Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Raiders II

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 wrap up this series with five questions from Mike to Denis.

Michael Lombardo: Through the first 13 weeks of the season, the Raiders never lost a game by more than 15 points. Now, they've lost two of their last three games by more than 30 points. Has this team mailed it in for the season? Or is the way they played in Week 15 (nearly upsetting the Indianapolis Colts) more indicative of where they're at?

Denis Savage: I think the Raiders came across several playoff caliber teams hungry to strut their stuff. Oakland is not at that level yet, and much like the Chargers of a few years ago, they must learn to win the close games while continuing to build on their talent foundation. Ideally, they have the talent to compete with everyone but not enough to win the tight games or blow anyone away.

ML: JaMarcus Russell will make his first career start on Sunday. He has looked very sharp at times (against the Denver Broncos) and very shaky at others (against the Jacksonville Jaguars). What do you expect from him against the Chargers?

DS: I expect him to have a tough day. Not many quarterbacks see success against the Chargers, especially with them looking to lock up the No. 3 seed. He will likely get a lot of different looks and he hasn't prepared for the speed of San Diego's edge rushers. He will, however, make some plays that offer up a glimpse of his true potential -- the Raiders have to get him in to begin that process.

ML: What is the role of former Charger Tim Dwight with the Raiders? Is he just filling in after Mike Williams was released, or has he shown enough to be invited back next season?

DS: Dwight was valuable to Oakland coming off the street and playing immediately but his value has diminished since. The Raiders would prefer to get looks at younger guys who might be back next year - Dwight is not among that crowd. He has had a few punt returns as well but his value is more in his mentoring ability at this stage.

ML: What is the latest on offensive linemen Robert Gallery and Jake Grove? Gallery is playing out of position at guard and Grove has started only twice this year. Has Lane Kiffin already made the decision that these two are not part of the long-term solution?

DS: Grove is done for the year with a knee injury he suffered in October. He lost his starting job to Jeremy Newberry in training camp, mainly because the Raiders went to a zone-blocking scheme and Newberry had not only played in the scheme but led the calls. I expect Grove to reclaim the gig, provided he is healthy, but surgery is being talked about.

Gallery has actually played pretty well from his guard position. He doesn't have the drive-blocking necessary for the position but has made up for it with the agility to move to the second level and surprising ability to pull and lead block on runs to the outside. He may have found a home, although he will never live up to the lofty expectations placed on him when he was drafted.

ML: The Raiders ranked No. 3 in overall defense in 2006. They rank No. 26 overall this year and No. 31 against the run. What has caused this precipitous fall on a team with the same defensive coordinator and much of the same personnel?

DS: They lost Tommy Kelly early in the year -- a big blow for what they perceived to be an up-and-coming player -- and have little beef up the middle to prevent running backs from getting through the linebackers and into the secondary.

Without a big body to take on a double team, offensive lines are placing their hats directly on linebackers and tackles are coming with an offensive body draped over them. They desperately need another defensive lineman that can pick up the slack.

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