Chargers-Raiders Game-Day Primer

TE Antonio Gates (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Raider Week is back and there is more on the line than interstate bragging rights. The Chargers have a chance to undo a disastrous start and move into first place in a watered-down AFC West. The new powder blues will make their debut as the Chargers aim to win eight straight over the Raiders.

OFFENSE

LaDainian Tomlinson dominates the Oakland Raiders more than any other foe. In 12 games against the Silver and Black, Tomlinson has racked up 1,455 yards rushing, 230 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns. He has also thrown for a three scores against Oakland. Those numbers would be outstanding over a 16-game schedule; in just 12 games, they are otherworldly.

Tomlinson has set a season-high in yards from scrimmage every week this season. He will try to keep that trend alive against the league's No. 26 run defense, which has allowed 129.5 yards per game.

Philip Rivers looks to give the offense balance by diversifying the passing game. He connected with only three players in week five, fewest of any starting quarterback. However, it is hard to argue with the results. He carved up the Broncos secondary and finished with a career-best passer rating, 151.4. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over for the first time all season.

Ball control will be key against an aggressive Raiders defense. Linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard both have three interceptions and will look to take advantage of a Chargers offense that thrives by throwing over the middle to Antonio Gates. Also, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha -- who will be covering Vincent Jackson -- is coming off an eight-interception, Pro Bowl season.

If Rivers is going to protect the ball, he will need time from his offensive line. Before last week, when the offensive line didn't allow a sack, Rivers was on pace to get sacked 36 times, nine more than last season. It will help that both Derrick Burgess (calf) and Gerard Warren (quad) are expected to miss the game. Warren leads the Raiders with three sacks; Burgess has been banged up but has averaged 13½ sacks over the last two seasons.

If Rivers is given time, Gates will certainly be his top target. The three-time All Pro leads all tight ends in receptions (40), yards (489) and third-down catches (17). He has enjoyed just one 100-yard game against the Raiders, but if he gets his second on Sunday he will tie his career-high for 100-yard games in a season (four).

DEFENSE

Objective No.1 is clear: stop the run. Of course, that objective was equally clear when the Chargers hosted in Kansas City Chiefs in week four, yet Larry Johnson finished with 123 yards rushing and 25 more receiving. The Chargers must do a better job against Oakland's rushing attack, which ranks No. 1 in the league with 194.2 yards per game.

The Chargers get a slight reprieve in that LaMont Jordan (back) is expected to miss the game. However, former Super Bowl MVP Dominic Rhodes returns from a four-game suspension to pick up the slack. Rhodes had some big seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, but his numbers were inflated by playing in a potent offensive system.

Daunte Culpepper will make his second start of the season against the Chargers. He came off the bench to lead the Raiders to victory in week three and won his only start of the season in week four. However, he is far removed from his glory days in Minnesota. The former Pro Bowler is attempting just 13 passes per game and completing only 50% of them.

When Culpepper drops back, Jerry Porter will be his primary target. In has last outing, Porter hauled in three passes -- two for scores and one for 18 yards on a third-and-5.

Porter and running mate Ronald Curry will look to take advantage of a Chargers cornerback corps that has yet to record an interception this season. The San Diego secondary is giving up more than 247 yards per game and allowing quarterbacks to complete 64% of their passes. At least the safeties are making some plays -- Marlon McCree and Clinton Hart have combined for all five of the team's interceptions.

The pass rush will do its best to make life easy for the secondary. Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips combined for 7½ sacks in two games against the Raiders last season and sit at the same number through five games. No other Charger has more than one sack.

Ted Cottrell plans on brining pressure from other areas of the defense. Luis Castillo and Marques Harris are still seeking their first sacks of the season after combining for 10 in 2006. The defense is on pace to finish with just 32 sacks this season after leading the league with 61 a year ago.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Darren Sproles is looking more and more comfortable fielding the ball and getting up field. He had a 23-yard punt return and brought back a kick 27 yards against the Denver Broncos.

Sproles looks to repeat the special teams success the Chargers enjoyed the last time the Raiders came to Qualcomm. In that game, Antonio Cromartie returned his first kickoff return as a pro 91 yards to set up a tying score midway through the first quarter.

The coverage teams are doing their part. The Chargers are one of five teams in the league whose opponents' average starting position following kickoffs is inside their own 20-yard line. Also, punter Mike Scifres uses his directional skills and stellar coverage team to allow an average punt return of 2.7 yards, well below the league average.

The coverage teams include Pro Bowler Kassim Osgood and two-time Special Teams Player of the Year Carlos Polk. Polk delivered the hit on return man Brian Clark in win against Denver that caused a fumble and set up Brandon Siler's first career touchdown.

Nate Kaeding is back on track after a slow start to the season. In the last two weeks, he has connected on all six extra point attempts and all five field goals, including kicks of 45 and 51 yards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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