Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: Complete Week 11 Preview for Oakland

Brian Flores@@Raiders_TrackerContributor IIINovember 14, 2014

Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: Complete Week 11 Preview for Oakland

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders head into their 10th game of the season still looking for their first win.

    They have a great chance to pick it up this week against the San Diego Chargers, a team that is in the midst of an unexpected free fall. Kickoff is this Sunday at 4:05 p.m ET from Qualcomm Stadium. 

    When the Raiders hosted the Chargers back in Week 6, it was a matchup of two teams going in opposite directions. Oakland could see the writing on the wall, as the signs were already evident that this would be another lost season. San Diego, on the other hand, looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

    It was a tight game throughout, but the Chargers were able to sneak out a 31-28 win. That left Oakland at 0-5, and it pushed San Diego to an impressive 5-1.

    But the Chargers haven't won a game since that meeting.

    The defense and special teams have played better for Oakland, but the offense has yet to show improvement. The last time the offense did have a good game, it was against the Chargers. It'll need to have a similar performance this week for the Raiders to be able to go on the road and steal a win.

    Despite still being winless, there have been some positive signs for Oakland, especially on defense. San Diego, on the other hand, has been much worse.

    The last time the Chargers were on the field it was Week 9, and they were getting embarrassed by the Miami Dolphins to the tune of a 37-0 demolishing. The loss capped a three-game skid for San Diego heading into its bye week.

    The Raiders have to take advantage of these struggles. This is not the same Chargers team that they saw five weeks ago. This is a Chargers team that's had its confidence shaken.

    A first-half performance from the Raiders like the one they had last week could give them enough of an early advantage to hold onto for the rest of the game.

    Here's a full breakdown of Sunday's game and what the Raiders need to do to get a win against their AFC West rivals.

Oakland Raiders' Week 10 Recap

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    For almost the entire first half last week, the Raiders looked as if they might be able to not only keep up with the Denver Broncosthey might be able to win.

    But the notion of winning was gone by halftime. And midway through the third quarter, so was the possibility of even keeping up.

    The first half went in Oakland's favor. The defensive line was able to get to Peyton Manning and force him to make mistakes. He threw two interceptions—one to D.J. Hayden and one to Justin Tuck that he tipped to himself—and Oakland was in complete control of the momentum.

    But the entire game swung in Denver's direction on one play late in the second quarter. With less than three minutes to go in the half, Manning threw a pass to C.J. Anderson. The Oakland defenders converged on what looked to be a drive-ending play that was well short of a first down.

    But as has been the case all season, the Raiders were unable to make the easy play.  

    Per The Associated Press and via ESPN.comManning himself admitted that the play "could have been maybe a catch for minus-2 yards." 

    But instead of making the tackle for little or no gain, several Oakland defenders missed. All they could do was watch as Anderson took a seemingly harmless pass 51 yards for a touchdown.

    Denver never looked back.

    The dam broke after that play. The Broncos were down 10-6 and on their heels prior to that score. After it, they went on to score 35 unanswered points to take a 41-10 lead by the end of the third quarter to seal the game.

    The contest turned out to be what most expected: a blowout. The Broncos took a while to assert themselves, but once they did, the game was never in doubt. The final score of 41-17 wasn't a surprise.

    However, a winless team like the Raiders has to look for any positive signs, and they have one in last week's first half: The defense was excellent in all areas. For the first time all season, the defensive line was able to generate pressure, and the secondary made plays. It was a performance to build on.

    The offense, on the other hand, was once again inept. It managed 10 first-half points thanks to short fields provided by the defense. After that, it was a complete non-factor. It couldn't pick up first downs to stay on the field, and the Denver offense methodically wore down the defense.

    Even after the Anderson touchdown, the game was still within reach. But the offense did nothing to keep the game close, and the defense eventually broke under the constant pressure.

    If the offense can improve in the way the defense has, Oakland won't be winless for much longer.

News and Notes

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Stat of the Week: 69%

    According to the AP's Josh Dubow, teams starting rookie quarterbacks from 2010 to 2014 passed on 54.4 percent of their plays. This season with rookie Derek Carr under center, the Raiders have passed 69 percent of the time.

    That is a lot to ask of any quarterback in the NFL, much less a rookie facing the NFL's toughest schedule. Unfortunately, circumstances have forced Oakland's hand.

    The running game has been terrible, and every game it seems as if the team's only hope of moving the ball is through the air.

    Of course, this begs the question...

    What's Wrong with Oakland's Running Game?

