Five Chargers to Watch: Chargers vs. Raiders

The San Diego Chargers look to kick-start their fast-start aspirations as they face the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football. Here's a look at five Chargers players who'll play key roles in the primetime match-up.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson -- LT has absolutely owned the Raiders, racking up 1,906 rushing yards and 22 total touchdowns in 16 career meetings. He's been especially dangerous in Oakland, where he's topped the 100-yard barrier on six occasions.

Tomlinson, 30, enters the '09 season healthy and motivated after hearing non-stop questions about his ability to avoid injuries and evade Father Time. He's determined to prove he is still one of the premier backs in the NFL, and there's no better venue to start that campaign than Monday Night Football.

2. Vincent Jackson -- Entering his fifth season, Jackson has "break out" written all over him. He has emerged as one of the league's best downfield threats -- leading the NFL in yards per catch last season (18.6) among receivers with at least 50 receptions -- and shares an incredible chemistry with Philip Rivers.

Jackson works the sidelines superbly, allowing Rivers to throw the ball high where only Jackson can catch it. That will be especially true on Monday when the man covering Jackson, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, will be playing with a soft cast on his injured left wrist.

NT Jamal Williams
Donald Miralle/Getty
3. Jamal Williams -- The Raiders will attempt to lean on their running game, control time of possession and keep San Diego's offense off the field. This strategy is almost mandated because the Raiders will be starting two rookie receivers. It will be up to Williams to foil Oakland's game-plan and force the Raiders to turn to their passing game.

Williams will line up across from C Chris Morris, a 2006 seventh-round pick who's expected to make just the second start of his career. It's vital that Williams dominates that match-up in the middle and shuts downs the three-headed running back monster of Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and Justin Fargas.

4. Shaun Phillips -- With Shawne Merriman not yet 100 percent comfortable playing on his surgically repaired left knee and first-round pick Larry English still getting acclimated to the speed of the NFL, it will be up to Phillips to be the team's primary pass rusher on Monday. He has to like his odds in Oakland, as Phillips recorded four sacks in two games against the Raiders in 2008.

Phillips will be used in a variety of ways in Ron Rivera's attacking defense. He'll line up both outside and inside; he'll rush the quarterback and drop into coverage; and he'll play as a roamer to make like miserable for QB JaMarcus Russell. Phillips' performance will go a long way towards setting the tone for the entire defense.

5. Antonio Cromartie -- The knock on the Raiders is they don't respond well to adversity, so there's nothing the Chargers would like to see more than a pick-six by Cromartie. The fourth-year cornerback is the most athletic player on San Diego's defense and the most dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Cromartie is a man on a mission after a disastrous 2008 season in which he failed to intercept a pass in 15 of 16 games. He revealed after the season that he was playing with a fractured hip, but even that doesn't excuse his blown coverages and sloppy tackles. It's time for him to revert to his Pro Bowl form of 2007, a turnaround that must begin on Monday.

What players will you be watching on Monday? Talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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