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Game Preview: Raiders vs. Chargers

The Oakland Raiders host the San Diego Chargers at Coliseum in the Silver and Black's first division game of the 2014 season. The Week 6 match-up will be the Raiders first game played in Oakland since Week 2 against the Houston Texans.

After a winless start, a coaching change and a bye week, the Raiders have buried the first quarter of the season, literally, and are looking for a renewed start over the next 12 weeks of play. "We have an opportunity right now," said Interim Head Coach Tony Sparano. "We've put those other games behind us, learned from them, didn't forget about them, but we have an opportunity right now to play our first game in our division and be measured that way. We're looking forward to it, we're looking forward to getting out there and I think these guys are excited about it."

Coach Sparano has implemented his philosophies and ways of running the squad in the hopes that those changes will bring the Raiders their first win of the season. "I think that right now there's a fire lit in that locker room. They see change," said Coach Sparano. "They know there's change right now and let's be completely honest, and I said this the other day and it didn't get written and I'm going to say it again, we were all part of the problem, every single one of us. Quite honestly, every single one of us in this building, we were all part of the problem."

Understanding that the blame doesn't rest on just one person has allowed Coach Sparano to make the changes he believes will help fix the issues surrounding the 0-4 team. "We're doing things faster, we've changed practice schedules, we've changed a ton of things right now," Coach Sparano explained. "The locker room is changed right now, the practice schedules are changed. The practice time is different on Wednesday, a little bit more rest period prior to a big practice, to get more out of Wednesday's practice. The week will continuously taper down for the players so they have more gas in their tank when they get to the ball game, those type of things."


The Raiders adjustments will be tested for the first time when they face the Chargers at home. San Diego comes to Oakland with a 4-1 record, winning their last four, and the last one in convincing fashion.

QB Philip Rivers has a 70.3 completion percentage and thrown for 1,443 yards, 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He is aided by four players – wide receivers, a tight end and running back - with over 250 yards each.

The San Diego defense has put up 12 sacks and seven forced fumbles and is led by veteran LB Donald Butler, who has recorded 27 tackles. They are currently ranked No. 2 in the NFL in pass defense and in the Top 10 in rush defense.

The Raiders understand that they have a tough opponent coming to their house this weekend, but they also firmly believe the most important thing to do is focus on themselves. "I just think it's the next football game and it's very important," said Coach Sparano. "I mean, we're an 0-4 football team and it's the next game - it's not about me, it's not about anything else. We're trying to kind of focus on us right now and the message that I've given our team is that this is about us. All due respect to our opponent, they're a very good football team, but we need to worry about us right now. It's the next football game; it's a division football game. We haven't played in our division yet. The school I come from, you need to take care of your division first."

Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy spoke highly of his quarterback in his call with the Bay Area media. "I think he's played at a high level his entire career personally, if you ask me," said Coach McCoy. "He's been one of the best quarterbacks in the league since he entered the league when he came in. This past year, maybe the ratings are a little higher, but he's won a lot of football games as a starting quarterback in this league. I think as a football team, we're playing good team football and it all starts with the leadership of the organization and that's the quarterback."

Many of the Raiders defensive players have faced Rivers several times and know what the 6'5" quarterback can do. "He seems really patient to me. This year, looking at the success that he's had, he's been patient," said S Usama Young. "He's looking down field and if he doesn't have a downfield receiver, he's checking it down to the backs and the backs are getting good yardage or he's checking it down to the tight ends. He's just playing patient, smart football."

Rivers' ability to distribute the ball to his receivers has allowed the offense to dominate time of possession and points scored throughout the first five games of the season. "They've got a talented group. It starts with the quarterback, Philip Rivers," Young continued. "And he's been with [TE Antonio] Gates for a long time so they have a lot of chemistry. Running back, talented, strong, agile and a receiving corps that's big and physical. They're downfield threats also. Eddie Royal in the slot, he's a guy that gets open. He finds a way to catch a screen and take it the distance and he's shifty and hard to tackle. But they've got weapons all across the board and not just Gates at tight end, but they have some young guys that are opening eyes. So we have to be on our P's and Q's and we have to play sound."

While the Raiders defensive backs will have to be all over the multiple downfield threats, the defensive linemen understand they must dominate the line of scrimmage. "Right now we're just working on the pocket pressure and how we need to rush this guy," said DT Justin Ellis. "He's a great quarterback and the only thing we can do is do our job by affecting the O-linemen which is going to affect him."

