Both teams have lost their lasts two games. The Raiders blew second half leads in both of their last two losses to the Bears and Broncos, while the Chargers gave up a game-winning drive at home against Mike Vick and the Steelers and lost a hard fought game in Lambeau against the Packers.
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New regime winless in San Diego
The last time the Raiders went to San Diego and won, Reggie McKenzie was in Green Bay and Hue Jackson was in Oakland. The new regime has made three trips to San Diego since then, each time coming out on the losing end. The Chargers are 4-point favorites in this game.
Get the ball to Amari Cooper in crunch time
One area the Raiders have not done well is finding their rookie phenom receiver Amari Cooper in the second half of games. With five games in the books, they had the bye week to figure out how to make sure his production doesn't taper off in the second half. Opposing teams have made the corrections to take Cooper out of the game. Now the Raiders must make corrections of their own. Games are all too often won or lost in the second half, including two of the Raiders' three losses. Not targeting Cooper, whether because the defense takes him away or otherwise, has been part of the problem.
Philip Rivers is dealing
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is throwing some serious fire this season. He's the current Air Player of the Week after a masterful performance in Green Bay in which he threw for 503 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Green Bay is undefeated this season for a reason, and Rivers and the Chargers took them right to the wire. Rivers is on pace to break the NFL record for passing yards in a season and there are no indications the Raiders secondary will be standing in his way. Both of the Raiders' wins this season were sealed by late interceptions. They will hope to have the chance to do it again.
Tay Train full steam ahead
Run defense is the Achilles heel of this Chargers team. They are currently in the bottom five in the league at stopping the run. Last season everyone remembers Murray's breakout game against the Chiefs in the Raiders week 11 win. But what many forget is Murray's breakout actually started the previous week in San Diego when he had 4 runs for 43 yards. That was his first real action of the season and it earned him his carries the following week against the Chiefs.
Murray had a shoulder issue two weeks ago and healed up over the bye. Now he is fresh and should gouge the Chargers defense on the ground. The key to being able to use him will be to keep the game close. Then not only should the Raiders have an advantage, but they can keep Philip Rivers on the sideline.
Chargers are banged up
Raiders' current injury list could be written on a cocktail napkin it's so short. The Chargers injury list rivals Santa's Naughty list. Among the key players who will not be playing is All Pro safety, Eric Weddle. Also out is inside linebacker Manti Te'o. Antonio Gates is a game time decision with a reported MCL strain. And left tackle King Dunlap could miss the game as well after having a setback in his concussion protocol. The Raiders must take advantage of the loss of Weddle. And the status of Gates and Dunlap is worth watching.
Newfound tight end coverage abilities to be tested
Antonio Gates has been on a tear the past two weeks since returning from his 4-game suspension. He has caught nine passes in each of those two games. Late last week he left the game with an injury but returned. Now reports have his injury as an MCL strain and he is a game time decision for Sunday. Should he be able to go, he would offer a big test for the Raiders defense which appears to have figured out how to remedy their glaring tight end coverage issues.
Even if Gates can't play, the Chargers have Ladarius Green who averaged nearly five catches per game over his first four games this season and added three catches last week even with Gates catching nine of his own. With the way the Raiders were giving up career-high catch numbers to tight ends over their first four weeks, even Green would look like a Pro Bowler. If the Raiders perform as they did against the Broncos, it would seem they might have figured things out.
Derek Carr vs Jason Verrett
Technically it will be Amari Cooper who wil be lining up against Verrett much of the day. But where the challenge really lies is in Carr noticing when Cooper is able to break free and getting the ball to him while keeping it away from Verrett. Not to mention Carr and Verrett have a friendly rivalry.
"Verrett is one of those guys that I've gotten to know really well and we encourage each other every week, except this one. Carr said with a laugh. "I think that he's one of the up-and-coming guys that people are going to start talking about and really like. Me playing against him, I know how good he is. He doesn't play like a second-year guy, obviously, when you put the film on."
Carr and Verrett were both part of the 2014 draft class; chosen 11 draft slots apart. Both are from California, with Verrett hailing from the East Bay city of Fairfield and Carr coming out of Bakersfield in the Central Valley. Verrett had his only career interception as a rookie last season off of Carr.
Charles Woodson vs Philip Rivers
Two NFL greats facing off. Rivers having the best season of his career and Woodson currently on a streak of at least one interception in three straight games, including two in week five off Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The first of CWood's four interceptions this season sealed the Raiders' second win of the season week three against the Browns as the Browns were making a push for a game-winning drive. Rivers' loss last week on a game-ending interception when he too was knocking on the door, looking to punch in the game winner.
Aldon Smith/Khalil Mack vs Chargers Oline
Rivers may be leading the league in passing yards, but he is also among the leaders in being sacked. He is currently tied for the fourth most sacks (17) and that horrid offensive line is the culprit. His left tackle King Dunlap has missed three games this season, replaced by Chris Hairston. DJ Fluker was so bad at right tackle, they moved him to guard and signed Rams castoff and former Raiders third round pick Joe Barksdale to play right tackle. Look for Smith and Mack take advantage of this weakness.
DJ Hayden vs Keenan Allen
This week, Ken Norton Jr said Hayden was improving each week. Well, now he will face Keenan Allen who leads the league with 53 catches and is 601 receiving yards is third in the league. To say Hayden has been improving each week this season would be a stretch. He had an up and down game last week, but most of his positive plays were as a tackler, not in coverage. He gave up a 45-yard catch to Emmanuel Sanders and was about to give up another huge catch until Charles Woodson swooped in to save him with a huge interception. Now we get to see him try and keep up with the top QB/WR combo in the NFL this season.