Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: A Silver and Black Blueprint for Success
This Sunday, Jason Campbell will lead the 5-6 Oakland Raiders as they travel down the California coast to do battle with Phillip Rivers and the red-hot San Diego Chargers.
Bouncing back from an embarrassing loss at home to the Miami Dolphins will be extremely difficult for Oakland.
Things couldn't get much tougher for the Raiders as Norv Turner has the Chargers playing up to their talent level for the first time all year.
The Chargers are beatable as the Raiders proved earlier in the year by squeaking out a 35-27 win against them in week five on the strength of not one, but two blocked punts resulting in nine points.
However, this is not the same Charger team. The Raiders can't rely on special teams to win this time.
San Diego does a lot of things very well—most things in fact, but they have their weaknesses.
What follows is my take on where those weaknesses lie, and how the Raiders can exploit them to earn a much needed victory.
Hang with me...
Dance With Who Brung Ya!
Darren McFadden is the best offensive player the Raiders have. Tom Cable and Hue Jackson have to be willing to use him more than in recent weeks.
Two weeks ago against the Steelers, McFadden got just 12 touches—10 rushing and two receiving. In the loss to the Dolphins last week, D-Mac touched the ball just 15 times—eight rushing and seven receiving.
That's about 10 per game too few if the Raiders want to be successful.
Even if the running game struggles early, McFadden has to touch the ball at least 20 to 25 times because he gets better and stronger as the game wears on.
If given enough opportunities, McFadden will break a big one and help capture the momentum for the Raiders.
Use Michael Bush More—MUCH More!
Obviously McFadden can't carry the ball 40 times a game and expect to remain healthy. That's where the bruising style of Michael Bush comes in.
Over the last two weeks, Bush has received just five carries. This makes absolutely no sense when you consider that against the Chargers in week five, Bush got better as the game went on.
His 26th carry was just as effective as his first—if not more.
Just when the defense thinks they have McFadden's speed and quickness under control, Bush can punch them in the mouth.
If Bush can pound the Charger front seven with 15 or more carries, they'll start making "business decisions" and miss tackles.
That's when McFadden's speed can really hurt a defense.
These two great backs are symbiotic and feed off each other.
I say, "let them eat!"
Use The Tight Ends In The Passing Game
As I write this article, the week 13 injury report lists Zach Miller's status as "did not participate in practice." Obviously having him in the lineup is huge for the Raiders.
That said, if Miller doesn't play, the Raiders still have to be willing and able to get the ball to Brandon Myers from the tight end position. If not, the linebackers can spend more time covering the curl and swing routes by the backs.
Controlling the middle of the field is crucial against a solid linebacking corps like that of the Chargers.
Allowing Shaun Phillips, Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett and Antwan Applewhite to roam the field reading and reacting is a recipe for failure. You have to give them more than one thing to think about.
That one thing is the tight end.
Find The Wide Receivers
Jacoby Ford isn't the only wide receiver on the roster, but he has been the most consistent and productive. However, he can't do it alone.
Chaz Schilens needs to get on the field, or be placed on the injured reserve to make room for some one that can help the team. Louis Murphy has played fair, but not spectacular. Johnnie Lee Higgins is getting more reliable, but is still lazy in and out of his cuts. Nick Miller just needs to be given a shot.
All these guys can get it done, but haven't as yet. Some how, some way, Jason Campbell has to get the ball to the wide receivers.
Short curls, slants, bubble screens and shallow drag routes are great ways to get these athletes the ball and let them make plays.
If the defense knows you're hesitating to go there, they'll double cover everywhere else and dare you do it. Campbell has to take advantage of this.
Call a More Creative Game Plan
Hue Jackson has done some great things for this once anemic offense. Of late however, he's calling plays that make the team look like the "same ol' Raiders."
Here are my thoughts on Jackson's play calling the last few weeks:
Jackson: "That didn't work?"
Jackson: "Okay, we better run it 428 more times to be sure."
Cable: "Darren McFadden is our best offensive player."
Jackson: "Well, we should only give him the ball 10 times today then."
Cable: [Chewing on his headset] "What did you just say?"
Me: [Screaming at the T.V.] "Come on Hue, I've seen that play 11 times today and it still isn't working! Call something different...[moments later, after another play that failed the previous 26 times] Okay, not that one either!"
Hue: "Why isn't this working?"
[Ambulances arrive for me and Cable.]
If this meager High School coach can call out the play before it happens, Norv Turner and Charger defensive coordinator Ron Rivera should have no trouble doing it too.
Give Daniel Loper His Shot—Bench Cooper Carlisle
I've said it before, I'll say it again: Cooper Carlisle is the worst starting offensive lineman in the National Football League—hands down.
The guy in this picture, Daniel Loper, isn't going to make the Hall of Fame, but at least he gives an effort, unlike Carlisle.
Yes, I just questioned Cooper's heart and work ethic. What of it?
Several times in his stint with the Raiders, Loper has filled in for an injured Robert Gallery at left guard. In those moments, Loper played respectably and out performed Carlisle.
Of course, out performing Carlisle isn't saying much, but still...
He's a run blocking animal that has paid his dues and deserves his chance to shine.
