RB Michael Bush is expected to carry the load on the ground for the Raiders due to an injury to RB Darren McFadden. AP Photo.
The Oakland Raiders host the San Diego Chargers in their first division game of the 2010 season this Sunday. Every game on the schedule is meaningful, but division games have extra importance for the Raiders. The Raiders will be facing the number two defense in the NFL through Week 4, and the top-ranked offense led by QB Phillip Rivers.
The offense will have their hands full with the San Diego defense, including Shaun Phillips who leads the team with six sacks. "He plays everywhere. I mean he is the lead sacker in football," said Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson. "He had a tremendous game last week. We have a lot of respect for him. They are best defense in the league right now. I mean statistically they are as good as anybody. They've done great against the run and the pass I mean so it's a great challenge for us."
The team has been preparing all week to contend with the Chargers aggressive defense. "We have to be sound," said T Langston Walker. "We have to account for their linebackers, which basically mixes it up for them. If we can do that, we've got good skill players and Bruce [Gradkowski] can get the ball out and do all kinds of things."
While the offense prepares for the Chargers defense, the Raiders defense has been gearing up for a talented offense led by Rivers. "He's one of the best in the league," said CB Nnamdi Asomugha. "Anything you want to say about a quarterback you can say about him. I think it's all been said about him. He's a fearless guy and he makes smart decisions so that helps them out."
Head Coach Tom Cable echoed Asomugha's praise of Rivers. "He handles pressure very well," said Coach Cable. "He buys himself time, he is very good inside the pocket, how he works it to buy that extra second so he can get a throw off. I just think to me, they have great command when everybody is involved."
Chargers TE Antonio Gates is a frequent target of Rivers. "He's a heck of a challenge, a great pro bowl tight end, and we're really going to need to be focused to take him away," said S Mike Mitchell. "He's their leading receiver. He's Philip River's security blanket. He's going to try to get the ball to him when he needs to make a play. We really need to be alert to where he is, really be assignment focused and shut him down this week."
Defensive Coordinator John Marshall emphasized Gates' importance to the Chargers offense. "He's in great shape, he's healed up, he's well and he's a go-to guy, he's a veteran player that knows how to get open and I know that Rivers has a lot of confidence in him," explained Coach Marshall. "They work well together and so he gets a lot of balls and he catches the balls that are thrown to him. He's really a great player. You have to change coverages on him, put the right people on him, sometimes double him, roll coverage to him, have people around him, bang him around."
The Raiders defense also has to focus on RB Darren Sproles who is a multiple threat running, receiving and in the return game. "Their running back right now is good," said LB Sam Williams. "They have a bunch of good guys at running back so we just have to do our job, play physical, and play penalty free."
Rookie S Stevie Brown explained how to defend a back like Sproles. "You just have to come with your 'A' game," said Brown. "You can't be too fast or he's going to shake you, he's going to keep moving, you can't be too slow or he's going to run away from you. You have to play him just right."
The Raiders are aware of the importance of their first division game of the 2010 campaign against a tough San Diego team. "AFC West games are that much bigger of a game," said Walker. "It doesn't matter what anybody's schedule is, at that point in time, it's a big game."
The fact that the game is within the division is at the forefront of the players' minds. "I think [the fact] that they're in the division means more than the rivalry," said Asomugha. "We're trying to get to the playoffs. You can win all your rivalry games and still not make it. But if you win your division, you'll be in there so it's a big game for us."