Where did these guys come from? Just a week ago, the Raiders were playing one of their worst games this year and then they come out and have their best game of the year. The Raiders appeared to be on a skid that had many people wondering if they would recover this season. While the Chargers had a top ranked offense and defense, had won four straight and hadn't lost in the month of December for several years. This one crept up on everybody.
When the Raiders beat the Chargers in week 5, it was because the Chargers made several mistakes and the Raiders were opportunistic in taking advantage of those mistakes. In this game it was just pure domination by the Raiders. It was 21-3 before the Chargers could blink. They took it to them in the first half on offense and the Chargers didn't have their first touchdown drive until the 4th quarter.
So don't be too surprised to see some uncommon Ballers. Because there were some uncommon performances in this game.
Robert Gallery, Cooper Carlisle
The offensive line was the key to the running game working. And the running game was the key to everything else. Both Raider running backs had nearly 100 yards in this game and a touchdown. Nearly every one of those runs came between the tackles. All of the guys along the line laid key blocks at one point or another. But Gallery and Carlisle were doing some serious work.
Gallery laid key blocks on runs that totaled 61 yards including the big 30 yard run by Darren McFadden. Carlisle laid a key block on the 7 yard touchdown by Michael Bush in he 2nd quarter that put the Raiders up 21-3. Then he laid a nice block to start the third quarter that helped spring McFadden for 19 yards on a screen play.
They were mauling their blocking assignments and executing stunts with perfection. The Chargers defensive line was rendered completely ineffective. All the while the Raiders racked up 251 yards rushing, 200 of which went right up the gut.
Hue Jackson, Tom Cable, John Marshall
The players on the field executed but it was the gameplan that kept the Chargers on their heels all day. The offense was relentless and mixed it up just enough to keep the Chargers guessing. They were so confused on defense that they had twelve men on the field twice...in a ROW! And the first time they had twelve men on the field, Campbell was still able to complete a 37 yard pass to Louis Murphy on a play fake. You see, the Chargers had too many men on the field, but they were all stacked in the box trying to stop the run. They were so fooled by the call, that a couple of Charger players were celebrating stuffing the Bush on the run, all the while not knowing he didn't even have the ball.
Last week I panned the lack of a scheme on defense. Simply blitzing every third down is not a scheme. It's predictible which is always a recipe for disaster. This week Marshall was back to disguising the blitz and sending various pressures and dropping others back into coverage. And it worked to perfection. The Chargers were never able to get into the same kind of rhythm they need to run away with a game. Without that rhythm, they are dead in the water.
After the loss to Miami last week, there was a lot of talk about how hot Tom Cable's seat was. But focusing this team and getting them mentally ready to play this game has put out that fire. He has brought the Raiders back to 6-6, squarely in the playoff hunt. Al Davis likes nothing better than to beat division rivals and he likes sweeping them even more. The Raiders have more wins than they have had since 2002. And barring a huge letdown to finish out the season, Cable has likely saved his job with this win.
Between the two Raider runningbacks, Bush received the greater share of the carries (23). The Raiders were intent on pounding the ball up the middle and wearing out the Charger defense. And every time the Raiders got in scoring range, Bush was brought into the game. He came in other times as well but most of the red zone carries went to Bush.
The second time the Raiders made a trip to the Redzone was after an interception that gave them the ball in Charger territory. As soon as they got into the Redzone, it was Bush time. Five of the next six plays were Michael Bush run plays. They were at the 18 yard line and 14 of those yards were off Bush carries and it set up a 4 yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Ford to go up 14-0.
The Raiders would be back in the Redzone on their next possession and yet again, it was Bush time. He had 18 yards rushing out of the 26 needed (five from a false start penalty) including the final 7 yards. In that 7 yards he spun out of a tackle and then dragged Chargers safety Eric Weddle the final three yards into the endzone for the touchdown. He finished the day with 95 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Darren McFadden had nearly identical rushing numbers (97 yards and a TD) but McFadden also fumbled the ball away in the waning minutes of the first half and the defense had to bail him out. If the Chargers had scored just before halftime, that could have been disasterous for the Raiders. Gotta protect the ball.
