When you’re preparing for a team like San Diego, any injury to a first-team player could be catastrophic. The Chargers, who lead the NFL in both total offense and total defense, have won their last four games by an average score of 33-19, and haven’t lost a game in December since a December 31, 2005 home loss to Denver (23-7). That was a game in which Chargers’ quarterback Drew Brees was knocked out of the game by Broncos safety John Lynch — it was only the fourth game in which second-year quarterback Phillip Rivers played in the NFL.
Despite the streak, the Raiders come into this game hobbled on both sides of the ball.
On defense, the loss of Trevor Scott has been an issue that has left the Silver and Black light on defensive ends — being left on the field for 82 plays against the Dolphins doesn’t help in terms of keeping Matt Shaughnessy or Lamarr Houston fresh either. If that injury wasn’t bad enough, Nnamdi Asomugha, Tyvon Branch, and Chris Johnson did not practice on Wednesday. Most likely of the three to play on Sunday? “I would say Branch and then Asomugha, both of those guys,” said Cable after practice.
In case you’re counting, that’s three of 11 starters on defense; four of 11 if the defense is the nickel package.
On offense, the Raiders aren’t in as dire straights. Chaz Schilens was back in practice on a limited basis and so was Zach Miller. The big loss is that of Zach Miller. Prior to injuring his leg, he had been one of the most productive tight ends in the game. Without Miller, the offense has sputtered and been ineffective not only in the passing game, but they’ve gone from averaging over 100 yards on the ground to just netting 77 combined yards over the last two games.
Bruce Gradkowski didn’t practice and will be out for a while, but Cable wasn’t committing to a date as of yet. He’s also not getting back into another quarterback watch situation by the way he answered if Gradkowski could be back by the end of the season. “They’re telling me it’s a week or two now,” said Cable of when Gradkowski could come back and play. “So, you’re talking about five weeks from now. Maybe.“
To avoid the same form of miscommunication from last week, Cable was asked Wednesday if Jason Campbell would be his starting quarterback on Sunday. “He is.“
Schilens, while back at practice, doesn’t appear to be ready for game action as of yet. Asked if the receiver might see action against San Diego, Cable replied, “Let’s see what tomorrow brings before we go down that path. But I just talked to him after practice and he said he felt really good, so that’s a real positive.“
Considering that Phillip Rivers threw for 431 yards and had a quarterback rating of 114.3 in the 35-27 loss in Oakland earlier in the year, and the Raiders had Scott, Asomugha, Branch, and Johnson all healthy at the time, it’s understandable if Cable is concerned about his defense for this Sunday. Allowing 307 yards and a 100.3 quarterback rating to Chad Henne and the Dolphins, (who are ranked 14th in the NFL in passing), doesn’t bode well on the road against the Chargers.
Asomugha had a second MRI on his injured ankle, but Cable said there wasn’t any further injury and that, “It’s just sore.” Richard Seymour practiced, but was limited — no reason was given, but it’s likely that he was just getting some rest.
Should the Raiders need a nickel corner, Cable wasn’t certain who that would be just yet, saying, “You know, we’ll have to decide that here in the next few days.” Last week, Walter McFadden took over for a struggling Jeremy Ware in the same role, but was beaten often throughout the game. According to Cable, the rookie corner is bouncing back well.
“Very good today,” said Cable of McFadden’s practice performance on Wednesday. “Very good. You know, he’s hungry to get going again, and that’s really, as I’ve said, we just really need to get back to being who we are.“
There may be one positive to come out of the injuries the Raiders have suffered this season, and that would be rookie Jacoby Ford. The November AFC Special Teams Player of the Month has been a popular target in the passing game in recent weeks. Cable, asked if the rookie had been elevated to starting wide receiver, answered, “Based on our health at that position, yes.“
Nick Miller, who was inactive for the Miami game, won’t have to worry about Ford taking over the punt return duties just yet. Cable said that Miller sat out due to, “numbers,” as far as the game plan was concerned. “You only get 45, plus your 3rd quarterback and we’re only going to dress four receivers, at least at this point.“
With Ford excelling at nearly everything he’s doing for the team, Miller should still be worried. Cable said that while it’s not in Ford’s immediate future, it could be someday. “It’s something that we worked on at camp.“
Being healthy is secondary to Cable’s biggest concern — coming out flat on game day. Several players had mentioned the team wasn’t as intense during the game against the Dolphins and Cable was asked if that concerned him. “Sure it does,” Cable responded.
He then continued, “I think that when you’re playing for something, the excitement of what you’re playing for, I think handles that. We started off the game in fine fashion, but I really felt like from the third series on we weren’t getting much done. We kind of traded with them a little bit, but that’s not good enough when you have a chance to take over a game and we didn’t. We got taken over.“
That was to the Dolphins (ranked 16th in total offense and sixth in total defense) at home. You can only imagine what a lackluster performance can turn into against the top team on both side of the ball on their home turf.
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