When the Raiders exit the field Sunday, there are three possible scenarios for the Raiders: Division Champs, Wildcard winners, or out of the playoffs.
The Raiders could be division champions with a win and the Chiefs can beat the Broncos, the Raiders could be wild card winner with a win, Bengals loss and either a Jets win or Titans loss. The last scenario is one no Raider fan wants to think about, the Raiders lose or the Broncos and Bengals both win.
It’s been a very up and down season and the Raiders must win and get a little help to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Perhaps it is fitting that the Raiders would let the possibility of a playoff berth come down to the final game. The Raiders have seemingly given opponent after opponent the opportunity to win the game, if only a few took advantage of the opportunity. The primary issue has been a porous defense, but the Raiders defense played one of their best games of the season in San Diego a few short weeks ago and San Diego is the opponent in week 17.
What does it all mean for Sunday? Not much. It’s a one game season for the Raiders and we’ll find out how deep the Raiders can dig to get a win and if the defense can put together a complete game. If they can it may boost the Raiders should they make the playoffs.
When the Raiders have the ball:
The last time the Raiders faced the Chargers Michael Bush had a day to remember with 157 rushing yards, 85 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. In the Raiders week 10 win Denarius Moore came up big with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Ford added a 41-yard catch and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the team’s leading receiver, didn’t catch a single pass.
Ford was injured in the game against San Diego and has missed the last six weeks with a foot injury. Ford is ready to go and Carson Palmer has his top three receiving options healthy for the first time since the last game in San Diego six week ago. Palmer almost tossed 300 in San Diego without Ford and with Heyward-Bey as a no-show and should be even better with more options.
Bush’s effectiveness can open up the passing game for the Raiders by keeping the pass rush from coming hard after Carson Palmer. Palmer is a different quarterback when pressured and it is vital to keep the pass rush from getting to Palmer if he is to make good decisions with the football.
The Raiders will attempt to pound the football once again and hope that it opens up the deep passing game. If the Raiders can’t get the run going early expect them to turn to the short passing game with Heyward-Bey and screens and reverses to Moore or Ford.
Hue Jackson needs this win and he will empty the playbook. Expect the Raiders to showcase their speed and continue to be aggressive even when the situation calls for conservatism.
As with any game, it all starts in the trenches. The Raiders offensive line opens holes for Bush or gives Palmer time to throw. Failure on these objectives will prove fatal for the Raiders playoff chances.
Jacoby Ford vs. Dante Hughes
The Raiders get on of the Ferrari’s back and will immediately try to exploit the Chargers sub-standard group of cornerbacks. If the Raiders put Ford in the slot he’ll likely draw Chargers third corner Dante Hughes. Hughes has just three passes defended on the year and this should be a matchup the Raiders try to exploit. If Ford goes outside, expect Hughes to draw Moore instead.
Denarius Moore vs. Quentin Jammer
In their first match-up of the season Moore get the best of the veteran corner Jammer. Raiders will continue to pick on Jammer as along as Moore is getting deep releases. If the Chargers give Jammer help over the top with the strong safety Steve Gregory the Raiders will run Kevin Boss down the seam. With the Raiders offensive weapons expanding the Chargers will have to pick a poison and Moore killed them in week 10.
Darrius Heyward-Bey vs Antoine Cason
It’s a bit abnormal for three of these match-ups to be receivers versus cornerbacks, but with a full air arsenal at his disposal expect Hue Jackson to make good use of his options. With Ford’s return and Moore’s big game against the Chargers it would be easy to forget about the Raiders most productive receiver and consistent receiver this season. Heyward-Bey is a move the chains receiver that has enough speed to turn mistakes into scores. Cason is the Chargers best cornerback and has really played well the second half of this season. Over the top help is also good with Eric Weddle patrolling. If the Raiders want to get Heyward-Bey involved they may put him in the slot and have Ford run off the coverage to the outside.
Jared Veldheer vs Antwan Barnes
In the first meeting between these two teams Antwan Barnes was the only player applying consistent pressure of Palmer on only 15 pass rushing snaps. It’s up to Veldheer to keep Barnes away from the Palmer. The Chargers have only recently discovered Barnes talent as a pass rush specialist and he’ll now rush the passer 20-25 times a game.
