The Raiders (8-4) and Chargers (8-4) meet in a pivotal matchup Sunday in San Diego for the AFC West lead. If Oakland is to come out on top this time, it will have to at least slow down the Chargers stud of a second year running back.
Need more evidence? San Diego is 4-1 when Tomlinson tops the 100-yard mark. Tomlinson, who has twice rushed for over 200-yards in a game this season, racked up 153 yards on 39 carries in the first meeting between the two teams.
The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder is not a flashy runner but has great initial quickness, great balance and a low center of gravity. Tomlinson's workhorse mentality is tailor made for first-year head coach Marty Schottenheimer's run-first philosophy.
"He's going to get his touches," Oakland weakside linebacker Eric Barton said. "We've just got to tackle him."
Sounds simple enough but can the Raiders do a better job against Tomlinson than they did in the first meeting? Oakland's rebuilt defense has been checkered this season but slowing the ground game has been a common denominator in its success. The Raiders yield an average of 95.2 yards on the ground per game. Oakland, however, gave up an average of 153.8 in its four losses but a scant 65.9 in its eight victories.
Granted, the Raiders jumped to the early lead in most of those wins, which rendered the running game less of a factor. Oakland, however, held the New York Jets to 32 on 14 carries in a 26-20 win and yielded 48 yards on 17 carries in a 27-20 win over New England while both games were at least reasonably in doubt. The Raiders will have to stop one of the best in the business on Sunday.
"I look forward to it," said Barton, Oakland's leading tackler. "As a competitor, you should want to face the best."