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NFL Preview - San Diego at Oakland
NFL Preview - San Diego at Oakland
Art Shell shouldn't have any trouble getting the adrenaline flowing on Monday night, as the Raiders head coach dives into his second tenure on the sideline of the Silver and Black at home against longtime division rival San Diego.
Shell was a part of no fewer than 55 Chargers/Raiders games, competing against San Diego twice a year as a player (1968-82), assistant coach (1983-89), and head coach (1989-94) over a span of 27 seasons. The Hall of Fame tackle, formerly the NFL's senior vice president for football operations and development, was re-hired in February to help revive the franchise's fortunes. Oakland went a combined 13-35 from 2003 through 2005, prompting Raider owner Al Davis to re-hire the man he had fired following the 1994 campaign. Shell fashioned a 54-38 record during his first stint as head coach, guiding the then-Los Angeles Raiders to three postseason appearances.
When he looks across the field, Shell will see a familiar face in Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Shell served as Schottenheimer's offensive line coach for two years in Kansas City (1995-96), and also went head-to-head with Schottenheimer 12 times as a head coach. This season, the current Chargers' leader will be trying to guide his team back to the postseason after a disappointing 9-7 showing in 2005, and will be doing so with a first-year starter, Philip Rivers, at quarterback.
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Oakland has a 54-36-2 record in its all-time series with San Diego, but has lost the last five in a row to the Chargers. The Bolts were 27-14 road winners in Week 6 of the 2005 season, then took a 34-10 decision at Qualcomm Stadium in Week 13. The last win in the series for the Silver and Black came in 2003 at home, a 34-31 triumph in overtime.
Oakland won the only postseason meeting between the teams, prevailing by a 34-27 count in the 1980 AFC Championship.
Shell is 5-6 against San Diego in his head coaching career, including 1-4 in home games. The Chargers' Schottenheimer is 25-7 in his career against the Raiders (6-2 while with San Diego), including a 10-6 victory for his Chiefs over Shell's team in a 1991 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Schottenheimer is 10-2 all-time against Shell, with all of the matchups dating back to his time with Kansas City.
CHARGERS OFFENSE VS. RAIDERS DEFENSE
Chargers fans and NFL observers will be closely monitoring the play of Rivers, the 2004 No. 4 overall pick out of North Carolina State, on Monday night. Rivers has thrown just 30 NFL passes, and will be making his first start after backing up Drew Brees for the past two years. In a controversial move, San Diego allowed Brees to escape to New Orleans via free agency in the offseason. Rivers looked reasonably sharp in the preseason, completing 30-of-46 passes for 333 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Chargers' corps of pass-catchers remains basically the same, with Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates (89 receptions, 10 TD) representing the team's top target and wideouts Keenan McCardell (70 receptions, 9 TD) and Eric Parker (57 receptions, 3 TD) offsetting him. The 36-year-old McCardell tied a personal single-season-best for touchdown catches a year ago. The San Diego o-line allowed five sacks of Rivers in the preseason, and will be featuring a first-year starter in rookie Marcus McNeill (Auburn) at right tackle.
In constant pursuit of Rivers will be Oakland defensive end Derrick Burgess (16 sacks), who came to the Raiders as a free agent prior to the 2005 campaign and promptly led the NFL in sacks. Burgess will line up opposite Tyler Brayton (16 tackles, 1 sack) in the team's base 4-3 look, while pass-rushing specialist Lance Johnstone (7 sacks with Minnesota) will appear on a situational basis. Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is hoping that a new-look secondary takes hold quickly. The Raiders used the No. 7 overall pick in the 2006 draft on Texas' Michael Huff, who will start at strong safety on Monday night. With cornerback Charles Woodson now a Green Bay Packer, Nnamdi Asomugha (60 tackles) and 2005 first-round pick Fabian Washington (43 tackles) will be under scrutiny to limit McCardell and Parker's effectiveness. Rounding out the secondary is free safety Stuart Schweigert (87 tackles), who had two of the team's league-low five interceptions a season ago.
The curtain will at last be lifted on LaDainian Tomlinson's (1462 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 20 TD) 2006 season on Monday night, as the perennial Pro Bowl running back suits up after sitting out the entire preseason as a precautionary measure. The presence of a first-year starter at quarterback is likely to mean a renewed emphasis on Tomlinson's skills, perhaps spelling a return to the TCU product's 1,600-yard, 100-catch showing of 2003. Back to pave the way for Tomlinson is reliable fullback Lorenzo Neal (98 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 1 TD), with Michael Turner (335 rushing yards, 3 TD), who had a strong preseason, again giving Tomlinson the occasional breather.
