It’s no secret that Norv Turner has to make the playoffs to stay employed. Even the most brilliant head coach would get fired if his team missed the playoffs in three straight years with a quarterback like Philip Rivers.
On Monday night, the Chargers will travel to Oakland to start the process of saving Turner’s job. But this isn’t the same Raiders team the Chargers went 1-1 against last season. The Raiders have more weapons on offense and an entirely new defensive scheme, and they should be attacked very differently than last year.
One of the main differences in Oakland this season is the offense: the blocking schemes have changed, and Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden have joined forces. Also, Dennis Allen’s blitz-heavy scheme has replaced a defense that was known for not blitzing and using man coverage exclusively.
In the past, the Raiders would also beat themselves with stupid penalties. But that may not be the case in 2012. The Chargers should not rely upon a timely mental error by their opponent to bail them out of a jam.
Attacking Oakland’s New-Look Defense
Allen—now the head coach in Oakland—was the defensive coordinator for a Denver team that sacked Rivers eight times in two games. Oakland’s defensive scheme should be very similar to the one deployed by the Broncos last year.
The Raiders sacked Rivers six times in Week 10, but zero times in Week 17. In total, the Raiders and Broncos accounted for 14 of the 30 times that Rivers was sacked in 2012 (46.7 percent) in just four games.
What's the best way to attack the new Oakland defense?
It’s safe to say the Raiders and Broncos did the best job pressuring Rivers, and the net result was a 2-2 record, with each team winning on the road.
The Chargers successfully ran the ball against the Broncos, but successfully passed the ball against the Raiders in 2011. Did the players or the scheme make the Broncos or Raiders susceptible to certain attacks? It’s not easy to figure, because the scheme and the personnel are completely different in Oakland in 2012.
Allen was one of the most blitz-heavy defensive coordinators in Denver, and there’s a good chance his style will influence Oakland’s defense in 2012. Rivers can beat the blitz by throwing into the areas vacated by the defenders when they blitz. It's all about pre- and post-snap reads that Rivers will have to make at the line of scrimmage.
The best quarterbacks are able to change both the route and the pass protection at the line in order to take advantage of the defensive alignment. That’s why blitzing Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning is usually foolish unless you can disguise it extremely well.
The other issue with the blitz is what happens when it doesn’t get to the quarterback. A blitz is designed to send more rushers than the offensive line can effectively block, but that leaves the secondary in man coverage or zone situations where there are more receivers than defenders.
Rivers will find receivers running open in the secondary if his offensive line can pick up the extra blitzers without the need for extra blockers.
Sometimes it’s not about the scheme as much as it’s about one player competing against another player and winning.
Rookie Miles Burris is the starting weak-side linebacker in Oakland, and he wasn’t asked to drop into coverage much in college. As you might imagine, Burris is still raw in coverage, and the Raiders will do their best to keep him out of those situations.
The Chargers should use jumbo formations to attack Burris on vertical and seam routes. If Rivers can get a guy like Randy McMichael paired against Burris, they should be able to get a few solid gains.
Rolando McClain is another player who can be exploited in the passing game. McClain has struggled the past two years covering running backs and tight ends. Running a combination of routes through McClain’s zone will create enough delay to give Rivers time to complete a pass. This is particularly effective in the red zone.
Attacking Oakland’s Offense
Stopping McFadden and the running game in Oakland is the key to stopping the entire offense. The Chargers have had to defend against a healthy McFadden three times, and each time, he shared the running game with Michael Bush.
This will be San Diego’s heaviest dose of McFadden since he came into the league. The Chargers can only hope to contain him by maintaining gap integrity in the front seven and shedding the blocks of offensive lineman that get to the second level.
Part of stopping the run will be attacking Alex Parsons at center if he starts over Stefen Wisniewski. Forcing Cooper Carlisle and Mike Brisiel to help block whichever nose tackle starts for San Diego will leave the inside linebackers, Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler, free to flow through the running lanes to stop McFadden.
Limiting the running game and forcing the Raiders to pass will expose their real vulnerability in pass protection. The Raiders offensive line switched to the zone-blocking system, which prompted a shuffling of the line. Left tackle Jared Veldheer and right tackle Khalif Barnes are the only two players that return at the same positions.
Carlisle, perceived to be the weak link on the offensive line in Oakland last year, has moved from right guard to left guard. The Raiders signed free agent right guard Brisiel from Houston and moved Wisniewski from left guard to his more natural center position.
According to ProFootballFocus, Veldheer and Barnes combined for 22 penalties in 2011, and many of them were holds and false starts. The Chargers should test Oakland’s line with the speed of Melvin Ingram to see if it holds up without a parade of yellow flags from the replacement officials.
When Palmer is pressured, he often makes very poor decisions with the football. He will provide opportunities for the Chargers to make a big play, but they will not get that opportunity if they don’t stop the running game first.
Christopher Hansen is the AFC West lead writer for Bleacher Report. Be sure to NFL" class="twitter-follow-button">Follow @ChrisHansenNFL on Twitter and "like" the AFC West blog on Facebook. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.