Running games will tell the tale

The Oakland Raiders running game has been rolling through its first four games of the season, allowing their quarterback's to manage the game. The San Diego rushing offense, however, had struggled until last week. The front lines for each team figure to have their hands full.

The Chargers' run defense figures it will get a supreme challenge this week.

In three of the past four weeks the team has faced Denver's Jay Cutler, Green Bay's Brett Favre and New England's Tom Brady. All lead a revved passing attack, which is the key to their offenses.

But the Raiders arrive Sunday looking to turn back the clock and play some smash mouth football. The zone-blocking schemes implemented by new Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable is paying dividends. The Raiders lead the NFL in rushing.

"It starts up front," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "Those guys are doing a real nice job. Their running backs are doing a great job and they're very committed to the run."

It's a little shocking just how much better the Raiders are at running the ball behind LaMont Jordan, Justin Fargas -- and starting this week -- Dominic Rhodes.

Oakland's average of 194.4 rushing yards through four games is the most by a club since the merger. Last year, the Raiders averaged 94.9 yards.

But the Chargers' run defense is coming off a good game in Denver in which it allowed but 72 yards rushing. Now part of that was because the Broncos fell in such a quick hole that they had to throw the ball more than they wanted.

Still, with inside linebacker Matt Wilhelm returning to the lineup after missing two starts and defensive tackle Jamal Williams playing at his Pro Bowl level, the Chargers' run defense is starting to show its teeth. It is allowing 92.8 yards per game and is ranked 10th.

Williams, though, has missed the past two practices with a sore knee. Williams said he'll be fine for Sunday, and he will. But it's worth watching how his knee holds up as it gets fatigued during the game.

Tomlinson struggling?

The statistics say San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson is struggling.

The Raiders aren't buying it.

Tomlinson is averaging just 65.8 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry through five games, well below the numbers which have made him the NFL's premiere running back.

The Raiders ought to know, because they helped get Tomlinson to where he is.

"It's not like we don't know what he's capable of," Raiders linebacker Kirk Morrison said. "He can score at any time."

San Diego has beaten the Raiders seven consecutive times, with Oakland's last win coming two head coaches ago. The Raiders beat the Chargers 34-31 in overtime under Bill Callahan on Sept. 28, 2003.

On that day Tomlinson ran for 187 yards on 28 carries, and he has tortured the Raiders ever since. In the eight San Diego-Oakland games since 2003, San Diego has outrushed the Raiders 1,456 to 627, with Tomlinson gaining 1,031 yards on 221 carries with nine rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and two touchdown passes.

Of the 14 100-yard rushing games against Oakland by AFC West runners since 2003, Tomlinson has six of them.

Yet under Norv Turner this season, Tomlinson is ranked 16th in the NFL in rushing, with only a 20-carry, 132-yard effort against Kansas City looking like the man who gained a career-high 1,815 yards and scored 29 touchdowns.

Raiders coach Lane Kiffin isn't putting much stock in a five-game portion of the season. All he knows is San Diego is coming off a 41-3 win over Denver.

"I watched part of it, but like everybody else I turned the channel after awhile," Kiffin said. "San Diego looks great. A week ago, everybody was writing about what's happened to them, and now since they've won a game they're on to the Super Bowl again."

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