Monday, December 6, 2010

Raiders Manhandle Chargers to Sweep Season Series for First Time Since 2001

SAN DIEGO -- The Oakland Raiders are back to playing the role of dangerous villain.

That's good for the NFL, which needs dangerous villains.

That's bad for the Chargers, who preferred the dysfunctional Raiders.

Sunday on a gray day in San Diego, the Raiders trampled the Chargers 28-13 in front of largely pro-Raiders crowd, and looked about as hard-hitting as any NFL team can.

"The Raiders are back," said fullback Marcel Reece. "That's it. We're back to playing Raider football."

The Raiders ran for 251 yards. They sacked Philip Rivers four times and hurried him seven other times. They bullied the Chargers throughout the game, then walked off with their first victory in San Diego since 2002.

"If this team shows up that showed up today, we're capable of beating anybody," said Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour.

The Raiders (6-6) were desperate to win after dropping the two previous games by a combined score of 68-20 to the Steelers and Dolphins.

The Chargers (6-6) were looking for their fifth consecutive victory and their 19th in a row in December.

"Who better to motivate us than the San Diego Chargers?" said Raiders safety Tyvon Branch.

Here was Oakland's plan: 1) use a four-man rush to harass Rivers; 2) run the ball between the tackles so that quarterback Jason Campbell could work the screen game and dole out play-action passes.

Center Samson Satele said the Raiders correctly anticipated that the Chargers would overplay the outside run early and that Oakland could create inside lanes for running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.

"It was power, power, power," Satele said.

The blocking brought into play painful laws of physics, leaving the Chargers in need of icepacks and aspirin. Bush weighs 245 pounds and runs well. McFadden is a speedster who weighs 210 pounds. Freed up by their blockers, they crashed into the secondary and pounded defensive backs such as safeties Paul Oliver (210 pounds) and Eric Weddle (200) en route to the end zone. The Chargers brought in the NFL's third-best run defense at 81 yards per game and gave up more than three times their quota.

Rock Cartwright"The first thing is, we didn't tackle very well," said defensive end Luis Castillo.

Defensively the Raiders swarmed Rivers from the first series and never allowed the league MVP candidate to gain peak form. San Diego's West Coast offense hinges on timing between receivers and quarterback, but too often for the Chargers, their receivers came open after Rivers had to throw the ball or pull it down.

"It was a combination of a bunch of things," Rivers said.

Raiders safeties Michael Huff and Branch likely commanded Rivers' attention in recent film study. In Oakland two months ago, both of those speedy, hard hitters blitzed on consecutive plays late in the game. The results were a hard blow by Branch to Rivers' chest, and a fumble caused by Huff that Branch returned for a touchdown to seal the Raiders' first victory over San Diego in 14 games.

Sunday, Huff sacked Rivers and picked off a high errant throw that led to a touchdown.

"Huff had an amazing game," said Branch, who is one of the NFL's fastest safeties and, untroubled by San Diego's banged-up receiving corps, guarded Chargers tight end Antonio Gates fairly well.

"He was making plays all over the place. I'm so proud of him. When he plays well, I play well, and it's a trickle down effect."

The Raiders seldom needed to blitz Rivers (23-fror-39, 280 yards, one touchdown) because their four-man front got the best of San Diego's offensive line.

"You had to make him feel jittery in the pocket, and I thought that was the key for us," Seymour said. "Sometimes sacks are overrated. If you can get pressure on a guy -- guys around his feet, around his legs, around his body ... make him feel like he's gotta get the ball out. I just felt like we had guys there."

The Chargers, meanwhile, had no running game on which to rely. Running back Mike Tolbert was stuffed on 4th-and-1 to kill a first-half scoring chance. The Bolt ended up with only 21 yards rushing. (A familiar number in San Diego, belonging to LaDainian Tomlinson, the former Chargers icon and running back now on the Jets.) Rookie running back Ryan Mathews, apparently recovered from a lingering ankle injury, was cleared to play but never got onto the field. "He will play next week," said coach Norv Turner.

Out-rushing the Chargers was Jason Campbell, who gained 37 yards on seven carries.

Campbell (10-for-16, 117, 1 TD) deftly used quick pass fakes to gain extra yards when his receivers were cloaked. He said he was inspired to run the ball after watching Cam Newton, the dual-threat quarterback for his alma mater, top-ranked Auburn.

"I had to go back to my Auburn days and make some plays," he said.

Historical references were easy to come by elsewhere. When the Raiders last defeated San Diego twice in the same season -- in 2001 -- Jon Gruden coached the Silver and Black opposite Mike Riley. Gruden would go on to guide the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past the Raiders in the 2002 season's Super Bowl, and the Raiders soon would become irrelevant, never winning more than five games from 2003-09. They've topped that mark with four games to go and still have a game with the AFC West-leading Chiefs (8-4) in Kansas City.

The 13 penalties charged against them Sunday showed that the Raiders still are capable of beating themselves.

The Raiders also remained capable of inspiring bad blood that could lead to retaliatory blows later. Sunday, Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Mike Mitchell celebrated after McClain slammed helmet-first into Chargers scatback Darren Sproles to deal him a concussion.

Officials said afterward that the blow went unflagged because Sproles wasn't "defenseless" after having run several yards with a short pass.

The greater misfortune for San Diego was opposing a focused Raiders team that is among the NFL's fastest and most athletic. Unable to stop the run or protect Rivers, the Chargers were whipped physically for the first time this season. Previously, they'd been undone by special teams blunders. Sproles did fumble a punt to set up Oakland's first touchdown, but the storyline was Oakland manhandling the Chargers like no team had done since the Steelers mauled them in Pittsburgh early last season.

"We have to bring this level of play week in and week out," Seymour said.

Said Raiders coach Tom Cable: "It was about getting back to our identity, getting back to what we do best."

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