Chargers vs. Raiders: 5 Takeaways from Monday Night Football Opener

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2012

Chargers vs. Raiders: 5 Takeaways from Monday Night Football Opener

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    With a 22-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Monday night, the San Diego Chargers took an early-season driver's seat in the race for the 2012 AFC West division crown.

    Led by a voracious defensive performance and some timely throws from Philip Rivers, the team looked far different from the one that went 8-8 in 2011—for both the better and worse.

    Oakland also saw some promising signs on Monday night, especially from Darren McFadden, who looked explosive throughout the contest. However, it was some of the same mistakes from last season that ultimately led to the Raiders' downfall.

    Overall, it was a mixed bag for both sides. With that in mind, here's a look at the biggest takeaways from the Monday night showdown. 

The Chargers Desperately Miss Ryan Mathews

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    In his two professional seasons prior to 2012, Mathews has missed at least two games both years and has been banged up a myriad of other times. 

    So to see him go down in the preseason with a broken collarbone wasn't much of a surprise. 

    Recent years would have simply seen the team plug backup stalwart Mike Tolbert into the lineup, switch to a power running attack and never miss a beat. 

    However, after Tolbert signed with the Carolina Panthers this offseason, it seems the plug-and-chug days in Mathews' absence are over.

    Replacements Ronnie Brown and Curtis Brinkley looked nothing less than anemic Monday night, rushing for just 17 yards on 15 carries against Oakland.

    That left the entirety of the Chargers' offense in quarterback Philip Rivers' hands. While the Chargers came out victorious, the team doesn't have enough weapons on the outside for that to work going forward.

    If Mathews is out again next week, it may behoove head coach Norv Turner to spend his week auditioning free-agent running backs. 

New Season, New Coach, Same Old Penalty Problems for the Raiders

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    If you just look at the box score, it wasn't a bad game for Oakland in the penalty department. With just six penalties for 35 yards, the team not only looked improved but also had fewer penalties for fewer yards than the Chargers. 

    However, it was when these penalties came that truly hurt the Raiders.

    Tied 3-3 late in the second quarter, Oakland committed three penalties that gave San Diego first downs en route to a 13-play, 90-yard drive. That drive ended with a seven-yard touchdown strike from Rivers to Malcom Floyd, a score that wound up being the game-winner. 

    After a league-worst 58 of those instances in 2011, that drive looked a lot like a reversion to the norm Monday night. If Dennis Allen hopes to not join a long lineage of one-year Raiders coaches, he'll have to curb the penalty problem going forward. 

Long Snappers Really Matter

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    There are some positions in football that absolutely no one thinks about until they make a mistake. Possibly the biggest example of that is the long snapper and that was on huge display Monday night.

    When two-time Pro Bowler Jon Condo went down with a head injury in the second quarter, it was discussed about as much as you would expect initially.

    However, when backup Travis Goethel came in and tossed two consecutive dribblers to Raiders punter Shane Lechler, it became apparent how vital Condo was to the special teams unit. Those fumbles led to the first Oakland blocked punt since 2006, and more importantly, two field goals for San Diego in the third quarter. 

    Those scores were ultimately not the difference in the game, but they were momentum-shifting plays that put the Raiders' defense in precarious positions. Without the unit's staunch performance, this could have been a blowout. 

    Let's just say we won't be underestimating the importance of a long snapper anytime soon. 

San Diego's Offense Lacks Downfield Explosion

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    If there was one player San Diego missed more than Mathews Monday night, it was departed receiver Vincent Jackson.

    Other than one beautiful 46-yard pass and catch from Rivers to Robert Meachem, the Chargers' offense looked like a conservative, dink-and-dunk attack. In 33 pass attempts, the San Diego quarterback completed just one other pass over 25 yards—a fourth-quarter strike to Floyd on 3rd-and-9. 

    With Rivers still adjusting to being without Jackson and the running game being unproductive, that conservative strategy was probably smart Monday night. Going forward, however, it could be a problem.

    Explosive second-year receiver Vincent Brown, the man who was supposed to break out in Jackson's place, currently sits on injured reserve with a broken ankle. And though he could come back this season due to a new NFL rule, his absence will be huge for San Diego. 

    Meachem will have to do the deep-threat trick while Brown is out, but whether he can do it consistently remains to be seen. 

Carson Palmer, Season 2: Not Such a Bad Start

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    Calling Palmer's 2011 campaign with the Raiders less-than-stellar may be the kindest distinction possible.

    After holding out for the first six games of the season in Cincinnati before being traded to Oakland for a first-round pick in 2012 and second-round pick in 2013, Palmer came in wholly unprepared. The former Pro Bowler tossed 16 interceptions in 10 appearances (25.6 prorated over the course of a 16-game season) and the deal instantly looked like a highway robbery. 

    Many excused Palmer's ineffectiveness on the holdout and brash way he was thrown into the Raiders' lineup—which would have been valid had Palmer not thrown 20 interceptions with the Bengals a season prior.

    The fact is, 2012 is a make-or-break season for this trade for Oakland. If the former No. 1 overall pick continues to struggle, then the team essentially wasted two top picks and a ton of money. 

    If Monday night was any indication, however, we could see a renaissance from Palmer this season. Going 32-of-46 for 297 yards and a touchdown is an encouraging sign on its own.

    But it's the zero picks in those pass attempts that is most promising. 

    All things considered, the Raiders lost and should be unhappy going forward. Palmer just isn't the reason like he was so many times in 2011.