The Chargers have defeated the Raiders 13 consecutive times, turning this AFC West rivalry ridiculously one-sided. The last time the Raiders beat San Diego was Sept. 28, 2003, the year after they went to the Super Bowl. That season, marked the first of an NFL record seven straight with 11 or more losses for the Raiders. Bill Callahan was fired as Raiders coach at the end of the 2003 season. Since then, the Raiders have had four more bosses — Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin and now Tom Cable, who took over after four games in 2008.
Turner, meanwhile, has led the Chargers to AFC West titles in his first three seasons as San Diego’s coach. Turner enters Sunday’s game with a 2–2 team that ranks No. 1 in the NFL total offense and No. 2 in total defense. The 1–3 Raiders have lost back-to-back games and are already in must-win mode.
Keys for the Raiders
• The Raiders spent the offseason trying to fix their longstanding problems defending the run, but after four weeks they rank 31st in the league in rushing defense. Houston gashed them for 249 rushing yards last week in a 31–24 loss, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Cable said Houston just physically whipped and embarrassed his defense’s front seven. That group had better redeem itself Sunday or it will be another long day.
• Last week against Houston, tight end Zach Miller saw plenty of man-to-man coverage and caught a career-high 11 passes for 122 yards and one touchdown from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. The Chargers will undoubtedly pay more attention to Miller, which means wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy have to get back on track. They combined for two catches last week. Gradkowski has proven to be fearless, both throwing and running, but at times he takes too many risks. He’s been intercepted four times and has taken some huge hits at the end of scrambles.
Keys for the Chargers
• The Chargers racked up nine sacks and forced three turnovers last week in their 41–10 rout of Arizona, and they’ll try to keep the defensive heat turned up Sunday against a Raiders offensive line that has had trouble protecting Gradkowski. Oakland gave up four sacks to a Texans defense that came into the game with five sacks in its first three games. Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, coming off a career-best four-sack game, should cause plenty of problems coming off either edge.
• Turner’s biggest challenge Sunday could be deciding how he wants to attack the Raiders. There are so many inviting possibilities for an offense that ranks No. 3 in passing and No. 10 in rushing. San Diego will undoubtedly test rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain and the Raiders’ struggling run defense, pounding away with rookie Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles. That should set up play-action passes for quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for a franchise record 455 yards two weeks ago against Seattle and posted his second highest career passer rating of 148.1 last week against Arizona. Tight end Antonio Gates burned Arizona for 144 receiving yards on seven catches and presents a huge matchup problem for Oakland.
Last year the Raiders gave the Chargers a couple of scares, losing by just four points in Oakland and eight points in San Diego. Close, of course, doesn’t count in the NFL, and the Raiders don’t look ready to end their 13-game skid against San Diego. Chargers 27–17.