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Friday, December 20, 2013
Double Coverage: Raiders at Chargers

By Eric D. Williams and Paul Gutierrez

Matt McGloin and Ryan Mathews
Can Matt McGloin and the Raiders bounce Ryan Mathews and San Diego from playoff contention?
One team hopes to hold on to its flickering playoff hopes while the other team’s head coach could be fighting to keep his job.

That’s what's at stake when AFC West rivals San Diego and Oakland face off at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.

At 7-7, the Chargers have to win out, along with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins losing their last two games, to have any chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

And with his team losing six of its past seven games, Oakland coach Dennis Allen's job could be in jeopardy the final two weeks of the season.

ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez take a closer look the matchup:

Williams: Paul, with the Raiders mired in a late-season funk, is Allen in jeopardy of losing his job?

Gutierrez: In a word, yes. Especially if the Raiders turn in two more performances like the display they had against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, turning the ball over seven times and allowing a franchise record 56 points. Look, owner Mark Davis has said he knew this was year two of the Raiders’ “deconstruction” phase, and he knows this roster is thin. But he’s also said he wants to see progress, and getting markedly worse every week is far from progress.

Yet the Raiders need continuity, something they’ve sorely missed the past decade. And Allen has not had an NFL playoff-caliber roster at his disposal. That could change with some $60 million in cap room next season. Still, will established free-agent stars want to come to Oakland to play for Allen? Then there’s this: Allen still has two years remaining on his contract, so it’s hard to imagine Davis eating those last two years and paying someone else to come in -- unless that someone else is Jon Gruden or Stanford’s David Shaw. Can’t see it, though. At least, not at the moment. What I can see is Allen having to sweat it out if guys check out -- which has not happened … yet -- and the Raiders get blown out by the Chargers and Denver Broncos. If that were to happen, all bets are off.

Philip Rivers has enjoyed a renaissance of a season at quarterback for the Chargers. He’s always been one of the league’s most dangerous quarterbacks, but has he now taken that next step to “elite” level?

Williams: Patience and focusing on the fundamentals during the offseason resulted in Rivers being more poised in the pocket and decisive in his reads this year. Rivers belongs in the conversation as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL based on his performance this season. Not only has he been one of the best signal-callers statistically, residing among the league leaders in completion percentage (69.9 percent), touchdowns (28) and passer rating (106.9), but Rivers also has done a good job of leading the offense. When the Chargers have needed a play to extend a drive or get into the end zone, Rivers usually has been the one pulling the trigger. He's 32 years old, so the Chargers believe he has a few more years of elite-level play left.

Terrelle Pryor showed flashes earlier this season, and Matt McGloin has played OK of late. Do the Raiders move forward with either of these players as the starting quarterback in 2014, or do they draft a quarterback early?

Gutierrez: It’s obvious this coaching staff is far from enamored with Pryor and that McGloin better fits the offense it wants to run, but I’m not sure even the Raiders are convinced their QB of the future is on the roster now. If there was a certifiable franchise QB in the draft, I would say the Raiders go after him. But even Teddy Bridgewater has too many red flags at the moment, no? Our guru Todd McShay has the Raiders selecting Central Florida’s Blake Bortles with the No. 3 pick in his NFL Mock Draft 1.0. I think Fresno State’s Derek Carr fits this regime’s profile better, though.

Still, with so many other holes and the lack of an Andrew Luck or two in the draft, it might behoove the Raiders to build around the QB position and get a pass-rusher or another offensive lineman and sign a veteran free-agent quarterback, someone such as Josh McCown (remember him?), Matt Cassel or (gulp) Matt Flynn. I kid ... kinda.

Keenan Allen raised a ruckus when he rocked a Raiders cap this summer after the Chargers used a third-round draft pick on him. But he’s answered his critics with his play. How has he elevated his game so much -- a front-runner for offensive rookie of the year -- that so many other teams missed on him?

Williams: First, season-ending injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd gave Allen the opportunity to show what he can do sooner than expected. Once he got on the field, Allen quickly earned the trust of Rivers by consistently making big plays. The moment has never been too big for Allen. At 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, Allen is cat-quick, which allows him to easily beat press coverage and create separation down the field. Allen also is terrific at battling for contested balls. Mix in his ultracompetitiveness and run-after-catch ability and you have an up-and-coming receiver in the NFL.

Rashad Jennings has 679 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games played, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Darren McFadden is going through another injury-plagued season and is in the final year of his deal. Have the Raiders finally found their every-down back in Jennings?

Gutierrez: They’ve certainly found a durable running back, even if he did miss one game with a concussion. Still, Jennings is not the most explosive of backs -- even with his 80-yard touchdown run at Houston -- but for a rebuilding team, that might be enough. The Raiders still need a “dash” of a runner to go with Jennings’ “smash,” and even then they have to re-sign Jennings, who also will be a free agent. Jennings’ yards after contact per attempt (2.24) is tied for the NFL lead, he has yet to fumble this season and his 4.6 yards per carry average is second in the AFC West among backs with at least 149 carries. He is solid and dependable, something McFadden has not been since the first six games of the 2011 season.

The late Al Davis thought the Los Angeles market belonged to the Raiders, and many still see them moving to L.A. in the near future. But the Chargers also seem to think the Southland -- the entire Southland, mind you -- is their turf. What’s the latest on the Chargers’ stadium situation in San Diego? (The Rams are my dark horse, by the way, for moving back to La-La Land.)

Williams: The Los Angeles market is subject to local TV blackouts when Qualcomm Stadium does not sell out, so that tells us to a certain extent what the NFL thinks about the L.A. market and San Diego. For now, I think Chargers president and CEO Dean Spanos and the rest of the organization are in wait-and-see mode until a new mayor is elected in February. Gaining political support locally will be critical for any push for a new stadium deal, so the Chargers have to figure out who their dance partner will be first. The franchise suffered a setback earlier this year when a local commission voted to expand the city’s convention center, rejecting the Chargers’ proposal to build a stadium and expand the convention center near the city’s downtown waterfront. Rumblings have the Chargers resuscitating a proposal to build a new stadium near the current location of Qualcomm Stadium.