DT Richard Seymour pressures Chargers QB Philip Rivers. Photo by Tony Gonzales
Four days after The Oakland Raiders faced the Denver Broncos at O.co Coliseum, the Silver and Black travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers in the first National Football League Thursday Night game of the 2011 season. Although a short preparation week, the Raiders are ready to get back on the field and turn things around.
"I'm very eager and I think they are too," said Head Coach Hue Jackson. "I think we know what's at stake. We're still in first place. I mean, we're tied with two other teams in this division just like we were before we played last week's game. We had the opportunity to do something about it [Sunday] and we didn't. So the stakes get higher and higher each opportunity you get and here we go again. Now, it's the Chargers in San Diego and we have to get ready to play."
The Raiders head into their third consecutive AFC West rivalry game. "It's a big rivalry," said WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. "Any time you play a team in your division, you've got to bring it. The Chargers being another team in California – it just brings a whole different thing to the game and the fans and everything. So, it's exciting playing them twice a year."
The team wants to get their season back on track and look to do so against the Chargers. "It's going to be a big game for us," said RB Rock Cartwright. "We've got a short week, but guys have got to find a way to come out and get this thing back on the right track – that's hopefully getting a win. We know it's going to be a tough match-up, but I think we're ready for it."
The game will be nationally televised on NFL Network, giving the players a little extra excitement. "We're tied right now for first, so we know it'll be a challenge but we're looking forward to it," said LB Kamerion Wimbley. "Primetime game, Thursday night, so everybody will be watching. We'll be hyped up and ready to go."
QB Carson Palmer is new to the AFC West, but he has already begun to understand that every rivalry game is up for grabs. "I'm not real familiar with the AFC West, but it seems like every game is a rivalry game for the Raiders," said Palmer. "It seems like we aren't liked by the Broncos, we aren't liked by the Chargers, we aren't liked by the Chiefs. I know a lot about rivalries, since college I understand that it doesn't matter what team is better on paper, or which team has more talent, or who has the higher paid players, higher drafted players; all that stuff gets thrown out the window. In these types of rivalry games when you go into a hostile environment where that team is hungry and being a team that's hungry, any team can win."
Three of the four teams in the AFC West are currently tied for first place with a 4-4 record. The Raiders understand it is a close division race, that every game is important, and that they have an excellent opportunity to move into first place with a win on Thursday night. "Even in the Kansas City game before that, this is a tight division race right now," said CB Stanford Routt. "We've got three teams tied for number one right now, so it's definitely going to come down to the wire. The last eight weeks are going to be real fun."
"We've just got to go out there and seize the moment and just take control of this," said WR Jacoby Ford.
The Raiders want to start the second half of their season with a victory. "Well, this is big," said Heyward-Bey. "We've got a chance to take control of the AFC West and we want to get a win. We're coming off of two losses, they're coming off of three so we need anything to have that momentum in our favor going into the last stretch of the season."
The team is dialed into the fact that they have a chance to move into first place in the division. "This is our opportunity to capture first place and really take charge of this [division]," said FB Manase Tonga. "Every win from here on out counts as one step closer to our goal, which is getting to that Super Bowl."
Offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski is ready for the Thursday night lights and the opportunity to play a division rival. "We realize the importance of it. We realize if we win this, we stay in first," said Wisniewski. "We want to control our own destiny and keep winning."
In order to pull out a victory in San Diego, the Raiders will have to contend with QB Philip Rivers and WR Vincent Jackson on offense and LBs Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy on defense. "They're a good football team," said Coach Jackson. "I mean we understand that – another team in our division that we need to go play well against and we haven't done that here lately in the last two weeks, so we're looking forward to it."
Rivers is keenly aware that his team will be facing a tough challenge playing the Raiders. "We're going to be ready for their best and that's what we're going to get from them," said Rivers. "They're going to get our best and they swept us last year. We haven't beaten them since '09, so obviously we know how important division games are. They went 6-0 in the division last year; we went 3-3 and we know how important these games are."
The Chargers quarterback also is expecting to see a determined and talented Raiders defense. "They're real diverse in what they do and obviously the first two things that stand out any time you play the Raiders are they're big and they're fast," said Rivers. "They obviously still have those qualities. They have a lot of good players and it's going to be a typical Charger-Raider game."
The Raiders defense has been preparing for the talented Chargers offense led by Rivers. "When you look at this team, this is a team that runs the ball extremely well and extremely efficiently," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "They don't have the big numbers, but in order to set up the play-action pass game that Philip is so good at, the run game is very efficient and very effective. With those two backs that have the potential to be playing Thursday night, we have our work cut out for us and that is first and foremost every week, but this week it is especially important because of the tie in with the play action pass."
In the few days they've had, the defense has been prepping for what they expect to see from the Chargers. "Well I mean they have a lot of weapons, a lot of really good receivers," said Wimbley. "Obviously, great tight end there as well. So, we know we have to prepare the way we need to go and play a great team. I think we've been doing that."
The defense understands the skill of the quarterback they'll be facing. "[Rivers will] throw the ball sometimes maybe into even double coverage because he trusts his receivers," said CB Stanford Routt. "That's where you as a player who is on defense – you've got to trust your ability as well."
The Raiders expect Rivers to target Jackson, who has recorded 34 catches for 613 yards, averaging (18.0 avg.) and six touchdowns. "I know Vincent personally; he's a good player, we've got a lot of respect for him," said Coach Jackson. "It's a challenge for us and we like challenges. You try to find a way to slow him down. You do anything and everything that you think it takes to make sure that he doesn't have a good night. Our good players – our corners have got to put their hands on him, they've got to get in his face, we've got to harass him and knock him off his routes while he's going to be doing everything he can to stay on his routes and catch passes."
Meanwhile, the Raiders offense will be working against the seventh ranked defense in the NFL. "They're playing very, very well," said offensive coordinator Al Saunders. "They can run, they have great pass rushers, we have great respect for their secondary and we have great respect for the guys that line up in the front seven. They've got great speed. [Takeo] Spikes is playing very well for them, is a great addition. They've got a young rookie corner that's stepped up and is playing extremely well. Their first round draft pick has done a nice job so they've got some very fine athletes that play very hard."
Wisniewski will face the Chargers for the first time in his career. "Oh, they're a tough defense," said Wisniewski. "I think they're a top 10 ranked defense, a physical defense; not easy to run against. They've got some good cover guys as well; really balanced, really good overall and we're going to have to be at our best to put points up."
The Raiders offense, from the line to the receivers, understands the abilities of the Chargers defense. "They play fast," said Heyward-Bey. "They've got a new defensive coordinator, so they're trying a few different things but they've got some good athletes back there and we've got to be on our A-game."
No matter who they are facing, the Silver and Black is determined to play Raider football. "Our mentality is just to come in, go back to what was working for us in the beginning with the success of our team on our offense as far as running the ball, controlling the clock, and not turning the ball over," said Tonga. We're confident if we do those things, we'll get a good outcome."