The Chargers had just 21 total yards rushing in this game and McClain was a big reason why. He led the team in tackles with seven. The Chargers only ran the ball 7 times in this game because they are more of a passing team and they were playing from behind the whole game. But when they ran, McClain was there to stop it. The best run the Chargers had all day was a 6 yarder on the second play of the game. And McClain made the tackle short of the first down. The next time they attempted to run the ball was the final play of the first quarter. It went for just two yards and guess who was there to make the tackle? Do I need to answer that?
The Chargers would run just two more times in the half, both for a loss. McClain next two tackles were both big ones and they came in the passing game. The first one was a tackle on a six yard catch with the Chargers in 3rd and 15. The next tackle came right after the McFadden fumble just before the half. The Chargers threw a short pass to running back Darren Sproles who caught it cleanly and turned upfield where he met McClain. McClain had a bead on him and lowered his shoulder into him, both traveling at full speed. Sproles was down on the field for a while and left the game with a concussion. Textbook hard hit, leading with the shoulder with no penalty or fine. What started as a chance for the Chargers to score before halftime, turned into the loss of a big weapon for the Chargers. Plus, the injury meant a ten second run-off which gave the Chargers just :37 to score. They would not gain another yard and miss a 50 yard field goal going into the lockeroom down 21-3.
It was obvious pretty early on that Nnamdi is back to 100%. Just as obvious was how much this team needs him in the lineup. He was on the Charger receivers tighter than their powder blue uniforms. Every time Philip Rivers attempted to throw to Nnamdi's receiver, he could not throw it on target because it would have been intercepted. So instead he tried to throw it where only his receiver could get it. That didn't work either. Nnamdi had just four passes thrown to his receiver in this game. The first one he had better position than the receiver which forced Rivers to throw high in the hopes that his receiver could leap up and high point it. The ball was a little too high and the result was an interception by Michael Huff that would set up the Raiders second touchdown in the first quarter. The only other time Nnamdi saw a play near him in the first half was when he came up to stop Antonio Gates just short of the first down on 3rd down. The Chargers opted to go for it on 4th and one and were stopped for a turnover on downs.
The first Charger possession of the 3rd quarter ended with Nnamdi in tight coverage for an incompletion. That is when Rivers wised up and tried testing the Raiders other corners and safeties for a while. But after going down 28-13 midway through the 4th quarter, he was desperate and on third down he tried Nnamdi again. This time he threw it low and Nnamdi reached in an batted the ball out of the receivers hands for a pass defended. They went for it on 4th down again and failed. That was the last time the Chargers offense saw the ball.
In the postgame press conference with Tom Cable, he used to term "managed the game well" in regards to Campbell. I would agree with that assessment. What that means is that Campbell didn't do anything spectacular, he just made plays when they needed to be made with minimal mistakes. Most importantly, he led this offense. He was in complete control in this game. He played with confidence and poise and made all the throws that the team expected from him when they traded for him on draft day. He had just 117 yards passing and a touchdown but that was more a product of the Raiders calling rushing plays 44 times.
He made several great plays in this game. Several smoothly executed screens were important. His best throw was probably the fade route to Jacoby Ford in the back corner of the endzone. His other two great plays were all about slight of hand. The first was on the Raiders first touchdown in which he faked the handoff to Michael Bush up the middle and rolled out left to jog into the endzone completely untouched and pretty much unnoticed. Fooled the camera guys too. Next thing anyone knew, he was standing in the endzone holding up the ball. The other fine play was yet another play fake. This time he hid the ball in his gut after the fake. The Chargers had stacked the box with TEN defenders. This left Louis Murphy open down field for a 37 yard completion. It happened midway through the 4th quarter and led to the Raiders fourth TD of the game to put it out of reach.
While the offensive lineman were taking out the defensive lineman, Reece was running through the hole they created to take out the linebackers and safeties. But he started out this game as the one making the plays with the ball. His first play was an 11 yard catch and run in which he got the first down after laying a nice stiff arm on the would-be tackler. The drive ended in a touchdown. His next play was a screen catch that would have gone for about ten yard except he hurdled a tackler and took it for a 22 yard gain. That drive would also end in a touchdown. The touchdown score was a 7 yard run by Bush that was made possible by a key block from Reece. He would lay key blocks on several more runs in the game including the 30 yard run by McFadden and the final first down run of the game by Bush that allowed the Raiders to then kneel that clock out. He also led the team in receiving with 3 catches for 42 yards.
