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Key Matchups: Chargers at Raiders
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Here are five keys to the game heading into Thursday night’s primetime match between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders:
“He’s a good player, and not only when everything is going great with time to throw. He can improvise and move around, and can really get the ball out there. He is a guy you have to play extra hard against because he can create something out of nothing.”
2. Watch Out for Woodson – The Bolts have the utmost respect for Charles Woodson, and for good reason. Even though the 39-year old safety announced earlier this week that this season would be his 19th and final one in the NFL, he goes out at the top of his game. Woodson leads the team with five interceptions and ranks second with 65 tackles as he was voted to the Pro Bowl once again. All you need to do is listen to Philip Rivers to realize how much the team respects the future Hall of Fame defensive back:
“He’s to me, one of the best defensive backs ever to play, really. And I say defensive backs because he’s played the nickel, he’s played corner, he’s played safety. He’s done it all and he’s just a great football player. The fact that it obviously will be his last home game I’m sure will add to the energy there. But he’s always a guy I’ve had respect for and played a lot of games against. But as I think he said, he’s still doing it. It’s amazing what he’s still doing. He can really run and watching the tape every time the ball’s turned over, he’s the one who ends up with the fumble it seems like or an interception. He’s still playing really, really well. He’s been awesome for this league for a lot of years.”
As such, Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich explained how the team game plans to account for him, even if that can be nearly impossible:
“Woodson is just one of the all-time great NFL players. In some ways it’s hard to game plan against him because he’s unpredictable. He just has such great instincts, and he’ll take chances. When he’s in the middle of the field, he’ll just come out of the middle of the field when he’s not supposed to because he sees something and he knows something. He trusts his instincts….He’s the best. There’s no question.”
3. Stop the Mack Attack –As a rookie out of Buffalo last season, Khalil Mack showed glimpses of elite pass rushing ability. With two games remaining in his sophomore campaign, he now leads the NFL with 15.0 sacks. The outside linebacker can wreck a game in a hurry, and has really turned it on down the stretch, notching at least one sack in each of his past four games. Mack’s emergence does not surprise Reich and the Bolts one bit as they’ve expected him to evolve into one of the game’s best from the first time they faced him:
“We all knew it. When you watched him, you knew he was going to be that kind of a player. He’s just playing with a lot of confidence (right now). He’s a dynamic athlete, and he’s smart. That’s what all the great ones are; they’re not just dynamic athletes but dynamic players in the sense they have vision, they see it and they understand it. You just see that in his game. You could see it last year even when he didn’t have a ton of sacks; he was close on so many. (He’s) good for the NFL. Guys like this make the game exciting.”
4. Contain Cooper– Amari Cooper is in the midst of not only one of the finest rookie seasons in NFL history, but best years by a Raider in recent memory. His 1,040 receiving yards leads all rookies, and he became the first Raider to eclipse 1,000 yards in a single season since Randy Moss had 1,050 in 2005. Cooper is the fourth NFL player in history to reach 1,000 receiving yards by the time he was 21, and his 68 receptions rank fifth. The wide receiver also had a strong game the first time the Bolts faced him, catching five passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. Jason Verrett may very well be tasked with containing Cooper, and Defensive Coordinator John Pagano explained how the Pro Bowl First Alternate cornerback embraces this type of competition:
“He likes the challenge of the game. He likes the competitiveness. He likes to go out and compete. That’s how he talks. He wants everything to be about what he does on the field, and that’s awesome.”
5. Ride Brown’s Fresh Legs - Donald Brown is a crafty veteran who has patiently bided his time this season. Never complaining about his role as he was fourth on the depth chart most of the year behind Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver, number 34 had only 12 carries heading into last week’s game. With Oliver already out for the year and Gordon suffering a knee injury late in the first half that also ends his season, Brown toted the rock 12 times alone on Sunday for 90 yards, including a 53-yard burst straight up the gut. It won’t be easy going up against a Raiders defense ranked 13th against the run, but Reich explained how the Bolts have full faith in Brown:
“I think there’s no question that although the grind of the season is hard on all players, Donald comes into it a little bit fresh. You are always hungry, but you probably have even more of an edge. He’s worked so hard, and now you see the fruit of getting his opportunity. Donald is very smart. He’s a smart, aggressive player (who) fully understands schemes. He’s been around the block a few times, so you can see him running with confidence. He’s hard downhill, but there’s still good vision. That’s really I think what it takes to be a good back. You’ve got to be aggressive, but you have to have good vision and patient.”