The Oakland Raiders played one of their best games of the year when they beat the San Diego Chargers in October. They’ll have to do the same to have any sort of a chance when the two teams meet again in Week 16.
The Raiders are in the midst of a second-half slide that has some people questioning whether coach Dennis Allen will return for a third season in 2014. Several players, including running back Darren McFadden, are also playing for new contracts, putting another intriguing spin on the game against San Diego.
Oakland must balance trying to perform well in its final two games without dropping too far in the NFL draft. The Raiders currently sit with the third overall pick, but four other teams also have a 4-10 record.
Here’s a look at some of the things the Raiders should do as part of their game plan against the Chargers.
Get Moore from the Receivers
If there’s one player on Oakland’s roster who seems to play well almost every time these two teams meet, it’s wide receiver Denarius Moore. Moore, who has been slow coming back from a shoulder injury, has two of his five career 100-yard games against San Diego and has four touchdowns in four games against the Raiders’ division rivals.
The Chargers stayed almost exclusively in single coverage against Moore when the two teams played on Oct. 6, pairing left cornerback Richard Marshall and nickelback Derek Cox against him most of the time. Moore still caught five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown, the score coming on an improvised route at the back of the end zone.
With Rod Streater and Andre Holmes sure to draw attention from San Diego’s secondary, Moore could be left in more favorable matchups in the rematch. If he is, quarterback Matt McGloin has to find a way to get his receiver the ball.
Start Fast, Then Hold On
It’s been a painfully familiar pattern for the Raiders this season. They build early leads, only to see them evaporate in the second half. Half of Oakland’s 10 losses have come as a result of blown leads.
In fact, the Week 5 win over the Chargers was one of the few times this year when the Raiders were able to ride a big lead to the finish line. They jumped out to a 17-0 lead behind a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Terrelle Pryor, then held on for a closer-than-expected finish after San Diego made a late charge.
Another strong game from the running backs and an improved effort from the defense is the perfect formula to make it happen again, though it’s easier said than done.
McFadden is back on the field after sitting out five of the past six games, but his production is near an all-time low this season. Rashad Jennings will continue to start while fullback Marcel Reece should also be in the mix.
Defensively, the Raiders are coming off one of their worst games in franchise history and has played progressively worse over the past three weeks.
Rattle Philip Rivers
The Chargers quarterback is enjoying a renaissance of sorts after a serious case of interceptions the previous two years. Rivers has 28 touchdowns already, making him just the third quarterback in history to have 25 or more for six consecutive seasons.
Just as impressive is that San Diego has allowed an average of fewer than two sacks per game, allowing Rivers to stand comfortably in the pocket to make plays downfield.
Oakland only sacked Rivers twice, once by linebacker Kevin Burnett and once by defensive end Lamarr Houston. The Raiders did intercept three passes, but Rivers still managed to throw for 411 yards and two touchdowns.
San Diego’s Keenan Allen is making a strong push for the NFL rookie of the year award and is on the verge of breaking the Chargers’ franchise record for receiving yardage by a first-year receiver. That shouldn’t be too surprising to the Raiders, who witnessed Allen’s coming-out party when the two teams played earlier this season.
In that Week 5 game, Allen caught six passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Most of the damage came against veteran cornerback Tracy Porter, while Oakland first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden also struggled in coverage against the bigger, stronger Allen.
Hayden is on injured reserve, and there’s a possibility the Raiders will also be without free safety Charles Woodson. Woodson is Oakland’s best open-field tackler and would be ideal to cover Allen in a double-team if he can play.
Without Woodson, and if Rivers is given enough time to throw, Allen’s chances of notching a sixth 100-yard game this season will increase significantly.
*All information contained in this and any report by Michael Wagaman was obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.