Football is back! WOOHOOO! It's like Chrismas in the Fall. Tonight, the Titans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the defending champions in a matchup of bruising defenses. I'll be watching, with a cold beer in my hand, and be happy that football means something again. However, in the back of my mind I'll be thinking about Monday's San Diego Chargers game against the Oakland Raiders.
After the jump, an in-depth preview on Monday's game.
Week 1 games are difficult to analyze because mostly what you have to go on is the players and what happened in 2008. I'll try my best though. In 2008, the Raiders ranked 29th in total offense, 32nd in passing offense and 10th in rushing offense. You're not going to get very far with the worst passing attack in the NFL. Their leading pass catchers were Zach Miller, Darren McFadden and Johnnie Lee Higgins. McFadden had only 29 catches, Higgins only 56. I can't stress enough how horrible this passing offense was in 2008.
In his first full season as an NFL starter, JaMarcus Russell completed less than 54% of his passes. By comparison, Philip Rivers completed more than 65% of his passes. There's no doubt about it, the Raiders are a running offense. You could argue that with an improved offensive line (meaning Kwame Harris is gone) and a healthy Darren McFadden, the rushing attack will be even more potent. Also, with a legitimate deep-threat receiver in Darris Heyward-Bey, the Raiders may be facing more seven man fronts in 2009.
However, one of the reasons the Chargers were able to dominate the Raiders in 2008 (combined score 62-25) is because on defense San Diego's weaknesses were with the passing game. Although they were 25th in total defense, and 31st is passing defense, the Chargers were still able to finish 11th in rushing defense. With hope for Oakland's offense comes hope for San Diego's defense. Kevin Burnett and Shawne Merriman, along with a healthy Jamal Williams, should make the run defense even stronger. With Ron Rivera creating an aggressive scheme to get after the quarterback, Russell may have a difficult time throwing against the Bolts.
Advantage: Tie. The Raiders will try to run the ball and get control of the time of possession to keep Philip Rivers and the Chargers' potent offense off of the field. That might move the chains, but JaMarcus Russell will have to make a few plays for them to actually score touchdowns.
When the Chargers Have the Ball
Let us return to those 2008 team stats again. Last season the Raiders ranked 27th in total defense, 10th in passing defense and 31st in run defense. The Chargers ranked 11th in total offense, 7th in passing offense and 20th in rushing offense. In the offseason the Raiders replaced the very capable Gibril Wilson with fourth round draft pick Tyvon Branch (an SB Nation contributor), and have replaced DEs Kalimba Edwards and Derrick Burgess with Greg Ellis and Trevor Scott. Is that an improvement? It could be, but when you add Pro Bowl DT/DE Richard Seymour to the mix it's a definite improvement. Luckily for the Chargers, he won't be involved in this week 1 matchup.
A healthy LaDainian Tomlinson means bad news for the Raiders. Look at how consistently he's beaten them up:
- 10/16/05 - 31 carries, 140 yards, 1 rush TD. 2 catches, 39 yards, 1 rec TD.
- 12/04/05 - 25 carries, 86 yards. 5 catches, 24 yards.
- 9/11/06 - 31 carries, 131 yards, 1 rush TD. 3 catches, 18 yards.
- 11/26/06 - 19 carries, 109 yards, 2 rush TD. 1 catch, 5 yards. 1 pass, 19 yards, 1 pass TD.
- 10/14/07 - 24 carries, 198 yards, 4 rush TD. 3 catches, 16 yards.
- 12/30/07 - 16 carries, 56 yards. 1 catch, 7 yards, 1 rec TD. (*Week 17 with division clinched)
- 9/28/08 - 20 carries, 106 yards, 2 rush TDs. 2 catches, 9 yards.
- 12/04/08 - 25 carries, 91 yards, 1 rush TD.
Facing them in week 1, before he even gets a chance to get injured, means that LT should have a big game against Oakland's lack of a run defense. If they start sending their LBs on blitzes to help, Darren Sproles could create problems with the screen pass. The Raiders secondary did a good job of keeping Rivers in check in 2008, but he still managed to throw 4 TDs against only 2 interceptions against them. He won't look like a superstar against Oakland because their secondary is quite good, but should be able to find enough holes to get the job done and could probably burn the rookie SS once or twice as well.
Advantage: Chargers. There's no doubt about it. The Chargers offense is one of the best in the league and the Raiders, while respectable, will not be able to shut them out. I think the Raiders will have a hard time getting a pass-rush on Philip, which will lead to a lot of 7 yard passes over the middle to Antonio Gates. I also think the running game will be good enough to get first downs and keep the defense rested.
Don't forget to send in your Mailbag Questions to be answered on Saturday. Your questions do not necessarily have to be related to the Chargers.