Oakland Raiders: 5 Keys to the Chargers Game for Oakland
Since that Week 17 loss that extended the Raiders' postseason drought to nine years, there has been a serious cultural shift in Oakland.
For the first time since 1963, the Raiders have a general manager that's not named Al Davis. They also have a new coach, new coordinators and a new-look defense that will try everything in its power to erase the memories of last season's defense.
Standing in their way is their long-time AFC West rivals, the San Diego Chargers. After a disappointing 2011 season that featured a six-game losing streak, the Chargers won four of their last five games of the season, including a Week 17 victory in Oakland.
It's always bad blood when the Chargers and Raiders square off. San Diego has also won eight of the last 10 matchups in Oakland.
Here are five things the Raiders must do in order to come away with a victory on Monday Night Football.
Get Carson Palmer into a Rhythm
Throughout his entire career, Carson Palmer has been known for his momentum-killing interceptions.
The former Heisman Trophy winner has twice thrown 20 interceptions in a season, and he threw 16 picks for the Raiders in just 10 games last year.
However, all is not lost for Palmer. He came off the couch and was thrown into the starting position five days after being traded from Cincinnati.
During his brief stint last year, Palmer did his best to lead Oakland to the AFC West crown. He threw for 417 yards against San Diego in Week 17, but the Raiders' non-existent defense allowed San Diego to walk all over it.
Palmer had a shaky start to his season last year, as would any quarterback that was put in his position. But he seemed to find his groove toward the end of the year by throwing for over 1,000 yards in Oakland's final three games.
If Palmer can connect on even a few dump-offs to Darren McFadden just to get his confidence up, it will help set the tone for Oakland's passing attack for the entire night.
Start the Game with Some Offensive Surprises
With the beginning of every new season comes excitement and anticipation for every play.
The Raiders have the speedsters to pull off some trick-plays early on, and a reverse or a flea-flicker would not only excite the fans, it would let the Chargers know that the Raiders aren't afraid to take chances.
Since Darren McFadden is sure to get the majority of the attention from the San Diego defense, it wouldn't be surprising to see Carson Palmer run the play-action and hit a receiver for a deep bomb to start the new season.
If it works, then the Raiders will establish the early momentum that could carry them throughout the entire game. If it fails, then the game has just begun and they'll have plenty of time to come back from it.
Oakland has to be the bully early on. With all of the talk surrounding Palmer's inability to play quarterback consistently, as well as McFadden being injury prone, what better way than a big play to silence the critics? At least for one drive.
Apply Early Pressure on Philip Rivers
It's no secret that the more pressure you sustain on a quarterback, the less time he'll have to make a play. For the Raiders, their defense must get to Philip Rivers; and get to him early.
Rivers has been a "Raider killer" his entire career. He's 9-3 against Oakland, and he threw for nearly 600 yards and five touchdowns in two games against the Raiders last season.
Head coach Dennis Allen brings a defensive presence to Oakland for the first time since John Madden. And while the Raiders are full of young, explosive weapons on offense, they also have playmakers on the defensive side of the ball who can change the phase of a game with a sack, forced fumble or interception.
Take a look at the success of teams in the league when they switched defensive schemes.
Rivers left a bitter taste in the Raiders' mouths at the end of last season. Make no mistake; they'll be itching to drive him into the ground on Monday night.
Let Darren McFadden Take Control
Luckily for the Raiders, they have one of the most explosive running backs in the league on their team.
When healthy, Darren McFadden has proven to be nearly untouchable. In last season's Monday night opener, he went off for 150 yards on 22 carries against the Denver Broncos.
McFadden is the nucleus to the Raiders offense, and they'll go as far as he takes them. He's been plagued with injuries ever since he came into the league in 2008, and his long list of injuries have nearly overshadowed the alarming numbers he's put up since he broke out of his shell in 2010.
Dennis Allen told the NFL Network (via the San Francisco Chronicle) that he has no intention of "babying" McFadden this season. He made great strides in camp, looking brilliant for stretches in the preseason.
Whether it's dumb luck, or the fact that he is "injury prone," McFadden needs to be the workhorse for the Raiders on Monday night.
He began last season with nearly 400 yards in his first three games, and a strong start for him will not only puzzle the San Diego defense, it will make the rest of his team better.
Cut Down on the Penalties
If you were to look up the word "penalty" in the dictionary, you may very well find the Oakland Raiders shield looking you square in the eye.
Throughout their history, the Raiders have been notorious for being flagged numerous times in games. Not only are these penalties unnecessary, they are total drive killers.
Hue Jackson was in charge of the most undisciplined team in NFL history last season, and new GM Reggie McKenzie felt it was a big enough problem to relieve Jackson of his job.
The Raiders committed 163 penalties for 1,358 yards last season, both of which were NFL records. Now, there's a new regime in Oakland, and McKenzie won't put up with an astronomical number of penalties. Neither will Dennis Allen.
In order for the Raiders to make the postseason, they must play disciplined football. That means not averaging over 10 penalties per game.