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NFL preview: Raiders unit analysis
2013-09-02

The biggest mistake that general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen made last year was messing with the offense, and a switch from the power, gap scheme to a zone-blocking one was disastrous. Darren McFadden is running straight ahead again this year, and free-agent signee Rashad Jennings looks like a nice, powerful backup. Long-striding quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who could be the starter sooner than later, is the X-factor. The loss of left tackle Jared Veldheer to a triceps injury hurts a lot.
Pass offense Carson Palmer completed 61 percent of his passes for 4,018 yards but took a lot of the blame for the fall from 8-8 to 4-12. He's gone, and Matt Flynn was supposed to run an offense that was more horizontal than vertical. Flynn's marching orders were to avoid turnovers, and then he threw two interceptions and fumbled in the third preseason game. That has opened the door for Pryor, whose escapability and run-away-from-you ability might be better suited for this patchwork offensive line, anyway. Denarius Moore should be the No. 1 receiver, but the coaching staff has been questioning his want-to and focus. Applications to play tight end are still being accepted.
Run defense Defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly didn't really buy in last year with Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, so they're gone. All the staff really wants out of experienced defensive tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker is for them to stand up against the run. Fourth-year defensive end Lamarr Houston came to camp in the best shape of his career and will be asked to blow up some plays. Middle linebacker Nick Roach, previously with the Bears, is an immediate upgrade over retired bust Rolando McClain, though if we were nitpicking, 6-foot-1, 234 pounds is a little small for a middle linebacker.
Pass defense Oakland signed free-agent cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, drafted cornerback D.J. Hayden in the first round and then signed free-agent safeties Usama Young and Charles Woodson in the offseason. They, and returning safety Tyvon Branch, are the core of this defense. With the different looks, pass-coverage ability, blitzing and expected ball-hawking skills of the defensive backs, the rest of the defense can ride the secondary's experience, play-making and excitement. The pass rush is counting on, among others, a fifth-rounder last year (end Jack Crawford) and a seventh-rounder this year (end David Bass). Did we mention the secondary?
Special teams Sebastian Janikowski was perfect on 25 field-goal attempts from 49 yards or closer, and was 6 of 9 from farther. He is back and will be joined by either Chris Kluwe or Marquette King at punter. King, the second-year player, has a bigger foot, but Kluwe, the former Viking, is better at coffin-corner kicks. There is a very good chance the loser of the competition gets a job elsewhere in the NFL. Special teams was a focus at training camp - last year's kick-return and coverage units were lackluster enough that coach Bobby April was added to replace Steve Hoffman.
Coaching Dennis Allen definitely is carrying himself with more confidence in this his second season. He has more younger players and guys with a chip on their shoulder than he did last season. Whether he has enough talent to improve on 4-12 is debatable, as is whether he makes his players better with his game plans or game-day adjustments. Tarver hopes his defense's energy and communication skills can match his, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson is saying all the right things, even though when he accepted the job, it was to work with Palmer.




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2015-04-15

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NFL: NY JETS vs. SAN DIEGO (4:30 PM ET, CBS)
2010-01-15

The NFL’s version of the “Final Four” will be set following the last playoff matchup of the weekend from San Diego, where the red-hot Chargers will entertain the almost-as-hot Jets. The hosts opened as 9-point favorites at Sportsbook.com, but cooler heads have since prevailed and the pointspread now reads San Diego -7. That price seems to have done its job of balancing the betting action, as the BETTING TRENDS page shows 51% of players supporting the favorites, and 49% on the side of the dogs.

The Jets won their playoff game at Cincinnati with the same recipe that has defined their season, controlling the offensive line of scrimmage and dominant defense. It will take that and more to pull a second straight upset at San Diego. The Chargers have won 11 straight games and no team is hotter, particularly offensively, as they scored 20 or more points in every game. The Jets were held below that mark on seven occasions, thus will be looking to keep the scoring down on Sunday. HC Norv Turner owns a 9-2 ATS mark as home chalk of 7.5-14 points in his stay at San Diego. New York is 6-3 SU & ATS on the road and last won in San Diego in the ’05 wildcard round, 20-17.

Of the four teams to earn a first-round bye in this year’s playoffs, it can be argued none is more deserving than San Diego. The Chargers, winners of four straight AFC West titles, take an 11-game win streak into Sunday’s divisional round playoff game against the New York Jets at Qualcomm Stadium.

Gang Green earned this cross-country trip with a 24-14 victory in Cincinnati, marking its second win over the Bengals in six days. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez (12-for-15, 182 yards, one touchdown) and rookie running back Shonn Greene (135 yards rushing, one touchdown) starred for rookie head coach Rex Ryan, who praised the efforts of kicker/punter Jay Feely (one field goal, three extra points, three punts inside the 20) in his post-game news conference.

No disrespect to the Bengals, but the road for the Jets gets a lot tougher now.
Head coach Norv Turner’s team hasn’t been saddled with a loss since Oct. 19 when it came up short at home on Monday night against Denver and fell three-and-a-half games behind the Broncos. Six days later, the Chargers spanked Kansas City by 30 in Arrowhead and were well on their way.

San Diego is 3-3 in the playoffs over the last three seasons with an appearance in the AFC Championship Game two years ago and is as talented as any of the remaining clubs.
Is it time for Turner and Philip Rivers to get over the hump? There isn’t much more for Rivers to do except win a ring. Since taking the reins of San Diego’s offense from Drew Brees in 2006, he’s passed for an average of 3,700 yards per season with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 105-to-44. He’s facing a New York defense that ranked atop the league in passing yards (153.7 per game) and passing scores allowed (eight) and held Cincinnati to 110 net yards passing in the last two weeks.

The key matchups to watch are Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis against Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and New York’s ground attack against San Diego’s shaky—20th-ranked—run defense. Jackson has a six-inch height advantage on Revis, but he sat out the regular-season finale against Washington with a sore Achilles’ and will have a tough time winning the duel at less than 100 percent.

PREDICTION: The Chargers scored at least 20 points in every regular-season game and averaged 30 during the current winning streak. Turner doesn’t have the best January resume, but there’s no debating which of these teams has more horses in the barn. Throw in some jetlag and Sanchez & Co. really have their work cut out.
SAN DIEGO 24, N.Y. JETS 13