The Chargers won’t be able to realize their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl this season, but now that they’ve been eliminated they can take solace in spoiling a division rival’s playoff hopes. It’s a small consolation, but just enough motivation to keep the dejected Chargers competitive. There’s also a good chance it will be the team’s last time playing for Norv Tuner, which could cause the players to give their best effort in an attempt to send their head coach off right even if things didn’t go as planned during his tenure.
The Raiders obviously don’t need any extra motivation with a division title still in sight and a chance for the sixth seed wild card spot even if Denver wins. Oakland has won their last three meetings with San Diego, each by at least a seven point margin. Carson Palmer (-3.1) got his first win as a Raider against the Chargers back in Week 10 and, in a small sample size, has historically played well against San Diego. He played the Chargers twice as a Bengal since PFF began collecting data and graded well in both games, with his best grade in 2010 coming against San Diego. Now that Palmer is a Raider, will the Chargers become the division rival he always saves his best efforts for?
Carson Palmer vs. Chargers Secondary
Not only did Palmer record his best grade of 2010 against the Chargers, but he also played his most efficient game and earned his best grade of 2011 in San Diego as well. Coupled with the Chargers’ secondary’s awful showing in Detroit last week, it’s not unreasonable to expect Palmer to have a big day. Palmer has been consistent only in his inconsistency this season and playing well while leading his team to a crucial win would help him endear himself to a fan base that isn’t so pleased with how much the Raiders gave up to get him.
Those deep balls that won the Raiders the game last week won’t be as easy to complete with 2011 Pro Bowl free safety Eric Weddle (+11.7) patrolling the defensive backfield, but success can be had elsewhere as the rest of the starting defensive backs grade negatively. Quentin Jammer (-10.9), PFF’s seventh-lowest rated cornerback, has allowed six touchdown receptions and broken up only four passes all year. With as poorly as this unit played only a week ago, it’s not expecting too much to anticipate Palmer turning a solid game, if not quite shredding the secondary as seamlessly as Matthew Stafford. One development working in Palmer’s favor is the potential return of Jacoby Ford, which could allow the Raiders to use more three-wide sets and take advantage of the Chargers’ weak slot cornerback position. Denarius Moore (+7.0) had the best game of his young career in the Week 10 meeting and played a vital role in the win last week, so he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Raiders Secondary vs. Chargers Receivers
The Chargers aren’t the only team who needs to play better pass defense than they did a week ago. Lito Sheppard (-6.5) and Stanford Routt (-6.6) both graded in the red last week and the latter has been penalized a staggering eight times in the last two games. Regardless how improved their play is this week, the pass rush will need to be better or receivers will eventually break free as they began to late in the fourth quarter against Kansas City. We’ll get to that next, but for now let’s focus on the matchups between these corners and the Chargers’ lengthy receivers.
Contrarily, it was actually the 5’ 11” rookie Vincent Brown (+1.6) who was the most productive receiver in the Week 10 game, scoring his first NFL touchdown and generating a career-best 97 receiving yards. The Oakland secondary had the benefit of an incredible pass rush in the last meeting so it will be a challenge for them to replicate their success in containing Vincent Jackson (+5.7), Antonio Gates (+7.4), and Malcom Floyd (+9.6), who has stepped up his production in yardage and touchdowns over the last month. Floyd is averaging over 20 yards per reception this season, but Routt has played 10 games without giving up a single catch of 20 yards or more. It’ll be interesting to see which trend persists when they’re matched up.
Raiders Defensive Line vs. Chargers Offensive Line
The main reason the San Diego receivers couldn’t get going the last time these teams played was the dominance of the Raiders’ pass rush, namely Kamerion Wimbley (+28.4) who turned 35 pass rushes into four sacks and 14 total pressures in one of the most dazzling individual performances of the season. Of course, the biggest culprit on the Chargers’ offensive line (Brandon Dombrowski, -14.2) won’t be in the lineup this time around and neither will guard Scott Mruczkowski (-4.5) barring another unfortunate offensive line injury. Jared Gaither (+6.7 with San Diego) would have to close his eyes and fold his arms behind his back to allow more pressure than Dombrowski did. On the other side, Jeromey Clary (-33.4) would like to end his poor season on a high note.
Wimbley hasn’t recorded a sack or more than two pressures in a game since Week 12, but there’s probably no team he’d rather try to rebound against than the Chargers. Different offensive line or not, after what he did to San Diego last time you can’t help but keep an eye out for him in this game. Lamarr Houston (+10.8) will be worth watching in the base defense as he’ll be matched up on Clary on almost every snap he plays. Now at the end of his second year, Houston is becoming the type of player who consistently does what he’s supposed to do and makes the plays that don’t receive a lot of attention. Facing the same competition he was able to get pressure on eight times in Week 10, Houston could draw some deserved attention to himself with a strong performance.