By Sam McPherson
It seems like every year the San Diego Chargers are falling short of the postseason despite being a pretty good and talented squad. And in 2013, it’s generally no different for the Southern California franchise that rarely reaches its full potential.
This season, the 7-7 Chargers sit one game out of the final playoff spot in the AFC, despite having the No. 6 offense in the NFL. The defense has been poor for San Diego this year, as the unit ranks just 25th overall in total yards surrendered.
But if San Diego can handle the visiting Oakland Raiders (4-10) on December 22 at Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers might be set up for a possible playoff berth this time around if they get some help from other teams in the league. Currently, San Diego trails both the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens for that last spot in the AFC playoffs.
If the Raiders want to play spoiler, they’ll have to outscore the Chargers, because it’s clear Oakland’s defense can’t stop anyone this year. And since San Diego brings a formidable offensive squad to the matchup, the Silver and Black will have to take advantage of the Chargers’ poor defense.
San Diego averages 396 yards on offense every game (sixth-best in the NFL), including 279.5 yards per game through the air behind the arm of quarterback Philip Rivers and 116.5 yards per game on the ground riding the legs of running back Ryan Mathews. But the Chargers are minus-two in turnover differential this season, so they have been held to just 24.5 points per game in 2013 — good enough for 14th in the league.
Rivers is having an amazing season, throwing for 4048 yards and 28 touchdowns already this year. His 106.9 NFL QB rating is the best of his ten-year career. Wide receiver Keenan Allen (63 catches, 931 yards, 7 TDs), tight end Antonio Gates (70-799-3) and running back Danny Woodhead (66-547-6) provide Rivers with a lot of options when the Chargers go to the air, while Mathews’ 1012 yards and 4.3 average per carry on the ground provide plenty of balance for the San Diego attack.
Oakland’s 18th-ranked defense (in yardage) will have a tough time covering all those talented players in the open field, especially if Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was any indicator. And like San Diego’s offensive disconnect between yards and scoring (see above), the Raiders have a defensive disconnect of the same kind: they’re 29th in points allowed, giving up 28.1 per contest in 2013.
What this means is that Oakland’s offense — ranked 15th in yards (344.3) and 26th in points scored (21.1) — will need to outduel Rivers and his friends next Sunday if they want to win and break the current losing streak that has now reached four straight games (and six of seven).
But alas, the Chargers’ defense may be 25th in yards allowed, but they’re tenth in points allowed.
(Statistics do lie sometimes, sports fans; they do lie.)
The two teams previously played on October 6th in Oakland, and the Raiders won, 27-17. In that contest, the Chargers trailed 17-0 at halftime before scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to get within seven points. A late Sebastian Janikowski field goal provided the final margin for the Oakland victory.
Rivers threw three interceptions in that game, mostly because the Raiders shut down the Chagers on the ground: San Diego had a combined 36 yards rushing on 19 carries that Sunday night at the O.co Coliseum, in a game that was moved to the evening because of the Oakland Athletics’ playoff games on Friday and Saturday evenings against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.
Who knows if the game-time change impacted the San Diego offense negatively, but the Oakland defense still coughed up 427 total yards that night, and the Raiders probably shouldn’t expect to get the same gifts from Rivers this time around: he’s thrown only six other interceptions all season. Furthermore, Mathews only had three carries for eight yards in that game, and he’s running the ball now better than ever.
Oakland QB Matt McGloin is coming off his worst effort of the year (five turnovers against the Chiefs), and the Chargers defense still has the likes of safety Eric Weddle (97 tackles) spearheading it. But San Diego’s pass rush is weak in 2013, so McGloin will have to exploit that advantage if the Raiders want to sweep the Chargers for the first time since 2010.
Raiders fans always travel well to San Diego for the road matchup, so Oakland will have that going for it as well as they try to spoil the San Diego season and eliminate the Chargers from the playoffs.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.