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What to Watch Out for: San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders

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With the Raiders looking to run the ball early and often today, you should get to know the guy whom their running game revolves around.

Thearon W. Henderson

There's little else that gives Chargers fans more glee than the Raiders being an absolute mess, and, man, Chargers fans have had a lot to be gleeful over for quite awhile now. Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the Raiders have won less than six games in a season NINE TIMES. And more importantly, the Chargers record against them over that span has been a dominating 17-5.

But before you get too far ahead of yourself and start preemptively sending those smug, profanity-riddled texts to all the Raiders fans you know, there's a caveat to this trend of domination that you should keep in mind: post-LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers are only playing .500 ball against their arch-nemesis (though the Chargers have won the last four out of five). What was barely a contest for seven years has evolved back into a slugfest.

Now, all that being said, the Chargers are by far the better team here and they should win going away, but don't be surprised if the Raiders keep this one close for awhile with interim head coach Tony Sparano, well, running the show now.

During Sparano's four seasons as head coach in Miami, the Dolphins were never lower than 11th in the NFL in rushes and never averaged less than 27 rushes per game.  Right now, the Raiders are only averaging about 18 rushes per game. So you can bet changing that is priority number one for Sparano going into this game.

"So, how do the Raiders like to run the ball?" you might ask. Well, their running game seems to center around one guy. No, it's not Maurice Jones-Drew. No, it's not Darren McFadden, either.

Believe it or not, it's rookie left guard Gabe Jackson. The scouting report on Jackson is in part that he's an extremely good athlete for his size, which allows him to move well out in space against linebackers and defensive backs. The Raiders have certainly tried to take advantage of this on what seems like nearly every running play, as Jackson's almost always pulling or releasing into the second level to clear the way.

Raiders Run (1)

On this play, the action of the fullback coming across the formation gets the middle and outside linebacker flowing and crashing down to their left as they anticipate the run to that side, setting them up to be caught in the wash and screened out of making a play later on. The double team on the defensive tackle, for example, ends up killing two Dolphins by also taking care of the middle linebacker.

Raiders Run (2)

Now, this is where Jackson comes in. The center will seal his guy to the inside, happily allowing the defensive tackle upfield while the running back cuts it up inside of them. Jackson, on the other hand, will just release into the second level to clean up the only linebacker left with a chance to make a play, leaving the running back one-on-one with the safety.

Although that's a pretty neat play design, that's not the way the Raiders have preferred to use Jackson so far this season. Their favorite way BY FAR is by pulling him - and I guarantee you'll see it more than a few times today.

Raiders Run (3)

One this play, the Raiders are going to get two double teams on the play side, one on the nose tackle and the other on the defensive end. The running back and tight end (playing fullback) take a hard step or two to their left initially in the hopes of getting the linebackers caught up in the wash before going the opposite way. Our man Jackson will pull to kick out the outside linebacker while the tight end provides the lead block for the running back.

Raiders Run (4)

Here, the running back cuts off the tight end to the inside instead of the outside, possibly costing himself a bigger gain (assuming, of course, that the tight end would've been able to seal that cornerback to the inside). Nevertheless, another play designed to take advantage of Jackson's athletic ability.

I wouldn't expect this tendency to just go away with Sparano now in charge. So if you're a Chargers defender today, just run to where Jackson's running and you'll most likely have the ball carrier in your sights. But then again, you also may then be in Jackson's sights. Yikes.