The linebackers and Raiders secondary will also have their hands full with Gates, who already has five touchdowns this season. "He's been a matchup problem from the time he's come in the league, and he's a matchup problem now," said Coach Sparano. "We'll try to address it the best way that we can that way. We certainly have a plan going into the game. They have a lot of weapons, but Antonio, his skill set is unique. The really good tight ends, the Jason Witten's, those kind of people that are really good tight ends, they present big match-ups, particularly when you get down there in the red zone and on third down, which is one of the reasons that they're so good on third down. This guy has made a lot of big plays and he's a guy that you've got to pay a lot of attention to."

As aware as the Raiders 4th ranked passing defense is about what to expect from the Chargers, they are just as focused on doing what they need to do to be successful. "We've got to play sound; we have to be smart," said Young. "We've got to play smart, disciplined football, knowing the situations, understanding where they can be and understanding where the problem areas are and just play top-down ball. They've been getting a lot of big plays against the teams they've beat."

The Chargers offense has created problems for opposing defenses by scoring an average of 26.6 points per game. And while their offense tallies the points, the defense has been holding teams to the least number of points per game in the NFL.

"Obviously, they have a whole bunch of All-Pro guys," said QB Derek Carr. "We have our hands full, just like any other week. But just like any other week, I am going to do my best to go through my reads and wherever it takes it, that's where we go with it. We have to know in our offensive huddle that we have to win."

The Raiders offense has to get started fast and establish a rhythm to make a dent in the San Diego defense. "We just have to stay on schedule. First and second down just keeping to our game plan and doing what we do best," said TE Brian Leonhardt, who scored his first touchdown against Miami in Week 4. "If we stay on schedule, I think this offense can move the ball and that's really where our focus is going to be."

The Chargers' linebacking corps, which now includes former Colt Dwight Freeney, has been dominant. "Both [Freeney] and Jarret Johnson are two 12- and 13-year players that still have a lot of juice left. Freeney hasn't slowed down a whole lot," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson. "You'll still see his signature spin move. He looks heavier. I don't know if he is heavier, but in his uniform, he looks heavier and he has a tremendous bull rush now that he is using as well. So, he's got two good moves – the bull rush off the spin move. He is playing at a real high level now as well."

Leonhardt, often in a blocking role, is preparing to face the stout linebackers. "It's definitely going to be a challenge," said the tight end out of Bemidji State. "They definitely have a strong linebacking corps. Just have to work your technique and pick up some things and see how they play and see if you can find some weaknesses."

San Diego is also led by long-time safety Eric Weddle. "Tremendous player, and they're playing very well as a unit right now," said Coach Olson. "But I think he is obviously their quarterback really of the defense. He is someone that you've got to be aware of where he is at. He is a tremendous blitzer, a tremendous tackler and he is a pretty good cover player. He just brings a lot to their defense, but I think his ability to pressure and blitz is a strength of his."

This week's match-up is going to be a challenge for the Silver and Black, but they will have the home crowd on their side. "It's always great to play at home. You have the crowd behind you and you don't have to do any traveling," said FB Jamize Olawale. "That's always going to be an advantage to us, especially with our home crowd. We have some true fans out there, so we're excited to be at home and I think it's going to be to our advantage."

The Raiders haven't seen the Coliseum since September 14. "I'm very excited to play back in front of the home crowd," said Young. "Those fans, I know it's going to be loud. They're going to be electric, so I'm ready to go. The Black Hole – it's a place like no other to play in front of that crew."

With all the changes, the players are excited to play where they are most comfortable. "There's nothing like playing at home," said Ellis. "That's the greatest feeling, to play in front of your home crowd because you know they're going to be for you regardless of if you're winning or not. With all the stuff that's been going around this facility right now, we're ready to go out there and show the fans what we have right now."

The Raiders are transitioning and embracing their new opportunities. "There have been some changes. We just have to embrace it and being able to come back and play at the Coliseum, it's going to be exciting," said Leonhardt. "It's been forever, so we're definitely getting pumped up for it."

Home game. Division game. New coach. New start.

"This is a must win game for us, and I believe that every week," said Olawale. "That's my mentality. It's a must win."

The Raiders take on the Chargers at 1:05 p.m. PT. Watch the game on CBS (KPIX 5), listen on 95.7 The Game and follow along on, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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