For the second week in a row, I'm going to predict an easy victory for the Chargers. I understand that the Raiders almost beat them in Week 1, but there's something different about the Raiders team now. More specifically, something different about Raider fans. They've given up on their team and given up on the season. My weekly FanPost at the opposing team's SBNation community has yielded only a handful of questions, most of them asking me how badly the Chargers will beat the Raiders. It's a sad state of affairs.
Week 1 was awful. The Raiders were the tougher team that day and took advantage when members of our offensive line went out with injuries. Their fans, who thought they were seeing a good Raiders team for the first time in nearly a decade, were disruptive by being extremely loud. In Week 8, things are different. Not only is this a road game for the Raiders, but their fans have no faith in this team. Also, the Oakland's respectable defense has been prone to give up if the opposing team has a lead because they have no faith in JaMarcus Russell. I think the only way the Raiders stay competitve in this game is with a good game out of Bruce Gradkowski (who has missed the last two days of practice due to illness).
When the Raiders Have the Ball
The offensive numbers for Oakland are not good. Dead last in offensive yards per game, second-to-last in offensive points per game. The passing game, led by the incredibly inaccurate and indecisive JaMarcus Russell, ranks 32nd out of 32 teams and the running game is only slightly better (26th).
The 20 points they scored against the Bolts in Oakland is their highest offensive output of the season, and that included a free 4th Quarter TD for Louis Murphy. Since Week 1 the Raiders have scored 13, 3, 6, 7, 13 and 0. With the big mistakes seemingly behind them, and playing their best defense all season, the Chargers shouldn't have much of a problem keeping Oakland in that range for another week.
The Chargers defense, after nearly shutting out the Chiefs in Kansas City, now ranks 18th in yards allowed and 21st in points allowed. The pass defense, and specifically the secondary, has been a strength (ranked 11th). The run defense has improved incrementally since the bye week, and has moved out of the league's cellar up to 28th. Unless JaMarcus Russell somehow puts it all together this week, the Chargers should be able to create turnovers and focus on stopping the Raiders run at the same time.
Advantage: Chargers. There's not many teams in the league right now that wouldn't have the advantage over the Chargers defense, at least statistically. Luckily for Ron Rivera and his crew, last week and this week's opponents are just not talented enough to exploit the holes in the Bolts' D. Similar to the Chiefs game, look for lots of blitzes from the secondary in this matchup.
When the Chargers Have the Ball
By all accounts, the Raiders should have a great defense. Their defensive line has been beating up people all year, and the young talent they have at linebacker is only exceeded by the young talent they have in the secondary. However, just like an offense needs balance to succeed, a team needs balance between the offense and defense to succeed.
Remember in the 1-15 season for the Chargers, how that team seemed to have a great defense until the fourth quarter of every game? That was because they constantly lost the time of possession battle and the defensive players couldn't win the games on their own. This is what the Raiders are currently dealing with.
Oakland is ranked 28th in yards allowed per game, and 25th in points allowed per game. However, the stat that should always be alongside those two is this one: The Raiders rank 30th in scrimmage plays run against them. Unlike the other teams ranked poorly in this category, it doesn't have to do with the Raiders defense's inability to get off the field. It has to do with their offense putting them right back out there after only a few minutes of rest over and over again.
Not surprisingly, Oakland's 2009 defense ranks 30th in the league at stopping the run and 12th in the league at stopping the pass. The Chargers experienced that first-hand in Oakland when LaDainian Tomlinson went down and the offense had a hard time putting drives together through the air. This game should be redemption.
The Chargers 31st ranked rushing game needs to take some heat off of the passing game and keep Richard Seymour off of Philip Rivers. Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Michael Bennett, Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert should all get some carries and instill some confidence in the offensive line. The 4th ranked passing game in the league will be there to win the game in case the rush doesn't work.
Advantage: Chargers. Any time you have the 8th ranked offense in points per game going up against the worst offense in football, you have a great chance at victory. The fact that the Chargers have been improving only nails this point home even more. What's most important in this matchup is what will be missing in comparison to the Week 1 game. Oakland's fans will not disrupt San Diego's offensive line, and ther will be no hope for Oakland once they fall behind.