Our Scout.com experts, Mike Lombardo of SD Bolt Report and Denis Savage of Silver & Black…
Will Culpepper Air It Out?
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 95th meeting. Raiders lead series 54-38-2, but the Chargers have won the last seven games. LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 109 yards, passed for one touchdown and rushed for another as the Chargers won 21-14 in San Diego last year. The Raiders' last win was Sept. 28, 2003, in Oakland, 34-31 in overtime.
PREDICTION: Chargers 24-16
KEYS TO THE GAME:
--The Chargers allow just 3.9 yards per carry, so it's going to be difficult for the league's top-ranked rushing offense to simply bulldoze its way down the field. The Raiders are expected to work RB Dominic Rhodes in coming off his four-game suspension, and Justin Fargas could again play a big role with LaMont Jordan's status uncertain. QB Daunte Culpepper has thrown three consecutive passes just once in his two appearances, but this could be the game he's asked to step up and produce in the passing game.
--The focus is typically on RB LaDainian Tomlinson, but the Chargers' fate might be more directly tied to how well they protect QB Philip Rivers. He wasn't sacked last week and avoided the turnovers that have plagued many of his games this season. The Raiders have the ability to bring consistent pressure, and Rivers needs to be able to work the ball downfield with good decision-making to prevent Oakland from stuffing the box against Tomlinson.
FAST FACTS: Tomlinson has rushed for 1,455 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 career games against Oakland. ... The Raiders have five rushing touchdowns, matching their total for the entire 2006 season.
RAIDERS PERSONNEL NEWS:
--RB LaMont Jordan got in some work during practice but did not make it through its entirety.
--DE Derrick Burgess made it through some drills but could not participate in team sessions.
--SS B.J. Ward, a reserve safety and special teams player, was released.
--SS Jarrod Cooper, released by the Raiders after receiving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on steroids and related substances, worked out but was not signed.
--DT Gerard Warren, who injured a thigh last Thursday, did not practice for the second straight day and may not face San Diego.
CHARGERS PERSONNEL NEWS:
--DT Jamal Williams (knee) sat out another practice. But he should go Sunday. But backups Brandon McKinney and Ryon Bingham could spell him more.
--WR Vincent Jackson (shoulder) practiced and is a go for Sunday.
--ILB Brandon Siler (back) practiced and is a go for Sunday.
--DT Igor Olshansky, who usually only plays on running downs, has fared well of late. He has 21 tackles on the year.
--QB Philip Rivers continues to baffle NFL observers by being so much better on the road than at home. Including the playoffs, he has thrown eight touchdowns and nine interceptions at home, where he has a 9-2 record. But on the road he has tossed 21 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His completion percentage goes from 59.6 at home to 63.8 on the road.
--WR Eric Parker (toe) is out two to three more weeks.
--FB Andrew Pinnock (knee) is out two to three more weeks.
INSIDE RAIDERS CAMP:
As aerial displays go, it hasn't exactly been Star Wars.
Daunte Culpepper closed out a win over Cleveland and beat the Miami Dolphins in his first start, and neither time did the Raiders quarterback resemble the man who put up big passing numbers while a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
Instead, Culpepper has let the Raiders' robust ground game take the lead role, while efficiently managing the game on the field, running for gains himself, and throwing the occasional clutch pass.
In the six quarters Culpepper has been a starter, the Raiders have rushed 74 times for 307 yards. During that span, Culpepper has thrown just 25 times, completing 12 for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
"There will be a time where we're going to need to throw," coach Lane Kiffin said. "It may be this week. I don't know when it's going to be. Ideally, you'll be able to run that way every week but that's not going to happen in this league. There are going to be times when we struggle."
Culpepper, whose two appearances have resulted in wins, is more worried about the bottom line than big passing stats.
"That's football," Culpepper said. "I've been playing this game a long time. Anybody who knows about football will tell you it doesn't matter how many yards you get. It's all about the W's."
In the Raiders' 35-17 win over Miami, Culpepper was more animated than usual, with the game coming against the team that cut him in favor of Trent Green because of concern over his twice-surgically repaired knee.
Culpepper assumes he will be calmer against San Diego.
"It's just it was an emotional game for me, playing in front of my family members that were there," Culpepper said. "Anybody who knows me knows that I play with a lot of emotions. I still have to keep the No. 1 goal in mind and that's to win the game. I don't get too high and I don't get too low. I play with emotion when the time is right."
INSIDE CHARGERS CAMP:
The Chargers' run defense will get a supreme challenge this week.
And that's a switch.
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. It seems 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 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.
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