San Diego Chargers Mathews Questionable, Rivers Still A Threat
Chargers Season record in 2011: 8-8 (3rd place in AFC West, missed the playoffs)
Offensive and defensive strategies: Coach Norv Turner, one of the most gifted offensive coordinators in his various stops, has been far less effective as a head coach. Still, Turner likes to use a vertical passing offense in combination with a physical running attack. But one of his key weapons has been neutralized. Ryan Mathews is the team’s star running back but he likely won’t be in the season opener. Mathews is recovering from a fractured collarbone he suffered in the first preseason game. Mathews has been limited in practice all week without contact.
“I may miss this game,” Mathews said. “I may miss the next week. That’s fine. The way I look at it, Jim Brown led the league in rushing in only 12 games.”
Without Mathews, look for Turner to use veteran Ronnie Brown to run the ball. Brown is no spring chicken at 30-years of age. Last season he served as a backup with the Philadelphia Eagles but should see his share of playing time until Mathews is ready to return to action.
Quarterback Philip Rivers is likely to team up with Pro Bowl Tight End Antonio Gates on short pass plays, as Gates had 106-yards receiving on five catches with a touchdown in the season ender at Oakland. When Rivers decides to throw the deep ball, his favorite target will be Malcom Floyd. In the final game on New Year’s day, Floyd burned the Raiders with seven catches for 127 yards and a touchdown.
A new addition to the receiving corps is former New Orleans Saint Robert Meacham who replaces veteran Vincent Jackson. Like running back Brown, Meacham probably won’t be lighting it up for anyone’s fantasy league but he’s a reliable wideout who is still a threat.
Rivers is the engine that makes the Chargers go so stopping him will be critical to the Raiders success. When the Raiders beat the Chargers at San Diego in November, the defense sacked Rivers six times.
The Raiders will have to do a better job on their pass rush. Their three cornerbacks are all new this season. They include ex-St. Louis Ram Ron Bartell, former 49er Shawntae Spencer and most recently, Joselio Hanson who was just signed this week. The Raiders also will have to do a better job against the run, having allowed 5.1 yards, a league worst last year.
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain was a huge disappointment and he only compounded the problem with his off-field issues. He has to step it up along with veteran Philip Wheeler who played for the Colts last season, and rookie Miles Burris.
All-time head to head record: Raiders lead the Chargers: 58-45-2.
Oakland had won the previous three meetings vs. San Diego following 13 straight losses to the Chargers. San Diego has won seven of eight at the Oakland Coliseum. Monday also marks the 34th anniversary of ”The Holy Roller” game when Quarterback Ken Stabler fumbled on purpose and the Raiders knocked the ball into the end zone where Dave Casper fell on it to give Oakland a 21-20 win. That game was probably one of the highlights for Coach John Madden and the radio call by the late Bill King telling fans, “there’s nothing real in the world anymore” is a watershed moment for Raider nation.
In season openers, the Chargers are 3-2 under coach Turner, including a 24-20 win at Oakland in 2009.
Coach Turner is entering his sixth season guiding the Chargers, and San Diego won the division title in each of his first three seasons (2007-2009) but haven’t made it to the playoffs since. He’s definitely in the hot seat along with general manager A.J. Smith. Many fans feel if the Chargers can’t go deep into the playoffs and possibly win the franchises’ first Super Bowl, Turner might finally get a pink slip at the end of the season.
All-time against the Raiders, Turner is 8-4 overall, 7-3 with San Diego. He coached the Raiders for two seasons in 2004 and 2005 finishing with a dismal 9-23 record. He spent the 2006 season as the 49ers offensive coordinator and earned praise for becoming the first OC to help Alex Smith get more comfortable as the team’s starting quarterback.
Even the most fervent fans can admit the Chargers have owned the Raiders in the past few years, but much of that success can be traced to long-time running back LaDanian Tomlinson who seemingly set records every time the Bolts played against the Silver and Black. Let’s just say Raider Nation was overjoyed when he left San Diego and moved onto the New York Jets, and are ready to to start a new chapter in the AFC West grudge match
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Ryan Leong has reported on over 2,800 games in the Bay Area since 1998, covering the Sharks, Giants, A’s, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders and the local college teams for radio networks and wire services. Having the best seat in the house to watch sports has been a thrill and Ryan still enjoys going to the games giving fans some insight and perspective on the players and coaches. His work can be found on Examiner.com.