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Chargers vs. Raiders preview

11/15/2014

When: 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego TV: CBS

Looking to rebound from a three-game losing streak, the San Diego Chargers (5-4) hope the Oakland Raiders (0-9) offer the tonic needed to get back on track.

The Chargers have won two straight and five of the past six matchups against the Raiders.

However, the Chargers have lost four of their past five games coming off a bye week. Last year, the Chargers lost three straight after the bye before turning things around and eventually making the postseason for the first time since 2009.

Sunday’s matchup is important for San Diego if it wants to stay in the playoff hunt. According to ESPN Stats & Information, under the current playoff format established in 1990, teams that have reached 6-4 have earned a playoff berth 61 percent of the time.

A loss for Oakland would mean the Raiders were mathematically eliminated from postseason consideration. Raiders coach Tony Sparano is working to hold that off for another week.

“Everybody wants to know answers,” Sparano said. “And you have to have a plan. And so I continuously each week try to come up with the best plan of attack that I can come up with as we go forward right now.”

ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson and ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:

Williams: Matt, although he has nine interceptions, Derek Carr has completed more than 60 percent of his passes and thrown 13 touchdown passes. He’s also been pretty effective in the red zone. It looks like the Raiders have finally found their franchise quarterback, no?

Williamson: I think they have. Carr has a big-time arm and all the physical traits you look for in a franchise quarterback. After watching him in college, I worried about how he dealt with pressure, but he has really excelled in that department thus far. Raiders fans should be excited.

Eric, to me the Chargers needed this bye week in a huge way and could be primed to make a real run out of the bye to finish the season. Agree?

Williams: Sure do. Players such as Dwight Freeney and D.J. Fluker said this week the time off helped heal nagging injuries that they have been playing through leading up to the bye week, so the extra rest certainly helped. The Chargers also did a lot of self-scouting to fix specific schematic issues such as improving the run game and executing better on third downs defensively. The Chargers should get an added boost with the return of players such as Ryan Mathews, Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o and Jeremiah Attaochu from injuries. The improved depth will help bring energy to both sides of the ball, setting up San Diego for a very tough stretch run to try to reach the postseason for a second straight year.

Matt, what’s your evaluation of how rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has played so far this season?

Williamson: Much like with Carr on offense, the Raiders have found their cornerstone player on defense in Mack. Since his sack numbers are not great (Mack does not have a sack this season), it might not look like he has been great rushing the passer. However, the film tells a different story. He is also already an excellent player against the run.

Eric, San Diego’s pass rush has been a big problem. Do you think that continues? Also a healthier secondary (and not-so-exciting Raiders wideouts) should help as well.

Williams: The Chargers have been held without a sack in three of the team’s past four games. San Diego’s best pass-rusher, Freeney, hasn’t recorded a sack since September. However, Freeney has been playing with a balky knee and has probably been playing too many snaps with the Chargers thin at edge rusher. San Diego will get some depth back at edge rusher with the return of Ingram and Attaochu this week. Getting those two players back, along with Te’o, should add juice to San Diego’s pass rush, particularly on third down.

Matt, the Raiders have the fewest rushing attempts in the NFL at 165, and average just 3.4 yards per carry. Why do the Raiders continue to struggle running the football?

Williamson: I think there are a few reasons for it. First off, the offensive line is better suited toward protection than moving people off the ball, but the two biggest reasons are (A) they simply are not very good at the running back position, and (B) opposing defenses don’t fear Oakland’s receivers to get deep or blow past them, so they can get more bodies closer to the line of scrimmage.

Eric, do you expect Mathews to step in right away and carry the load?

Williams: While I believe Mathews will be San Diego’s starter this week if he’s active on Sunday, coach Mike McCoy likely will ease him into the game. That means we will see a good bit of Branden Oliver and Donald Brown running the football as complementary pieces to Mathews. After missing seven games with an MCL knee sprain, the Chargers want to make sure that Mathews can make it through the season healthy, particularly considering his lengthy injury history. But there’s no doubt that the Fresno State product’s physical running style can help improve one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL.