The Raiders are back from the bye week. The sit at 0-4 on the season while the Chargers are 4-1, including winning four-straight games. To be fully prepared for the Raiders week six home match-up with the Chargers, here are some key storylines and match-ups to focus on.
New coach, new attitude, new philosophy
Tony Sparano takes over as Raiders interim head coach and embarks on his first game in charge of this team. He brings a very different attitude and demeanor to the head coaching position for this team. While Dennis Allen fresh faced, politician-like, Southerner with a defensive background, Sparano is a gritty, sunglasses-in-press-conference, Northeasterner, with an offensive background.
Dennis Allen preached establishing a ground game but then the product on the field had the Raiders running the fall 30% of the time which is the lowest in the NFL. As an offensive line coach, who has a running history, expect to see a lot more of that in this game.
The Raiders signed former Chargers receiver, Vincent Brown a few weeks ago so he would be ready to face his former team this week along with perhaps being able to impart some knowledge on his former team. The Chargers did the same thing this week with the signing of Ronnie Brown. Yes, I realize Brown was never a Raiders player, but he was the key to Tony Sparano's offense in his three seasons as head coach in Miami. If anyone would be able to clue the Chargers in on what to expect from the Raiders new interim head coach, it's Brown. Making it that much more valuable, Brown was with the Chargers last season so he can jump right back into the mix and should be able to contribute immediately if called upon.
With the depleted Chargers running back corps, they will start Branden Oliver in this game. Oliver went undrafted out of University of Buffalo and burst onto the scene last week, running for 148 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries last week. He will face off against his former teammate Khalil Mack who went fifth overall and is the best run stopping linebacker on the Raiders. The Chargers could opt to run Oliver away from Mack but the two will meet up a few times between the whistles.
The Chargers have gone through almost as many centers this season (4) as games they've played (5). Longtime center Nick Hardwick retired after the first game of the year. His backup, Rich Ohrnberger, has been out with back issues. They signed Doug Legursky to replace him and he started one game before going on IR. They dug deep to grab Trevor Robinson off the Bengals practice squad, but the guy who will likely get the start at center is rookie guard, Chris Watt. It's clearly a vulnerable position that the Raiders need to exploit if they can.
Different ends of the QB spectrum
Each of these teams are in very different places at the quarterback position. Philip Rivers is in the prime of his career and is currently the favorite to win league MVP. The Raiders will deploy rookie Derek Carr who has all of four starts under his belt and is still trying to find his place. Rivers has 12 TD's, Carr has 4. The entire Raiders offense has 6 TD's total.
Menelik time is now
Khalif Barnes is out with a quad injury and the timetable for his return is uncertain. Menelik Watson has the opportunity to make that timetable irrelevant. He was drafted last year in the second round as the future at right tackle. If he plays well, this could be just the first of a long string of starts. If he plays as he has in limited action this season, he may not get another chance.
Penn vs Freeney
Donald Penn has played well at times this season and overall has been a pleasant surprise as a pass protector. He will face one of his tougher match-ups in this one against Dwight Freeney who at 34-years-old is still playing at an extremely high level. He has 2.0 sacks on the season and leads the NFL with 18 quarterback hurries. Big test for Penn as he attempts to protect a gimpy Derek Carr's blindside.
The real McCoy
In 2012, the Raiders reached into the Broncos' coaching staff to make Dennis Allen their head coach. They also had interest in Mike McCoy but McCoy opted to stay with the Broncos as offensive coordinator. The following season, the Chargers hired him as their next head coach. Fast forward to now. Dennis Allen went 8-28 and is fired, McCoy rallies the Chargers to a playoff run in his first season as head coach and has them 4-1 this season. Dennis Allen went on a 10-game losing streak dating back to last season. McCoy went 8-2 over that same stretch.