Wow. That was ugly. The Raiders have played themselves into a corner after dropping two straight divisional games to less talented football teams. After the “bully” had his nose broken on Sunday, the Raiders will have to heal quickly because one of the biggest games of the season comes on only three days rest.
The Raiders gave up 300 rushing yards to the Denver Broncos. That’s not a typo. A college-style option offense torched the Oakland defense en route to a 34-21 upset win on Sunday. The Raiders were undisciplined in every aspect of the game. They had 15 penalties for 130 yards. Players didn’t stay true to their assignments, and were caught out of position, with Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee ripping them for huge gains. Linebackers were leaving gaps uncovered, defensive ends got burned bending down the line and lost contain, and the punt coverage team took bad angles in pursuit.
Michael Bush had a nice game in the starting role, 19 carries for 96 yards and 33 yards receiving. Jacoby Ford had a big game and Marcel Reece was welcomed back to the mix with a beautiful laser thrown by Carson Palmer, which Reece caught in traffic for a 40 yard score. Carson threw 3 interceptions but actually had a decent game. His arm strength looks to be there and made some really impressive throws. His decision-making will have to improve, as well as his handle on the offense, but it was definitely a step in the right direction.
The Raiders face another rival Thursday night in San Diego. We know about Phillip Rivers, we know about Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, we know Norv Turner. There shouldn’t be any surprises. The Raiders are limping into this game. No Darren McFadden, no Demarcus Van Dyke and no Chris Johnson. Eight other starters are questionable with injuries.
The Raiders biggest challenge comes at a time when they are playing their worst football. A win could spark a run, unifying the team and pushing them into the second half of the season with momentum. A loss, would be their third in a row and threaten this team’s once promising 2011 campaign.
We’ll see another 20-25 carries from Michael Bush with McFadden out. Bush is a good runner, always gains positive yards, and enjoys the pressure of stepping into the starting role. However, he doesn’t have big home-run hitting capability like McFadden. Hue Jackson will have to work to keep the Raiders in manageable third down situations which require an effective ground game.
You can’t turn the ball over against this team. It’s going to be hard enough to stop this offense without giving them extra possessions. Carson Palmer needs to make smart decisions, spread the ball around, and not zero in on his targets. He was telegraphing a lot of his passes last week and he needs to freeze the safety longer to open up routes for his receivers and find holes in the Charger zone.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Carson Palmer vs. Eric Weddle
In six quarters of play, Palmer has 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Having a 1-2 touchdown interception ratio will not win many games. Weddle has 5 of San Diego’s 8 interceptions. If Palmer is to lead Oakland to its first victory in nearly a month, he needs to minimize his turnovers.
Micheal Bush vs. Donald Butler & Takeo Spikes
Bush is a high quality running back, who if given more opportunities could easily reach the 1,000 yard marker. Butler and Spikes anchor the Charger defense. They have combined for over 100 tackles this season. Compare that to McClain and Wimbley, who have combined total of 73.
Carson Palmer needs to find his talented tight end in this game. The Chargers have only allowed one 100 yard receiver this year, but they have given up five touchdowns to tight ends in eight games. Boss, who was really only used on special teams against Denver, does a wonderful job finding spots in the zone and can be a real asset in the redzone if Jackson gets him on the field.
Ryan Matthews is healthy, and he’ll split carries with Mike Tolbert. The Raiders have the talent on that side of the ball to be a stout defense against the run. The problem has never been between the lines, but between the ears. The Raiders need to play smart, disciplined, gap control defense. After studying the Denver game, Norv Turner will try to run the ball down Chuck Bresnahan’s esophagus to take pressure off Rivers. If the Raiders are unable to stop the run, it could be a long afternoon for this unit.
Looks like Malcolm Flloyd will miss Sunday’s game. The Raiders will start cornerback Lito Shepphard because of injuries to the secondary. Oakland generally doesn’t match up cornerbacks with specific wide receivers, but if there was a time to do it, this is the game. Routt needs to handle Vincent Jackson, who has had a relatively disappointing year until he exploded for 150 yards and 3 touchdowns Sunday against Green Bay.
The Raiders don’t really have a player to matchup with Antonio Gates. Expect Mike Mitchell to draw some one-on-one coverage with Gates or the freshly signed Jerome Boyd. The Raiders will try to blitz Rivers, but if they don’t get it to him, it’s going to make Rivers job far too easy.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Kamerion Wimbley vs. Marcus McNeil
Wimbley is coming off his worse game of the season, as he missed an open sack on Tebow and lost outside containment on a number of runs. McNeil, is still San Diego’s franchise left tackle, but is not having his best year. Wimbley has been consistently applying pressure all season. To live up to his big contract, Wimbley needs to start turning pressures into sacks.
Aaron Curry vs. Mike Tolbert & Ryan Matthews
With McClain’s injury, Curry is now the Raiders defensive quarterback. Much of the 299 rushing yards yielded last week can be attributed to Curry’s poor play and leadership. San Diego’s running backs account for 1,387 total yards from scrimmage, with almost half those coming in the passing game.
The Raiders heavily criticized Defensive Coordinator is probably coaching for his job tomorrow night. He knows his unit is banged up and doesn’t have the talent in the secondary to compete with Rivers’ weapons. He is going to dial-up the blitz early and often. He knows he needs to get Rivers on his back. Defensive line stunts, corner blitzes, it’s all going to be in the game plan Thursday night. Much of this team’s success will rely on stopping the run. Chuck needs to make sure his guys are in the right position and are educated on the Chargers running game. Bresnahan is familiar with the Chargers offense, so look for him to put his best players in positions to make big plays.
As much as I would like to think this is the game where the Raiders come together and put together an inspiring and motivational win to spark the rest of the season, I just don’t see it happening with the 22 guys they are marching out there. Palmer will continue to improve, but Rivers will finally get back on track as the Chargers second half rise begins.
Raiders 23, Chargers 31,
After two embarrassing AFC West loses in Oakland, the spotlight is on Hue Jackson to find balance and right the ship. The Raiders woes will continue, and this time in primetime.
Raiders 17, Chargers 24