The Oakland Raiders host their division rival San Diego Chargers in late Sunday night Week 5 action. After a disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins at home in Week 4, the Raiders are looking forward to taking on an AFC West opponent.
The Chargers head into Oakland with a 2-2 record with wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. Despite falling to the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans, San Diego's veteran QB Philip Rivers has thrown for 11 touchdowns and nearly 1,200 yards.
"It's a divisional game, so we know it's going to be a tough, competitive football game," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "I think they're playing extremely well on offense. [It] looks to me like Philip Rivers is playing at an extremely high level, so it'll be a competitive game. I think defensively, after watching them for the last couple of years, I think they're a tough, physical defensive football team. I think they've got good schemes. I think they've got good players, and again, we're going to have to play well to beat them."
Rivers has a big target in TE Antonio Gates and quickness in WR Eddie Royal and RB Danny Woodhead. "I think Antonio Gates is playing exceptional. I think Danny Woodhead is a guy that they're using in the passing game. Eddie Royal's done some really good things for them," said Coach Allen. "I think the key is that Philip Rivers is playing probably as good as he's played throughout his career. I think he's playing outstanding. He's playing exceptional. He's going to the right guy with the ball, and he's throwing the ball with timing and accuracy."
The defense wants to disrupt Rivers' rhythm. "Use your eyes. Pay more attention to the details that we're coached up on for the week," said CB Mike Jenkins. "I think the main thing is, like I said, use your eyes, stay focused and try to get a little pressure on Phillip Rivers."
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy has been impressed with his quarterback so far. "The guy loves to play the game of football. He works extremely hard," said Coach McCoy. "He's bought into the progressions and the way we like to do things. He continues to take whatever the defense is going to give you and just keep taking it one play at a time, moving the chains down the field. It doesn't always have to be a big shot down the field, just trust the system and take what the defense is giving you."
Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is impressed with Rivers too. "His release looks even quicker than it has in the past, and that's hard to do because it was very quick in the past," said Coach Tarver. "He's playing well. He's diagnosing defenses well. He's taking advantage of matchups they're creating with the offense. I think they do a good job of creating matchups with the players that they have, so our ability to win our matchups, especially in certain situations is one of the keys to the game this week."
The Raiders linebackers and nickel corners will have their hands full with the Chargers passing game. "They do a good job in getting the ball around and getting the ball to their guys that they feel can make plays," said LB Sio Moore. "They try to get after you early in games. They score points early. For us, our biggest thing is just control what we can control and make sure we set the tempo and bring the wood early on."
The defense understands the challenge Gates represents. "He's great. It's kind of hard. You're going up against a basketball player," said Jenkins. "He's kind of going to box you out, use his body. He has great hands. I view him as a receiver, not really a tight end, but it's definitely going to be a challenge for the guys that are facing him."
Coach Allen will try to put his players in the best position to defend Gates. "We have to try to put guys on him that we feel like have a chance to have success on him and so they'll be a mix and match of guys that end up matching up with him," said Coach Allen. "[Gates] looks real good. I know he's really tough to defend this year. He's had a lot of explosive gains down the field. He's always been a challenge to cover because not only can he get down the field on you, but he's really good at the underneath stuff and working away from leverage, and Philip does a nice job of putting the ball in the right spots and giving him a chance to make a play."
Royal is also a threat in the San Diego offense. "He's a great receiver, pretty quick," said Jenkins. "Usually inside, so he's going to be a great challenge for our slot guys that are going inside against him. Real agile, great hands, so we definitely, him and Gates, we have to key in on those two guys at all times and be alert to their positioning, where they are on the field."
The Chargers added Woodhead in March and they have received consistent production from him each week. "He's given us a great, diverse option in the backfield," said Rivers. "He's not just a pass receiver. We've handed him the ball I don't know how many times now. He's a running back that can do so much. He can run any route you want from the backfield. He's pretty dangerous with it when you hand it off to him."
San Diego will face a revamped Raiders defense. Nine of the 11 starters are new since the last time they matched up in 2012. "A lot of new guys. I think the first thing that jumps out to me is that there are a lot of experienced players," said Rivers. "There are a lot of guys in that secondary that are savvy veterans. They're dangerous. You look at the linebacker corps, they have Moore the rookie in there but [Nick] Roach and [Kevin] Burnett were both Chargers at one point. Those guys are veteran players. We know [Lamarr] Houston is a heck of a rusher. It's a big front there inside. It's a good looking group."
