An exclusive look at the AFC West rivalry that is the Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers through the decades.
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' success against the Oakland Raiders during his career is well documented, and the 33-year-old, 12-year veteran is once again off to a blistering start to kick off the 2015 regular season. In six games, Rivers has completed 177 of 253 pass attempts for a league-leading 2,116 yards, 12 TDs and 5 interceptions. In fact, Rivers threw for a team-record 503 yards in a 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field last Sunday.
Third-year wide receiver Keenan Allen has hauled in 53 receptions for 601 yards and 3 TDs. However, seven Chargers players have logged 10 or more receptions on the season. Star tight end Antonio Gates recently returned from a four-game suspension and is on a tear with 18 receptions for 187 yards and 2 TDs in just 2 games.
The Raiders are well aware of what Rivers and his weapons are capable.
"I think he has a great command of the offense. He's very competitive. He's accurate. He's got a lot of weapons that he uses," Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "Very much in control of the offense and at the line, no-huddle most of the day, kind of directing things, trying to get them in a good play, stay away from bad plays, that type of thing. And he's operating very well right now, top of the league. Five hundred yards of passing last week in Green Bay against a good defense. We've definitely got our work cut out for us."
"He's been pretty good for a long time," added defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. "He has a great mastery of the game, great mastery of his offense, mastery of his personnel around him and he has a good feel for what he's doing. So it's important for us to really try to match up well and understand that he's pretty good. He's going to get his yards. But we'll do the best that we can to keep him out of the end zone."
And that's exactly what the Packers were able to do last weekend. Although Rivers threw for 503 yards, the Packers were able to hold the Chargers to 20 points and made a critical stop on 4th and goal at the 3-yard line.
Coach Norton said it was Green Bay's ability to make plays when they mattered most that kept San Diego out of the end zone.
"You know when you get in that red area, it's a lot smaller area to cover. You saw at the end of the game, they made plays. It's about making plays at the right time," said Norton. "They have a lot of great playmakers and when it came time to make the play, they made the play on that last play. You have to give your hats off to Philip Rivers and the Chargers getting down there and putting themselves in position to win. Then Green Bay Packers coming and making the plays to seal the game. It's about finishing."
Despite Rivers' Flying Circus, the Chargers are only averaging 22.7 points per game. The Raiders are averaging 21.4 points per game.
In the Raiders two victories, the secondary came up with the plays at the right moment to seal the win. Cornerback Neiko Thorpe picked off Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and safety Charles Woodson intercepted Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown to preserve winning margins. The Packers were able to do that with a pass break up at the goal line a week ago.
The Chargers have used the rallying cry of "Three Yards Short" this week as they prepare to take on a Raiders squad that sits a half game ahead of them in the AFC West standings. Both the Raiders and Chargers have lost close, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching games this season.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said, "It seems like almost every game is close or someone had a shot at the end. Obviously, there are a few that get out of hand here and there, but for the most part, you have to stay the course the whole way, because these coaches are so smart and these players are so talented in this league, it comes down to doing your job all the way through."
After a two-game drought to start the season, the Raiders have chalked up 10 sacks in the last three games. The Raiders employ two of the better pass rushers in the NFL in defensive end Khalil Mack and linebacker Aldon Smith. McCoy knows that Mack and Smith, along with the other rushers, will affect his quarterback, but he wants to minimize their impact.
"You've got a challenge on both edges, so you've got to make sure everybody understands the scheme and how we're blocking things," McCoy said. "You've got to neutralize them to a certain extent. All the great players in this league, they make their plays. You've always got to know where they are and how they're doing certain things. So you've got to do a great job of having good balance in the game and try to take advantage of what we can do."
Although the Raiders/Chargers rivalry may be new to some players, Rivers is certainly well aware of the significance.
"It's always a physical game, it's always a division game. I think the rivalry in itself, because of the turnover that there always is in the NFL, that there are certain guys that haven't been a part of this Chargers/Raiders game as much as others," Rivers said. "But I know for the fans as well, the rivalry is with them as much as anything. Just the fact that it's a division opponent, obviously the Chiefs are a rival, the Broncos, because it's a division game. But I think it being in state, just so many Chargers and Raiders fans that enhances the rivalry."
Rivers brings a 14-4 career record against the Raiders into this Sunday's game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. He has seen coaching staffs and players come and go on his team and the Raiders as well. But he is cognizant of the challenges of playing in such a heated rivalry and has tremendous respect for the players on the other sideline.
"The one thing I think you always say about an Oakland defense, and I know there's been coaching changes and different things that have gone on there with the years, but is the speed. It's a great team speed on that defense from the pass rushers to the backers to the secondary," Rivers said. "Gosh, No. 24, Woodson. Charles is playing unbelievable, it's amazing. I have such respect for him as a player and how he's done it over his whole career. He's playing awesome. They're coming off a bye and they're hungry. They very well could have won that last one against Denver. We're coming off two heart-breaking losses, so it's going to be two teams that are hungry and know how important it is to win a division and we have to get back on track."
The last time the Raiders won in San Diego was Nov. 10, 2011, 24-17, on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. On Sunday, Oct. 25, both teams will be hungry for a victory in a game that could go a long way in shaking out the middle of the pack in the AFC West. Defending Rivers will be key if the Raiders want to gain a little separation in what is still a young season.