The Raiders have changed their defensive look from a 3-4 to a permanent 4-3, a situation that they hope frees up defensive tackle Warren Sapp (32 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT) to make more plays along the interior. Sapp and fellow DT Tommy Kelly (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks) will look to slow Tomlinson when he runs between the tackles on Monday night, with their presence aiding a young linebacking corps featuring second-year pro Kirk Morrison (116 tackles) in the middle and rookie Thomas Howard (2nd Round, UTEP) at one of the outside slots. Morrison led the Silver and Black in tackles a season ago. The third member of the starting LB corps is outside man Sam Williams, who started four games in 2004 but missed all of 2005 after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Oakland was just 25th in the league against the run last season.
RAIDERS OFFENSE VS. CHARGERS DEFENSE
Attempting to win over the Oakland fans will be quarterback Aaron Brooks (2882 passing yards, 13 TD, 17 INT with New Orleans), who is set to make his first regular season start as a Raider after six years with the Saints. Brooks finished the preseason strong following a shaky start, ending the team's five- game warm-up run with a solid 90.8 passer rating. Brooks will be looking downfield to wideouts Randy Moss (60 receptions, 8 TD), Alvis Whitted (14 receptions), and Jerry Porter (76 receptions, 5 TD), along with tight end Courtney Anderson (24 receptions, 3 TD). Moss is looking for a better sophomore season in Oakland after being limited due to injuries last season. Porter, who was reported to be in Shell's doghouse, could have trouble getting on the field in 2006 ahead of the newly-ordained starter Whitted and slot man Ronald Curry (2 receptions). A major issue for the Silver and Black on Monday night will be the work of a young offensive line, one that raised some concerns by surrendering 17 sacks in five preseason games.
Brooks will be looking to exploit a Charger secondary that has long been viewed as the defense's weak link, one that was the main culprit in the team finishing 27th in the league against the pass a year ago. San Diego made an effort to upgrade the group in the preseason, bringing in ex-Panther Marlon McCree (87 tackles, 3 INT with Panthers) to play free safety and using a first-round draft pick on cornerback Antonio Cromartie (Florida State). McCree will make his formal debut as a starter with the Bolts on Monday, while Cromartie will back up top corners Quentin Jammer (1 INT) and Drayton Florence (1 INT). Terrence Kiel (58 tackles) will occupy the strong safety slot. Making life easier for the secondary will be Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman (10 sacks), who burst upon the scene to lead San Diego in sacks as a rookie, with Shaun Phillips (7 sacks) slated to start opposite him. Phillips received a promotion when projected starter Steve Foley (4.5 sacks) was lost for the season after being shot by an off-duty policeman on Sept. 3rd.
Seeking to build on his first career 1,000-yard season is Oakland running back LaMont Jordan (1025 rushing yards, 70 receptions, 11 TD), who breathed some life into the Raiders ground attack last season but couldn't prevent the team from finishing 29th in NFL rushing offense. Jordan was not much a factor in two outings against San Diego last year, totaling 91 yards on 27 carries in a pair of double-digit defeats. Zack Crockett (208 rushing yards, 1 TD), back for his eighth year in Oakland, will once again pave the way for Jordan from his fullback position.
San Diego was No. 1 in the league against the run last season, a testament to the team's elite-level three-man line and a steady group of inside linebackers. It all starts up front, where Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams (53 tackles) sets the tone, and ends Igor Olshansky (29 tackles, 3 sacks) and Luis Castillo (49 tackles, 3.5 sacks) play off the 350-pounder. If Jordan manages to pass through that gauntlet, he'll have to deal with veteran inside linebackers Donnie Edwards (152 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT) and Randall Godfrey (76 tackles), who were 1-2 on the team in stops last season. Edwards will start on Monday after spending much of the preseason attempting to force a trade in the midst of a contract dispute with the Chargers.
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The Raiders have gone an unsightly 2-16 against AFC West foes over the past three seasons, with their most recent home win against a division member coming in Week 4 of the 2003 season against San Diego. You have to believe that statistic is on the tip of every tongue on Oakland's roster and coaching staff, and that the Raiders will come out with a great deal of fire on Monday in an effort to turn the page on that dismal stretch. The Silver and Black looked like a far more disciplined outfit during the preseason than they had been under Shell's predecessors, and though the roster is littered with young players, that mentality should have a carry-over effect into the regular season. San Diego is likely to win this game due to better depth and talent, but Oakland will hang around and give its long-suffering supporters something about which to cheer.
Predicted Outcome: Chargers 20, Raiders 19, and do not forget to take your bonus 0!
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