The Raiders defense wants to hold the Chargers offense in check to give the Raiders offense a chance against a San Diego defense that has given up at least 20 points in the first four games.
Coach Allen is interested to see how the Chargers will defend QB Terrelle Pryor. "They're an attacking, aggressive style of defense," said Coach Allen. "I think they do a good job. And, again, with Terrelle, it's always interesting to see how people decide to defend him. I don't know that we see the same things on a week in and week out basis, so we might see on tape what they do on some other teams. It always is interesting to see how defenses decide to defense our offense and Terrelle specifically."
Coach McCoy thinks Pryor has done a nice job through the first quarter of the season. "He's a quarterback that is an exciting player to watch," said Coach McCoy. "He's one of those players that you've got to play snap to whistle every play because he's going to make you break down and get out of the pocket and make things happen with his feet. He's very dangerous on the run throwing the football. You've got to be disciplined on how you're playing the game to stop him."
Pryor studies film on the opposing team's tendencies, but he is most concerned with playing his style of football. "I'm just going to go along with the game plan and just play, try to be a factor, try to help the team and try to make explosive plays just like I always do, and letting the game come to me," said Pryor.
The Chargers play a 3-4 defense and Raiders offensive lineman Andre Gurode describes their linemen as "high-motor guys and very active."
With a 3-4 defense in play, the offensive line will have to be aware of the San Diego linebackers. "They're very quick downhill guys so you have to get your block and be looking at the second level because they will come downhill, fill the hole to make plays in the backfield," said Gurode.
RB Rashad Jennings, who could potentially start in place of RB Darren McFadden due to injury, will have the task of figuring out how to make the run game successful against those linebackers. "Just paying attention to detail in the run game and as a runner it's our job to set up the blocks and really know when to burst, how to hide behind the blocks, grinding," said Jennings. "We don't expect anything too pretty. It's going to be hard-fought for ugly yards trying to stay consistent in the run game. This is a talented group that we're going against, but we need to just focus on executing our game plan."
Jennings was productive in the passing game against the Redskins, catching eight passes for 71 yards. He attributes that success to being quarterback friendly. "Understanding where you are in the progression, protection, making sure that you are the third dump down just in case the quarterback has pressure on him," explained Jennings. "That's never something that you go in the game with the mindset of, 'I'm going to have a bunch of catches or even I'm going to have a bunch of runs.' You just think about when the play is called where you fit in the puzzle and executing."
Jennings also had a big game on special teams with a blocked punt, a facet of the game he thinks is critically important. "It's huge, a huge part of the game," said Jennings. "There's really no other play in the game that consistency changes the field like special teams. If you can be explosive in special teams, steal a play, block punt, big return, that changes the game, changes the attitude, changes the atmosphere and the energy. Those plays are huge. My whole entire career playing in the league I'm always going to take special teams serious."
The Raiders are not sure if they will have to dial down Jennings' contribution on special teams due to a possible increased load carrying the ball, but offensive coordinator Greg Olson recognizes the necessity of special teams. "Certainly special teams are an important part of what we're doing, of what we're trying to accomplish as a team and what we're trying to deem as important," said Coach Olson.
The Raiders will face an explosive Chargers team in a rivalry match-up at 8:35 p.m. PT at O.co Coliseum. The players are looking forward to an electric atmosphere.
"I expect it to be loud. We have the best fan base in the league," said Jennings. "We're going into a division opponent at home. We get an opportunity to go 1-1 in the division. We get an opportunity to get this taste out of our mouths, so I expect it to be a four-quarters, 60 minutes, of playing smash-mouth football."
"I hope it's lights out football and we can give the fans what they want," said Jenkins.
Gurode can't wait to play in front of Raider Nation again. "I think it'll be crazy. I'm anxious and excited to see what the Black Hole is like," said Gurode.
Moore, who has managed to single-handedly fire up the entire Black Hole, is looking forward to doing it again. "When I get in there, I go into a whole other zone," said Moore. "I just feel like I feed off their energy and everyone feeds off their energy and the defense feeds off of it. There's nothing like celebrating and being lively in there because I play with my heart on my sleeve; I play with enthusiasm."
Having that connection with Raider Nation is essential to Moore. "[Raider Nation means] everything," said Moore. "I love it here and I love playing in front of the crowd. I love their loyalty."
If you are attending the game, make sure to bring the energy. If you'll be following along at home, tune into NFL Network or KRON 4 and 95.7 The GAME. You can also get complete coverage on Raiders.com, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.