    Calling the Oakland running game bad is almost giving it too much credit. That assumes that it has actually shown up at some point, and that there's something to actually evaluate and work with.

    More accurately, the running game has been nonexistent. In case you're not convinced, here are a few stats to consider:

     OaklandLeague Rank
    Average Yards Per Carry3.429th
    Total Yards559Last
    Touchdowns2Last
    Yards Per Game62.1Last
    Attempts165Last

    So what's the cause of these terrible numbers? Per CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair, interim head coach Tony Sparano believes that it's a lack of commitment. That makes sense, given how little the team has rushed the ball.

    The problem is that in recent weeks, he has also blamed poor blocking and the running backs not taking advantage of opportunities, via Bair. But apparently, it seems that those are OK. Now, the team just needs to run it more often.

    It seems Sparano doesn't know what's wrong with the running game, either.

    Not All Bad News for the Oakland Offense

    Following Sunday's game, the Oakland Tribune's Jerry McDonald tweeted that the Raiders are now the NFL leaders in converting red-zone trips into points.

    After going 2-of-2 against the Denver Broncos, Oakland is now at 80 percent for the season. Despite the offense's struggles, it has been extremely efficient near the end zone.

    The problem is the lack of opportunities. The Raiders are 12-of-15. That's not enough plays inside opponents' 20. Still, the offense has been very good once it gets there. If the unit can get there more often, the points will come.

    Maybe Reggie Knows What He's Doing After All

    As Oakland finds itself still winless in Week 11 of the season, one of the most popular questions to ask among Raiders fans is, "Whose fault is it?" One of the most popular answers is general manager Reggie McKenzie.

    It's a reasonable answer given that he's the one who put this team together. But while his overall body of work leaves a lot to be desired, he has done some things right.

    Specifically, he seems to know what he's doing in the draft. Bair notes that the NFL Network has recognized Oakland as having this season's top rookie class up to this point in the season.

    The recognition makes plenty of sense, with rookies Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis and T.J. Carrie all making major contributions.

    It also should be noted that these picks span the entire draft—from the first round to the seventh round—an indication that Raiders scouts have done their homework.

    This might not mean much now, but this is how teams at the bottom rebuild. This is a good sign in a season for Oakland that has had far too few of them.

Injury Report

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
    PlayerPositionInjury Status
    David AusberryTEOut
    Carlos RogersCBDoubtful
    Jonathan DowlingSDoubtful 
    Jamize OlawaleFBDoubtful 
    Gabe JacksonLGDoubtful
    D.J. HaydenCBQuestionable 
    Menelik WatsonOTQuestionable 
    Justin TuckRTQuestionable
    Chimdi ChekwaCBQuestionable 
    T.J. CarrieCBQuestionable 
    Khalif BarnesOLProbable

    Injury statuses and updates taken from CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair.

    There's a fairly long list of injuries for the Raiders. But several players on the list have made encouraging progress this week, and many should be available against the Chargers.

    Ausberry is out for Sunday, and Dowling is likely to join him. Olawale has continued to deal with shoulder and hamstring injuries, and he seems unlikely to play. Rogers has continued to miss practice. There's been no update on his condition, which means he's likely to miss another game.

    Carrie and Chekwa have been limited in practice. While Chekwa remains mostly a depth cornerback, Carrie's absence was felt last week.

    The coaches will continue to ramp up Carrie's activity leading up to the game. He's looked good so far, but it remains to be seen how his ankle holds up under the increased workload.

    He was a game-time decision last week, and the coaches pulled him after a bad pregame workout. They'll follow the same process this week, once again pushing back the decision on his availability until Sunday.

    Hayden went down against Denver with a groin injury, but it appears to not have been too bad. Although he's missed practice, he's moved well while doing individual work.

    As is the case with Carrie, the coaches will monitor the injury up until game time. If the groin injury doesn't get worse, there's a good chance he'll be available.

    If either or both are out, the Raiders will once again have to depend on some unproven players at cornerback. As of now, the only cornerbacks who will be available are Tarell Brown, Keith McGill and Neiko Thorpe. Needless to say, Oakland could really use a boost at the position.

    Jackson's status remains a mystery, as there's been no update on his injured knee. However, he has yet to return to practice, which isn't a good sign. Unless his condition improves drastically over the next few days, he'll miss another game.

    This means Oakland will once again have to go with a makeshift offensive line. Fortunately, it's looking like this shouldn't be a problem. Watson has been out, and Barnes has been limited, but Sparano feels confident in their progress. Barring a setback, both will be available this week.