Michael Bush vs. Shaun Phillips
There is occasionally a linebacker that does it all. That’s Shaun Phillips. He can fill the run, rush the passer and, when needed, drop back into coverage with almost equal effectiveness. Although he’s not fantastic at anything he is good at everything. The Raiders might want to think twice before running screens to his side and getting a seal block on Phillips is a must if the Raiders intend to run in his direction. If Bush can slip past Phillips in the passing game that might be the best way to exploit Phillips. Either way, if Bush has a good day on the ground or through the air, he’ll need to go through Phillips at least half the time.
Samson Satele vs. Antonio Garay
It’s a story that’s been told over and over again over the past few seasons. Samson Satele can struggle a bit with nose tackles, but in normal Satele form, he’s gotten better and better as the season has progressed and has turned in solid performances over the last five weeks. It’s Garay who can eat up blockers and apply the most effective type of pressure, that is pressure right up the middle. Garay exploited Stefen Wisniewski in week 10 when pass rushing, but it was Wisniewski pushing Garay around in the running game. For the Raiders run game and pass game to be effective it starts in the middle with Satele. The more Satele can handle Garay on his own the more that frees up the guards get second-level blocks on the Chargers linebackers.
When the Chargers have the ball:
The Raiders blanketed Vincent Jackson in the first meeting and limited him. It was Vincent Brown who became the go-to receiver for Phillip Rivers. Ryan Mathews is questionable, and the Chargers haven’t fielded a good running game in many weeks. No, the Chargers will again attempt to sling the ball around. That’s good news for the Raiders pass rushing defensive line. If the Raiders can cover the Chargers receivers long enough to pressure Rivers they will win the game. If the pass rush doesn’t get to Rivers quick enough that could give the Chargers big receivers opportunities.
Expect the Raiders to pressure the Chargers receivers at the line of scrimmage and attempt to tie up the receivers long enough to get pressure on Rivers. None of the Chargers receivers have elite speed so there is little risk of the receivers running past the coverage. Should the pass rush fail to get to Rivers there will be a lot of pressure on the Raiders safeties to provide help over the top.
Stanford Routt vs. Vincent Jackson
Routt 1 vs Jackson 0. The re-match does not always go the same way. Routt limited Jackson for most of the game in week 10. Routt has been good in coverage, he’s playing just a bit too physical and has been on the bad end of a few pass interference and defensive holding calls. The Chargers may to exploit Routt’s aggressiveness, so it is vital Routt whips his head around to find the ball. He might have opportunities to get interceptions if he can read and react to the ball in flight. He’s been getting called for hand checks lately as a direct result of his inability to find the ball in the air. Jackson was limited in practice all week until Friday. He’s probable, but a late scratch wouldn’t be surprising with Jackson headed for free agency and facing a tough match-up.
Kamerion Wimbley vs. Jared Gaither
Wimbley terrorized the Chargers in week 10 with 4 sacks, 3 hits and 7 more pressures on Rivers. Wimbley is coming off one of his worst games of the season and he may draw a more difficult match-up this time around. Gaither was picked up off the scrap heap and is starting at left tackle for the Chargers. Gaither was not signed by the Raiders in training camp when all signs pointed to it. He caught on with KC, but was hardly playing. The Chargers in need of help on the offensive line picked him up and he’s started and played remarkably well the past four weeks. Wimbley has the talent to beat a tackle like Gaither, but it’s one of the most interesting match-ups of the day.
Richard Seymour vs. Louis Vasquez
He’s big mean and nasty and as long as he isn’t committing stupid penalties he’s one of the top defensive tackle in the game. He’s the defacto leader of the Raiders defense and the defense goes as Seymour goes. So Seymour must go against Vasquez. Vasquez was having a solid season, but he’s fallen off lately. Enter Seymour. If Seymour draws a double team the Raiders to his left and right, being Lamarr Houston and Tommy Kelly need to make the most of their one-on-ones. Seymour doesn’t need 3 sacks to be successful, but the defensive line goes as Seymour goes. It’s a big game.
Michael Huff vs. The Field
Huff is used in many ways and he’s coming back from injury. The Raiders can surely use him against all the Chargers receiving weapons. It will be Huff’s job to fill in as a slot corner and help over the top. He’ll have considerable pressure on him in this game and let’s hope he makes the best of it.
If the Raiders want to win and make the playoffs it is these three highly paid defensive players that need to shine. Routt, Wimbley, Seymour and Huff were handed sizable contracts in the offseason and this is where contracts and careers are made. Crunch time for these defensive players.
Chargers playing spoiler and Raiders with everything to lose. The Raiders are at home and the coliseum will be rocking like it hasn’t since 2002. Raiders win this one, somehow, someway, but will it be enough?