Those words, uttered by Raider coach Bill Callahan, do not speak to the depth of the problem. As the Raiders prepare to meet the invading San Diego Chargers Sunday, they are not even close to playing mediocre football.">
Those words, uttered by Raider coach Bill Callahan, do not speak to the depth of the problem. As the Raiders prepare to meet the invading San Diego Chargers Sunday, they are not even close to playing mediocre football.">

Raiders Notes

"We are not even close to playing our best football at this juncture." <BR><BR> Those words, uttered by Raider coach Bill Callahan, do not speak to the depth of the problem. As the Raiders prepare to meet the invading San Diego Chargers Sunday, they are not even close to playing mediocre football.

Callahan has vowed changes. Without being specific, he says the Raiders offense will Without being specific, he says the Raiders offense will get physical and bloody some lips.

Late Wednesday he did address one change that speaks to physical play and bloody lips. He returned center Barret Robbins into the starting lineup. Robbins was a Pro Bowl selection last year and his forte is as a 335-pound bulldozer in the middle of the line.

This would indicate the Raiders are ready to turn to a tactic they used toward the end of last year, back when they seemingly could do anything they pleased and get away with it.

In a muddy regular season finale, they went from a team that passed nearly two out of every three plays to one in which they ran 60 times -- 80 percent of the time -- in that victory over Kansas City.

The result: 280 yards on the ground. So, yes, the Raiders can pound when they put their minds to it. The Chiefs had the worst pass defense in the league at the time and an OK run defense. So it didn't necessarily make sense Oakland would only throw 15 passes. At least until afterwards.

This time it makes tons of sense. San Diego currently ranks No. 29 in the NFL in rushing yardage -- although that information must be tempered by an explanation -- the runners who riddled them so far are Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes and Clinton Portis. That trio ranks No. 1, No. 4 and No. 5 in the NFL through three weeks and is averaging a cumulative 5.6 yards a carry.

At any rate, the Chargers are no longer the team that possessed, for the better part of the last half dozen years, one of the top rushing defenses in the NFL.

However, the Raiders may no longer be the team that rushed for 280 yards against Kansas City in that pre-playoff season-ender last year. Their top rusher, Charlie Garner, sustained bruised ribs last week against Denver. His status for Sunday's game is not known. The Raiders didn't even place him on their initial injury report. Whatever that means, Garner is known for playing hurt ... and playing well when hurt.

But to reprise that Kansas City experience of a year ago once more, it was not just Garner who took the Chiefs on a merry ride. Although Garner rushed 29 times for 135 yards to get things started, Tyrone Wheatley carried 17 times for 69 yards and short-yardage specialist Zack Crockett was 11-for-72.

Even if Garner is not available, Wheatley and Crockett are. So is rookie Justin Fargas, who is Garner-like in his shiftiness. He led the team in rushing in preseason, averaging well over five yards a carry.

The question then begs, are the Raiders serious about doing something that would appear to be so predictable ... and all but confirm it in advance?

Count quarterback Rich Gannon among the skeptics.

"I don't know exactly what Bill says to the media is exactly what he's trying to convey," Gannon said. "I just think it's utterly ridiculous ... to essentially give out a game plan five days before a game."

What the Raiders do know is that something must be done to shake the cobwebs off the team's faltering passing attack which is average a pathetic 4.54 yards per attempt through three games.

A side note: the Raiders are averaging 4.50 yards a rush. So why not?

They also know that teams are battering Gannon off the edges with major pressure, sometimes adding blitzes, sometimes not even bothering to do that. They are also squatting on the Raiders short receiver routes and adding coverage personnel.

Gannon hinted at problems that lie beneath the surface.

"I know the facts," he said. "Unfortunately, nobody in this little circle (of reporters) does."

Be that as it may, if the Raiders can hit the edges with their runners and slow down the pass rush, chances are they Gannon will have time to throw again. If they are physical enough to force defenses to honor more than just Gannon and his receiving corps, then a multitude of possibilities crop up.

They may be about to find out whether or not they are the one-dimensional team opponents have decided they are.

Disproving that notion is imperative. And the time is now.

SERIES HISTORY: Raiders lead 53-21-2 -- The Raiders have won five of the last six meetings. However, since the Raiders returned to Oakland, they are 5-3 against the Chargers in Oakland while going 6-2 on the road. The Chargers handed the Raiders their second loss in their four-game losing streak a year ago, winning 27-21 in overtime in Oakland. That came despite a 35-for-45 passing effort for 361 yards by Rich Gannon. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed 39 times for 153 yards and scored on a 19-yard run for the winning touchdown in overtime.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--The Raiders are establishing a wait-and-see posture with regard to kicker Sebastian Janikowski's weekend arrest for public intoxication and misdemeanor vandalism after a fight outside an East Bay supper club.

"We will do some further investigation on it," Raider senior assistant Bruce Allen said. "It would be inappropriate to come to a judgment (now). Fortunately, we're in America and he's innocent until proven guilty."

Allen said there was evidence that Janikowski was not the instigator of the fight, noting that it was his understanding it was a 3-on-1 affair with Janikowski defending himself.

Although Allen said coach Bill Callahan was a stickler for good citizenship, the team has not taken disciplinary action. Despite several run-ins with the law and alcohol, it is unknown if Janikowski was in the first warning stage in terms of obeying the league's substance abuse policy. If he was, the league would not have to wait to mete out a four-game suspension for a strike.

