Back to the AFC West

The Oakland Raiders, whipping boys of the AFC West over the past three years, embark on a three-game string of division games following their Monday night tilt.

Weaknesses which have plagued the Raiders since their AFC championship season in 2002 have been highlighted in division games, with none as glaring as their inability to physically match the will of their opponents.

There have been myriad problems. The Raiders have a minus-13 turnover ratio since 2003 within the division. The Raiders have committed 158 penalties for 1,273 yards in those games as opposed to 124 for 1,001 yards for their opponents.

But the biggest problem is being unable to cope with the sort of basic football coach Art Shell has promised he would preach since the day he was hired.

"Toughness, to me, is execution," Shell said. "If I'm an offensive lineman, I'm going to come off, and I'm going to block you. We're going to get five yards. I'm going to go back to the huddle, block you and we're going to get five more yards. That is toughness. That is execution."

It also happens to be precisely the tactic employed by AFC West foes, who have exposed the soft underbelly of the Raiders to a shocking degree, as Oakland has a 2-18 record in division games since the start of the 2003 season.

The Raiders face all three of those foes over the next three weeks, starting Sunday at home against Denver. Then come two road assignments, against Kansas City Nov. 18 and San Diego Nov. 26.

Oakland actually didn't fare too badly against Denver in the first meeting between the teams this season. The Raiders gave up 144 yards on the ground, but 29 of those came on a reverse by Javon Walker. Tatum Bell, the Broncos' lead runner, had a hard-earned 83 yards on 23 carries.

Against San Diego in Week 1, LaDainian Tomlinson had 131 yards on 31 carries as the Chargers prevailed 27-0.

The latter of those games is closer to the way the games have played out with the Raiders in the AFC West.

The Raiders have rushed for more yards than they've had in penalty yards against the AFC West since 2003, but not by much.

In the 2-for-18 slump against division opponents, the Raiders have rushed for only 1,494 yards (74.7 yards per game) and given up 3,212 yards (160.6).

Whether it is because the Raiders are continually behind, or because they don't believe they can run, they've averaged only 19.9 rushes per game in those division matchups.

Meanwhile, with the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers realizing the quickest way to Oakland's heart is at the point of attack, division opponents have averaged 37.1 carries per game -- nearly twice as many rushes per game as the Raiders.

In 10 of the 20 games, AFC West runners have broken 100 yards on the Raiders, four of those by San Diego's Tomlinson.

The Raiders, meanwhile last had a 100-yard rusher in an AFC West game in the 2002 regular-season finale.

During a downpour in Oakland, the Raiders were forced to abandon the passing attack which had carried them to the top seed in the AFC, running it 60 times for 280 yards in the slop in a 24-0 win over Kansas City.

Charlie Garner led the Raiders that day with 29 carries for 135 yards.

Twenty games later, no one has joined Garner in the 100-yard club. The only man who came close was LaMont Jordan, who had 93 yards in a loss to the Chiefs last season.

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