By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – The Oakland Raiders try to win for the first time since
last November as interim coach Tony Sparano leads his club against the
streaking San Diego Chargers this Sunday at O.co Coliseum.
The Raiders have lost 10 games in a row dating back to last season, having not
recorded a win since a 28-23 decision in Houston on Nov. 17. Their 0-4 start
to this season was finally enough as Dennis Allen was fired as head coach a
few days after a 38-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins in London.
Oakland has yet to score more than 14 points in a game this season, something
Sparano will try to turn around in his second stint as an NFL head coach. He
previously guided the Miami Dolphins to a record of 29-32 in nearly four full
seasons. He took over in 2008 after the Dolphins were 1-15 in 2007 and led
Miami to a mark of 11-5 with a surprising AFC East title.
However, a pair of 7-9 campaigns followed and he was fired in December, 2011
after a 4-9 start that included losses in the first seven games.
“Tony Sparano has a strong presence in this organization,” said general
manager Reggie McKenzie. “His experience and leadership qualities will serve
the team well in helping reach the goal of everyone here, which is to win
Oakland is winless through its first four games for the first time since an
0-5 start in 2006. The Raiders do have the benefit of some extra work under
Sparano having been on their bye last weekend.
“We’re ready to go. We’re ready to come back home and play a division game
here at home,” said veteran linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
The Raiders will need to be ready given the Chargers have won four straight
since a Week 1 loss to Arizona. They are coming off a 31-0 blanking of the New
York Jets last Sunday, holding their opponent to 151 yards of total offense
and 1-for-12 on third-down chances.
On the offensive side, Philip Rivers passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns
before getting a rest late. He completed 20-of-28 pass attempts and connected
with tight end Antonio Gates for a pair of first-half scores.
Running back Branden Oliver posted 182 yards of total offense and two
touchdowns including a game-best 114 yards on 19 carries. He posted the most
yards from scrimmage in a game for the Chargers since LaDainian Tomlinson had
197 against Kansas City in 2007.
“I was very happy with the overall performance of the coaches and players,”
stated Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. “We’ve just gotta get it all going and
keep it going.”
The Chargers have won 17 of their last 21 against the Raiders.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Chargers offense comes in having scored at least 30 points in three of
their last four wins as Rivers and Gates have become a record-setting duo. The
two have combined for 65 touchdown catches, the most in NFL history by a
quarterback-tight end tandem.
Gates needs only 117 more yards to surpass Lance Alworth (9,584) for the most
receiving yards in franchise history.
Rivers, meanwhile, has 1,205 passing yards and 11 touchdowns to just one
interception over San Diego’s four-game winning streak with a 120.0 passer
rating in that span.
He is 12-4 in 16 career starts against Oakland with 3,716 yards and 23 TDs
with 13 interceptions.
Rivers has thrived despite some injury issues behind him, with Ryan Mathews
(MCL sprain) and Danny Woodhead (broken leg) out. Donald Brown suffered a
concussion versus the Jets, leading to Oliver’s big day.
Still, San Diego brought back a familiar face in running back Ronnie Brown,
who appeared in 30 games with the Chargers from 2012-13. He began this season
with Houston before being released last week and joins Oliver and Shaun
Draughn in the backfield.
“Any time you can bring in a veteran player with leadership and knowledge of
the game is a plus,” McCoy told San Diego’s website. “Ronnie is a team guy
first, a great teammate and a true professional.”
San Diego’s defense comes in ranked third with just 290.8 yards allowed per
game and is yielding a league-low 12.6 points per game. The club has not
allowed a second-half point in the past two games and has not allowed a point
in the fourth quarter since Week 1.
The four straight games without giving up a point in the fourth quarter is the
second-longest stretch in team history. Three times before the Chargers have
not done so in five straight, most recently in 1999.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers has picked up in interception in two straight games
for San Diego.
The Raiders struggling offense sits dead last in scoring (12.8 PPG) as well as
in total yards and rushing offense. Oakland is racking up just 61.5 yards per
game on the ground, putting pressure on rookie quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr completed 16 of his 25 pass attempts for 146 yards against Miami before
exiting with a knee injury, though he appears in line to play this weekend.
After losing wide receiver Rod Streater to a foot injury that landed him on
the short-term injured reserve, the Raiders claimed former New England wideout
Kenbrell Thompkins off waivers.
Thompkins caught 32 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns over 12 games as
an undrafted rookie with the Patriots last season, but was used sparingly over
the early portion of the 2014 campaign prior to being placed on waivers on
Running back Darren McFadden managed just 40 yards on 11 carries versus the
Dolphins, while Maurice Jones-Drew returned to action after missing back-to-
back games with a hand injury. However, he carried the ball only two times for
one yard while catching a pair of passes for another two yards.
Obviously, the Raiders would like more production from their backfield.
“Obviously, Maurice didn’t play in a couple ball games, so that’s a little bit
jaded, a little bit skewed. As far as Darren goes, and watching that, I’ve
been pleased with the way Darren is running the ball right now,” said Sparano.
“He’s run the ball hard, he’s made good reads, he’s made good fits. One of the
things we have to do a better job of right now is creating more explosive
plays in that area.”
While Oakland ranks fourth in the NFL in pass defense at 207.0 yards allowed
per game — getting three takeaways that included an interception by
cornerback T.J. Carrie — the unit is yielding nearly 160 yards per game on
the ground and has also come up with just four sacks from four different
The task at hand is a big one for Sparano, who gets to try and solve the AFC’s
top team in his first game as Raiders coach. It also comes in Oakland’s first
divisional game of the campaign, so there is ground to be made up with an
That probably won’t happen. Oakland’s strength of defending the pass will be
muted by a red-hot Rivers and the Chargers’ banged-up running game should find
some room to move the ball and keep some pressure off the quarterback.
The Raiders will need to score points to stay in this one but that will take
more than a coaching change.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chargers 30, Raiders 13