"I talked to him at length about what occurred," Callahan said. "Some of the things that are coming back around ... are matching what he said to me. We'll let the law take its course."

Janikowski has steadfastly refused comment on the incident.

--Quarterback Rich Gannon refuses to discuss his highly visible sideline blowup with Callahan and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman in Monday's Denver game.

Callahan passed the incident off as nothing abnormal.

"This isn't new territory for us," Callahan said. "I remember when Jon (Gruden) was here. Rich is a highly competitive player and he's going to vocalize how he feels and he's going to vent how he feels.

"We understand that and I share that frustration with him. When you have that level of inconsistency, when you know the plays are there and you can't get them off because of an individual breakdown ... it's something that happens to a quarterback in this league."

Trestman was unavailable for comment because of a Raider rule against assistant coaches speaking with the media.

Gannon also had a testy give-and-take session with the press Wednesday in which a reporter asked him about "the issue of changing quarterbacks." The Raiders contend it is not an issue at all but a newspaper column suggested it as a change-of-pace that day.

"If that's what you all want to do, go ahead," he said. "Do you think that's the answer? Then why are you asking me about it. Well let's not talk about it then. That's how I feel, understand? I'm out playing my ass off. All right?"

Gannon also defended his play saying, "I have no problem with my play, I really don't. None whatsoever. If you want to make a story out of that, go right ahead. That's not a problem for me at all."

After going 3-for-22 on third down conversions in their first two games, the Raiders improved in Denver with a 4-for-15 conversion rate. That brings their season success ratio to 18.3 percent (7-for-37).

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- The average distance the Raiders had to go on second down in the first half of Monday's loss in Denver.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was angry three games ago. I guess it's going to keep building until I explode or the offense explodes. One of them's got to explode first." -- G Frank Middleton on whether he was angry or disappointed over the team's sluggish start.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

When FS Rod Woodson wound up playing, the Raiders' secondary included Phillip Buchanon at right cornerback in Denver rather than Terrance Shaw. It turns out there was a reason and it was not a demotion.

The Raiders did not know Woodson would be able to play until the day they flew to Denver. The entire practice week, Shaw worked out at free safety, where he had started against Cincinnati. Since Shaw did not practice all week at corner and because the team did not know whether Woodson would even be able to finish the game, Buchanon remained at cornerback rather than give way to Shaw -- behind whom he had played all year until Woodson was hurt.

Shaw is back practicing as a cornerback but the Raiders have not announced who the starter will be against San Diego.

The announcement that Robbins would start at center was not based on club dissatisfaction, according to Callahan. Rather, it was based on the fact that Robbins was finally healthy enough to play and was a proven Pro Bowl selection last year.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--WR Jerry Porter (hernia surgery) will graduate from a stationary bicycle to practicing next week. He said his target date for a return is the Chicago game on Oct. 5.

--In a continuing effort to give as little injury information as possible and declining to speculate on availability or when they would practice, the Raiders have listed 11 players as questionable.

That list includes:

--DE Trace Armstrong (ribs) did not practice Wednesday.

--G Mo Collins (knee) did practice Wednesday.

--S Anthony Dorsett (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.

--LB Napoleon Harris (knee) did not practice Wednesday.

--FB Chris Hetherington (hamstring) did practice Wednesday.

--RB Ronney Jenkins (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.

--T Lincoln Kennedy (calf) did not practice Wednesday.

--LB Bill Romanowski (concussion) did not practice Wednesday.

--DT Dana Stubblefield (ankle) did practice Wednesday.

--C Adam Treu (hamstring) did practice Wednesday.

--FS Rod Woodson (knee) did not practice Wednesday.

--RB Charlie Garner (ribs) did practice Wednesday and was not listed on the injury report at all.

GAME PLAN: The only question seems to be whether Callahan's "promise" to stress old-fashioned nose-punching, lip-bleeding football was the truth or a misleading ruse. Also open to question: whether it even meant the Raiders would try to run the ball more given Garner's injury/non-injury. After all, Gannon threw 45 times against the Chargers in their Oakland meeting a year ago.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: With Chargers' starting RT Vaughn Parker out, LE Trace Armstrong will likely be pitted against one of two rookies -- Phil Bogle or Courtney Van Buren. Tim Brown, due for a breakout game, also draws a rookie defender, CB Sammy Davis. The reinstatement of C Barret Robbins to the starting lineup potentially pits him against MLB Zeke Moreno. CB Terrance Shaw, a former Charger, or Phillip Buchanon, who started the last two weeks, will be up against WR David Boston.

INJURY IMPACT: Because of the short work week following a Monday game, the long list of players who did not practice Wednesday is not a valid jumping off point for determining who will be able to answer the bell Sunday. The most seriously injured of the 11 players listed as questionable, though a matter of guess work, would probably be RB Ronney Jenkins (ankle). If RT Lincoln Kennedy (thigh) is not 100 percent, the club feels comfortable using second-year tackle Langston Walker. DT Dana Stubblefield was questionable last week as well but was inactive. His return to practice would seem to indicate a positive prognosis. S Anthony Dorsett's ankle has kept him out of practice for a third week and there does not appear to be significant improvement. FB Chris Hetherington (hamstring) is practicing and pronounces himself ready to go. Long snapper Adam Treu would be replaced by TE Doug Jolley if he is unable to play. FS Rod Woodson (knee) apparently came through the Denver game without a setback. LB Bill Romanowski (concussion) is being brought along cautiously but he played with the same injury last week. The same is true of G Mo Collins (knee).

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