Poised, veteran, savvy and in control. Nine 300-yard passing games on the season have tied him for the most ever in a season with the likes of Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Warren Moon. He still has four weeks to go to break that record. 3,877 yards passing in 12 games puts him on pace to finish with 5,169 -- breaking the record of 5,084 Marino set with Miami in 1984.
Gannon also has a plethora of weapons. Aiding his cause is two future Hall of Famers in Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Jerry Porter has emerged as a threat, especially in the red zone. Charlie Garner adds a multi-dimensional attack, as he also is a solid runner and could pull of a rare feat this season gaining over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving.
We haven't even touched the surface on how many weapons are available. Rookie tight end Doug Jolley is becoming a force in the passing game as well among others who see the ball in the pass distribution offense the Raiders run.
The difference between the Raiders and other teams is they setup the run by passing. Gannon is having a season worth of MVP consideration. He is on target to his receivers and runs the offense brilliantly with little error.
On defense the Chargers get the aid of Ryan McNeil back in the secondary. They also benefit from Junior Seau and Marcellus Wiley in the lineup. Both were not available in the first meeting October 20th.
In the first meeting between these teams the Raiders converted just one of seven attempts (14%). Gannon completed 35 of 45 passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Raiders. Yet the Raiders only rushed the ball 12 times.
Gannon will surely work on the return of McNeil and Rodney Harrison who has played hesitant since getting suspended for his hit on Rice in the first meeting. How the defense responds to the challenge of facing this pass-oriented attack will be the difference in the game. The Chargers talked tough all week on how they have given up more than 400 yards in each of its previous 5 games and stopping Gannon would go a long way in backing up their words.
Brees has been a field general on the field. He has capitalized when needed and commanded the offense without making many mistakes or costly turnovers. Playing within the offense.
Brees has seen his weapons diminish in one form or another throughout the season. Just when he was getting a nice rhythm with Josh Norman, Norman went down with a calf injury. Brees turned to old faithful, Curtis Conway and now Conway has missed the better part of two games and may miss a third on Sunday. Tim Dwight has not established himself as a favorite target but has been key in keeping drives alive. He too is ailing with bruised ribs. Stephen Alexander has been both missing in action and a solid weapon. Which Alexander shows up is anyone's guess.
Now Brees has turned to rookies Reche Caldwell and Eric Parker. Caldwell has been a presence in the red zone and is now getting open in other areas after putting in some hard work this season. Parker has been a pleasant surprise in the two games he has played.
Brees is still working on his game. On occasion he has turned the ball over deep in enemy territory. That cannot be tolerated this week against a Raider team that seems to score at will. All opportunities must be taken. That is where his commanding presence plays a factor. He knows how to win games. From his days at Purdue, he has carried that winning attitude over to the Chargers. Sure he has a great back in LaDainian Tomlinson but the QB dictates the game. Big plays when a team is in third and long come from the quarterback position and so far Brees has excelled in taking his team to 8-4 and a share of the division lead.
More than ever Brees must continue to build his rapport with these players.
In the first meeting Brees completed 16 of 25 passes for 170 yards, two touchdown passes and one rushing, finishing the game with a 110.4 quarterback rating.
"This game, to my understanding, is one of the biggest games in this series since the '81 championship - that's what it's been advertised to me as," said Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. "This rivalry has been such where both teams have great passion and when the two teams get together, throw out the records, the stats, all of that. They know each other well. I think yes, it has implications, no question. It has significance, no question."
The Chargers haven't swept the two-game series with the Oakland Raiders since 1992, their first year under Head Coach Bobby Ross, which coincidentally, was the first time the Chargers had earned a playoff berth by winning the AFC West in more than a decade.
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