    The same goes for Tuck, who's been out with a neck injury. At this point, he's being kept out of practice as a precaution, but he should be good to go on game day.

X-Factors and Matchups to Watch

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Khalil Mack vs. Ryan Mathews

    Oakland is the worst overall rushing team in the NFL, but San Diego isn't much better. The Chargers are third-worst in the league in total yards (736), and they're actually tied for last in the league in average yards per carry (3.1). That's even worse than the Raiders' average yards per carry of 3.4.

    However, the Raiders are going to face a different rushing attack this Sunday when Ryan Mathews makes his return from a seven-game absence.

    According to Michael Gehlken of the Union-Tribune San Diego, Mathews' workload for Sunday remains unclear, but he's likely to get at least 15 touches. But Gehlken also notes that Mathews has been impressive in practice. If he looks good in the game, he's likely to be in for more plays.

    Khalil Mack is going to have to step in and ensure this doesn't happen. He had only one tackle last week—his worst output of the season. He needs to return to the impressive form he's shown the rest of the season against the run.

    Mathews is San Diego's hope in the running game this week. Stopping him will mean the Chargers offense remains one-dimensional, increasing the possibility of success for the defense overall.

    Brandian Ross vs. Antonio Gates

    Antonio Gates isn't as big a factor as he used to be, but he can still be effective. That's been especially true against Oakland.

    Even with his reduced skill set, he still finds ways to get open. And if the pass comes his way, it's more likely than not that he's going to come down with it.

    Much of the responsibility for stopping Gates on Sunday is going to fall on Brandian Ross. He was among the worst-rated strong safeties last season, but he's been much better this year. He can't be expected to stop Gates completely, but he has to be able to limit him.

    Although he isn't as fast as he used to be, Gates finds the spaces in the coverage and exploits them. He still has a knack for getting open and making important catches. This is what Ross has to stop.

    Oakland Wide Receivers vs. San Diego Secondary

    Last week, Oakland's wide receivers had arguably their worst game of the season. This week, they'll have a chance to redeem themselves when they face the secondary against which they had their best game.

    There isn't a single wide receiver to be pointed out here. They all played poorly, and they all need to play much better. This is especially true for Oakland's top three: James Jones, Andre Holmes and Brice Butler.

    A major reason for Derek Carr's struggles has been a lack of open receivers. He's shown that if they're open, he will get them the ball. But too often, there's been no one to throw to.

    Even if not one receiver has a big day, they all have to be effective. The Oakland offense has to find a way to stay on the field, and first downs are going to be crucial.

    Even if the touchdowns and big plays aren't there, the Oakland receivers have to create separation, secure the ball and consistently move the chains.

    X-Factor of the Week: Derek Carr

    Carr has shown plenty of potential, but there hasn't been enough actual production to show for it. That was painfully obvious last week. The offense could get absolutely nothing going. And with each three-and-out, the Oakland defense wore down more and more.

    Regardless of experience, Carr is the starting quarterback, and he needs to produce like it. That means staying on the field and generating points.

    He had the best game of his career against San Diego: 18-of-34 for 282 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He can't be expected to have the same performance. But it has to be close, at least in efficiency.

    Despite all of the flaws that the Raiders have on offense, there is enough there to have a winning performance, especially against the struggling San Diego defense. It falls on Carr to make this happen.

Prediction

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The San Diego Chargers are reeling. They were exposed in their last game two weeks ago when they were embarrassed, and the Raiders are ready to capitalize on this.

    Although the Raiders lost their first meeting against San Diego, they were the first to show that this Chargers team is not as good as it seemed.

    The defense is flawed (it has allowed 31.2 PPG in the last three games), and Philip Rivers' performance in the same span has been well short of elite (five touchdowns, six interceptions).

    He's reverted back to his overaggressive form just as the Oakland defense is starting to play better. He'll still make plays, but he'll also make just enough mistakes to let the Raiders get the better of him.

    Oakland's best performance came against this same team, and it wasn't an accident. The San Diego defense isn't very good, and it's susceptible to big plays. 

    Derek Carr will have a bounce-back game after last week's disappointing performance, and he'll once again find the openings in the porous San Diego secondary.

    This is also a good matchup for the Oakland receivers, and they'll be able to exploit San Diego's weak coverage.

    It won't be easy, it won't be pretty and it's going to take a special effort, but Oakland is primed to exploit San Diego's weaknesses. The Raiders squeeze out a win in a close one.

    Prediction: Oakland 20, San Diego 17 

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.com.

    Share your thoughts and opinions on Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.

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