He wasn't given a lot of chances to make plays in this game. But the ones he was able to make were big ones. Late in the 2nd quarter with the Chargers down 21-3 and desperate for a score, they went for it on 4th and one. The Chargers handed the ball off and tried to take it through the gap they figured they could create by moving Houston aside. Not only was Houston unmoved, he threw aside the blockers and stuffed the runner for a loss of yardage and a turnover on downs.
His next big play was equally important. It was the third quarter and the Chargers were suddenly showing what they are capable of when they get on a roll. They were moving the ball down the field play after play in large chunks. Four straight completions plus a horsecollar penalty tacked onto the end had them at the Raiders' 9 yard line. Without a disruption, the Chargers were sure to score. Houston provided that disruption when he bulled into the backfield and sacked Rivers for a six yard loss. They settled for a field goal.
He kept Jason Campbell clean all day from his blind side and had a few key blocks in the run game as well. He is really shaping up to be a terrific draft pick by the Raiders.
Call him mr opportunity in this game. He got things started when he was sent on a safety blitz on first down (yes, FIRST down) of the Chargers first possession. He was met by a blocker and when Rivers stepped up in the pocket, Huff fought off the block and sacked him. Then on the very next play, he had a pass defended. The Chargers would punt after a failed 3rd and 13 attempt. The next Charger possession, Rivers threw high to his receiver and waiting back behind the play was Huff who intercepted it. The Raiders would score their second touchdown on the short field following the turnover. He finished 2nd on the team in tackles with five.
This category only exists when there is a player I just cannot decide what to do with but still needs an explanation. Routt made as many plays on defense as he gave up in this game. It was identical actually. But the thing that puzzles me is the sheer number of plays that went through him in this game 14 by my count-- seven good and seven bad. All told he gave up 107 yards to the Chargers but he also had several key coverage incompletions and passes defended. I will try and break it down for you.
He started by giving up a 19 yard catch on the Chargers second possession. Next Charger drive, he gave up a 7 yard catch, then a 24 yard catch to put them in field goal range. But he also ended the drive with a pass defended to give up just a field goal. To end the first half, he helped the Raiders keep the Chargers from scoring after the McFadden fumble gave them a short field. He had coverage on two straight incompletions and the Chargers missed the 50 yard field goal attempt. On the Chargers drive to end the 3rd quarter, he was a disaster. He gave up a 25 yard catch and was called for holding which was declined. Next play he gave up a 19 yard catch and was called for a horsecollar tackle that put the ball at the 13 yard line. The Chargers would kick another field goal a few plays later. He was lights out the rest of the game though including bookending the Chargers final drive with two passes defended and a coverage incompletion in between. As I have said many times before about Routt; feast or famine.
When Mitchell was in the game he was given the task of shadowing Chargers All-Pro tightend Antonio Gates. And despite Gates' plantar fascia pain in one foot and his turf toe in the other, Mitchell couldn't seem to keep up with him. But Gates has a way of making his defenders look stupid. His first catch on Mitchell was pulled in at the line and then Gates pulled a little okeydoke that left Mitchell grasping at air. It came with the Chargers in Raider territory and looking to score. If Asomugha hadn't came up from his corner position to laid a solid open-field tackle on Gates, it would have been a first down at very least, and probably a lot more.
Then to start the 4th quarter, Mitchell gave up a 14 yard catch to Gates to start the drive. And the drive ended with Gates all alone in the endzone for the Chargers only touchdown of the day. Mitchell was supposed to drop back with Gates but he bit on the underneath route that Tyvon Branch had covered. That left two defenders on one receiver and no one covering the best receiver on the team for an easy score. All told, Gates would lead the Chargers in receiving with 6 catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. About half those catches and yards plus the TD was courtesy of Mitchell.
Mitchell wasn't horrendous in this game. He simply gave up a few crucial plays and didn't do much to offset those miscues. Hew wasn't certainly not the only one and wasn't the only Raider defender to give up catches to Antonio Gates. His being the only Buster should tell you something about just how well the Raiders played as a team in this game.
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