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(Photo Courtesy of zennie62)
Terrelle Pryor is back. Everyone rejoice!

by Jim Turvey

It seems like more than two weeks ago that the Raiders had just beaten the Jags, and that result, mixed with their solid showing against the Colts in Week 1, had Raiders’ fans secretly thinking about a possible playoff team. Here we are, just two weeks later, and although the narrative still seems positive, the results haven’t been there. Week 3 was an expected loss to a Broncos team that is looking more and more like it could possibly run the table this year (how nice would it be if they tried to finish their 16-0 regular season against us in Week 17, and we took them down, but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves), and although the loss to the Redskins last week wasn’t great, it also came without our entire starting backfield. This week Pryor returns, and as of writing this, McFadden and Reece are questionable. Reece has returned to practice, and although McFadden has not, Allen said that he may not need to practice Friday to still play on Sunday.

This week’s game takes place in O.co Coliseum, and because the A’s have started their playoff run (based on message boards, it seems that I’m one of the few Raiders’ fans glad that the A’s are still playing) the game won’t start until 8:35pm. So get out your redbull(vodka)s and get ready to stay up a little late this Sunday to see the Chargers come to town.

Background

The Raiders obviously have a lot of experience against division opponent, San Diego (cue now overused, “Whale’s Vagina” joke, who am I kidding, that could never be overused). Despite home-field advantage, the Raiders are currently four to five point underdogs against a Chargers’ team that has put up better than expected results this season. The Chargers have defeated two NFC East teams (although how much is that really saying), and lost by a field goal a piece to the supposed-contender Texans, and the up-and-coming Titans. Last season the Raiders lost both games to the Chargers but only by a combined eleven points.

When the Raiders have the ball

With the return of Terrelle Pryor behind center, hopefully Raiders’ fans will be treated to a much more dynamic and fun-to-watch offense this week. Last week saw seven sacks of Matt Flynn, as he did his best impression of the Statue of David, doing everything in his power to take the sack.

There’s more good news, however. The Chargers currently own the third-worst defense by yards per game, and the absolute worst defense as rated by DVOA. This means Pryor and the boys should be able to move the ball well on the Chargers, via the run and the pass.

The key to the Raiders’ offense will be their ability to score touchdowns in the redzone. We know they will be able to move the ball, but settling for field goals will be killer in what looks to be a high-scoring game. The Raiders currently sport a less than impressive 46.15% touchdown rate in the redzone; the Chargers are currently holding teams to a 58.33% touchdown rate in the redzone. Both of these rank in the bottom half of the NFL, and whoever can improve in that aspect this game will likely reap big benefits from it.

One target that I believe Pryor can look for in the redzone more often is Mychal Rivera. I don’t say that just because I’d love to see his (well, maybe that’s part of the reason), but because his large frame lends perfectly to the redzone. Texans tight ends were able to decimate the Chargers for three touchdowns in Week 1, and looking to Rivera near the endzone may be huge for Pryor.

When the Raiders are on defense

The key to stopping the Chargers will most certainly be in slowing down Phillip Rivers. In the Chargers two wins, he has topped 400 yards each game. In their two losses, he has thrown less than 400 yards combined. The key to shutting down Rivers may well be in actually shutting down Antonio Gates. Once again, the yardage tells the story, as Gates has 260 yards receiving in the Chargers’ two wins and only 94 yards receiving in their two losses. Gates also had nearly twice as many targets in those two wins, meaning that the Raiders will really need to stick to Gates in order to slow down this potent Chargers’ passing attack.

Naturally, the key match up this game will be the Raiders’ linebackers on Antonio Gates. Kevin Burnett will most likely draw a lot of the coverage on Gates when they are in their base 4-3 defense, as he is the Raiders’ main pass-coverage linebacker. This is no easy task, as Rivers looks to Gates with great frequency, especially near the endzone. The Raiders have actually done a pretty good job against opposing tight ends so far this year, allowing only 16 catches and 181 yards according to ESPN. However, they did allow touchdowns to tight ends in each of the first three weeks. Gates, himself, has found the endzone each of the last two weeks, and Burnett as well as the rest of the Raiders keeping him out of the endzone will play a large part in their success on Sunday.

Can the Raiders special teams give them an edge?

Sadly, this section may soon have to be renamed, “Can the Raiders special teams not cost them this game?” seeing as they currently have the 28 th ranked special teams according to DVOA. As excellent as Marquette King has been punting the ball, his holds really do seem to be an issue that needs to be cleared up, and cleared up quickly. The team is saying all the right things, but with yet another missed field goal last week (albeit from 52 yards), the Raiders really need to find a fix to this problem. This week has the makings of yet another close game, and another missed field goal would be killer.

Verdict

This one seems like a classic Raiders’ win. With the extremely late start, and the fact that it isn’t the real Sunday Night Football game, and even on top of that, the fact that it will be airing on NFL Network, means that they can win and ESPN can sufficiently ignore their victory. I think the Raiders’ secondary will find a way to pressure Rivers and Burnett and co. can hold Gates to manageable yardage. Pryor returns strong, and even if McFadden is out, Jennings can manage to be serviceable out of the backfield. Raiders 30-24 (Yes, Janikowski makes three field goals)

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