddle, but when McCree is on the field the Raiders would be well advised to challenge him down the field.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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