Put him in there and give Jason Campbell a fighting chance at survival.
Put Rivers on The Ground—Repeatedly
To say that Phillip Rivers is not a mobile quarterback is an understatement. Collapsing the pocket and applying pressure in his face are the keys to limiting Rivers' effectiveness.
Defensive coordinator John Marshall did a nice job of blitzing off the edge when these teams last met, but the Chargers will be expecting it this time.
Variety is going to be the key.
Twists, stunts, double stunts, safety blitzes, outside linebacker blitzes, off the edge, up the gut—and every other blitz you can think of will be needed to get to Rivers.
If they don't know when or where you're going to blitz, they can't scheme to stop it.
The Raiders have to "unleash the dogs," hit Rivers and get him on the ground as much as possible—even if it means a personal foul penalty for a late hit from time to time.
Eventually, the pain he receives will have an effect.
Beware Of Draws and Delayed Runs
The Chargers aren't a power running team. They like to "finesse" themselves into a rushing attack. They like to use these runs on second down and long or third down and intermediate.
To counter act these plays, the Raiders can use delayed blitzes with Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley.
At the snap of the ball, have the linebackers take a small hop step back to simulate pass coverage. This will allow them time to diagnose the blocking scheme, read run or pass and find rushing lanes.
It will also lull Rivers into thinking the play will work.
If the linemen cross the line of scrimmage, attack your gap. If they drop into pass protection, get to your coverage responsibility.
It will happen fast and won't be easy, but it can be done.
Draws and delayed sprints are a staple of the Chargers rushing attack and they must be contained for the Raiders to be successful on defense.
Cover...Okay, TRY To Cover Antonio Gates
Gates is on the injury list as "did not participate in practice," but you and I both know, he's always on the injury list and always plays anyway.
Covering the best tight end in football—turf toe or not—is no easy task. However, in the last meeting between these two teams Mike Mitchell did this better than most.
Gates snared five passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, but only one of those catches happened on Mitchell's watch—and it wasn't the touchdown.
I favor a "beat him up until he gives up" mentality to cover guys like this. Get in his face, jam him at the line and punish him every time he attempts to make a play.
The Raiders can use formation to neutralize Gates as well.
Lining up in a standard 4-3 alignment, but substituting Quentin Groves at linebacker for Mitchell to follow Gates regardless of where he lines up could greatly reduce Gates' production.
I'd call that a "Heavy Nickel" or "4-3 Speed" formation.
This will only work in intermediate and long yardage situations however. If Rivers sees Mitchell in the box on second down and short, he'll simply audible to a run right at him.
This tactic can work, but only if instituted properly and at the right times.
Don't Let Vincent Jackson Be The Difference
With Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Johnson and Tyvon Branch not taking part in practice, the Raider secondary is vulnerable like they were last week.
This means guys like Jeremy Ware, Walter McFadden and Mike Mitchell will have to step up and play better than they did against the Dolphins.
If not, Rivers, Jackson and new-comer Seyi Ajirotutu will pick them apart.
Neither Patrick Crayton nor Malcom Floyd have been practicing. If these two don't play, covering the Charger receivers will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it should be manageable.
If Crayton and Floyd do play, it's a totally different animal.
When the Chargers use the five-wide shotgun look, it will be imperative for the Raider defensive backs to remain disciplined and stay with the receivers. The shotgun gives Rivers better vision and more time to find receivers.
If the pass rush works, the Raider secondary will be fine. If not, there will be a world of pressure on these young player's shoulders.
Special Teams Will Need To Be Special Again
Darren Sproles is one of the most dangerous return men in the league. He comes into this game with a total of 1,103 return yards (ranked 6th), including 29 returns of 20 yards or more (ranked 4th).
He hasn't scored on one yet, but he always seems to give his offense a shorter field to work with.
Field position could play a pivotal role in the outcome of this game. Once again, special teams coordinator John Fassel has his work cut out for himself and his squad.
Staying true to their lanes, making fundamentally sound tackles and limiting mental mistakes (like penalties) are of paramount importance.
Hopefully for Raider fans, Oakland can duplicate the special teams performance they enjoyed in the week five win over the Chargers.
On a special teams side note: Another return touchdown from Jacoby Ford would go a long way to getting a Raider victory too.
The Chargers are a tough team to deal with, but especially late in the season. They are famous for running the table down the stretch. They will no doubt view the Raiders as an enemy of their Super Bowl aspirations.
San Diego currently holds the distinction of being ranked number one in both total offense and total defense. (2nd in passing offense, 15th in rushing offense—2nd versus the run, 3rd versus the pass.)
Every team that has finished the season in this position has gone on to play in a Super Bowl.
That said, the Raiders have a chance to ruin the Chargers' plans and pull to within one game of the division lead by the end of the day. (Should the Chiefs lose.)
All the Silver and Black have to do is execute something similar to the plan I've set forth, remain fundamentally sound and play with fire and passion for the entire 60 minutes of this AFC West contest.
(Be sure to read the captions by hovering your cursor over the pictures. You might get a laugh!)
What do you say Raider Nation? Will this work? Will it fail miserably? Is it pointless because the Chargers are just too good? Let me hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments.
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