Game Primer: Chargers vs. Raiders

C Nick Hardwick (Donald Miralle/Getty)

The Chargers put a bow on the end of a disappointing season as they host the Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. Whether you're rooting for a win over a rival or a loss to help draft positioning, one thing is certain ... this contest marks the end of an era. To help you get set for the game, we offer up a complete phase-by-phase preview.

When The Chargers Run

The Chargers have rushed for 1,391 yards this season, averaging 92.7 yards per game. That's the worst statistical season for San Diego since 2000 (they drafted Ladanian Tomlinson the following year). Don't expect anything new from the running game in the final week of the season.

As Ryan Mathews' backup duo, Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle have combined for a mere 474 yards. At least Brown has caught a career-high 48 receptions for 368 yards. Expect to see these two work a bit harder as they fight for job security.

When The Chargers Pass

Philip Rivers needs just 45 yards to become the first Chargers quarterback with five straight 3,500-yard seasons. Rivers has shown significant improvement over the past three games, throwing six touchdowns with no interceptions and a 95.4 passer rating.

Antonio Gates became the Chargers record holder for career touchdowns last week, catching his 82nd and passing Hall of Famer Lance Allworth. Gates continues to prove he can be the Gates of old when used correctly. This season, Gates was targeted a career-low 76 times and has tallied 523 yards. With the exception of his injury plagued 2010 campaign, those numbers are the lowest of his career since his rookie season.

Danario Alexander regained his form after being shut out two weeks ago, catching his sixth touchdown of the season last week. Alexander has been unstoppable when going against man coverage. Look for Alexander to finish the season with a 100-plus yard game and confidence he'll be a facet in the 2013 game plan.

In just nine games, Alexander has out-gained the combination of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, who were signed to replace the production of Vincent Jackson. Alexander has raked in 624 yards with six touchdowns compared to Meachem and Royal's 380 yards and three touchdowns.

Raiders LB Phillip Wheeler has a team-best 107 total tackles. Oakland is allowing 242 passing yards per game.

When The Raiders Run

Darren McFadden averages 87.1 yards per game and eight touchdowns on the road versus AFC West opponents (871 yards in 10 games). During Week 1, the Chargers held him to a bare 32 yards on 15 carries.

Backup RB Marcel Reece's 476 receiving yards lead all backs league-wide.

Takeo Spikes came to San Diego seeking a championship. Now in his 15th season, he'll be entering his final contract year in 2013. Don't think Spikes is done, however; he was named this week by his teammates as San Diego's most inspirational player.

Assuming there isn't a collapse on defense, the Chargers will finish as one of the top-five defenses against the run. Regardless of the head coaching situation, first-year defensive coordinator John Pagano has to be applauded for molding a young defense in transition.

When The Raiders Pass

Starter Carson Palmer is hurt and will not play in San Diego. Dennis Allen has made a last minute decision to give former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor the start over Matt Leinart. This will be Pryor's first career start. Pryor will be the second consecutive first-time starting quarterback the Chargers will face. But unlike Greg McElroy, Pryor brings a heavy dose of athleticism to the Raiders' offense, which means the Chargers have to be prepared for the QB scramble.

Darrius Heyward-Bey has found success against the Chargers secondary during recent matchups. In the past two meetings, he has 12 receptions for 173 yards.

The key matchup to watch will be Brandon Myers versis Eric Weddle. The Pro Bowl-snubbed Weddle may be the only hope to completely shutting down the Raiders' leading receiver. Myers has provided Oakland with a consistent third-down threat. Weddle, who leads the Chargers in total tackles with 89, was voted team MVP by his teammates, marking the first time since 2007 the MVP is someone other than Rivers.

Kendall Reyes' 3.5 sacks last week were the most by a Chargers rookie since 1986. The team's 11 total sacks against the Jets tied a franchise record. Reyes should be coming into this week's game with an excess of confidence.

Corey Liuget, who also got snubbed a Pro Bowl selection, has put up career numbers this season with seven sacks. The team's Defensive Player of the Year will look to bring the same hurt to Pryor this week as he did to McElroy.

Just For Kicks

Micheal Spurlock made his case for returning in 2013 with his 67-yard punt return touchdown in Week 16. It was the first punt returned for a touchdown by a Charger since Darren Sproles did it in 2009.

This week's game might not be as pointless as fans may think. A win against Oakland almost guarantees San Diego loses its top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. But win or lose, the team and fans have to use this game as a springboard going into a future that holds many uncertainties throughout the whole franchise.



Is this Antonio Gates' final game as a Charger? Discuss in the message boards.




Brian Ducoffe is in his second year of covering San Diego sports. He has been previously published in University Link Magazine and wrote as an NBA columnist for Gacksports.com. Follow Brian on twitter @brianducoffe.

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