Rivers enjoys stout protection as Chargers roll on; more thoughts
Rookie LT Mike Harris did an strong job defending Philip Rivers in San Diego's win
The Chargers' defense had trouble on third down in 2011, but not on Monday night
Plus: More help for McFadden, Oakland's penalty issues and long-snapper troubles
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Chargers opened the 2012 season the same way they ended the 2011 season, with a win at Oakland. What did we learn from it? Here are five things from Monday's 22-14 victory:
1. All the angst over left tackle Jared Gaither being out with a back injury was unnecessary. Mike Harris, an undrafted rookie who filled in for Gaither, more than held his own in protecting quarterback Philip Rivers from Oakland's talented front four. "He did a phenomenal job," said San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. "I can't say enough about him and that offensive line. To me the Raiders' front four is one of the best in the league, big physical. Collectively they did a phenomenal job giving Philip time to make some plays."
The Chargers gave up a sack on their opening series, but none thereafter. In fact, Rivers was knocked down just twice the rest of the way. He finished 24-of-33 passing for 231 yards, one score, no interceptions and a 102.0 rating. On one occasion he had time to go through his reads twice before releasing the ball. Props to not only San Diego's linemen, but also to position coach Hal Hunter, who consistently does one of the league's better coaching jobs.
2. Raiders running back Darren McFadden is a tremendous talent, but coordinator Greg Knapp must get more players involved. In the first half alone McFadden was the focal point on 20 of the Raiders' 36 plays (nine rushes, 11 pass targets). Through three quarters the ball went to him on 29 of 49 plays -- 14 rushes and 15 pass targets. He finished with 118 total yards (86 receiving, 32 rushing) and set a career single-game high with 13 receptions.
"How the offense is called is how we roll," McFadden said. "You never know what to expect when you're going into a football game. I knew I was getting a lot of balls my way, but I didn't think too much of it."
Knapp kept McFadden on the move. He had him taking handoffs from the backfield, catching passes off screens and in the flat, and he also lined him out wide as a receiver. McFadden, who had each of his first four seasons cut short by injury, said he's fine with the workload even if it's for the entire season. "I don't have a problem handling that type of load," he said. "I'm a ball player, that's what they pay me to do, go out there and handle a load like this. That's what I'm going to continue to do."
One noticeable change in McFadden's game, however, was his willingness to run out of bounds at the end of a play rather than turn upfield and take unnecessary punishment. Older and wiser.
3. San Diego's defense ranked last in third-down efficiency in 2011, allowing opponents to convert on 96 of 195 opportunities -- a staggering 49.2 percent success rate that was 11 points above the league average. After allowing the Raiders to convert on four of eight third downs in the first half, San Diego shut them down, getting off the field on six of the seven third downs it faced.
San Diego, under first-year coordinator John Pagano, also came up with a big takeaway on the game's opening series. Oakland had driven from its 14 to the San Diego 38 when Streater had the ball knocked free after an 8-yard gain. The play set the tone for the evening early as the Raiders failed to finish potential touchdown drives, including late in the second quarter after having a first-and-10 at the San Diego 11.
4. Penalties remain an issue for Oakland. On a series late in the second quarter, the Raiders were called for three penalties, including two for third-down conversions. In both instances tackle Tommy Kelly was offside. Keenan Clayton was called for a personal foul after the play was dead on a kickoff return. With a third-and-10 from the 11 in the final minute of the first half, they were called for delay of game. Overall, they finished with six penalties for 35 yards. Talk about statistics being deceiving.
5. The Raiders could be on the lookout for a long-snapper. From the moment Jon Condo left the game late in the first half with a head injury, Oakland's punting game was an adventure in futility. Pro Bowler Shane Lechler had an attempt blocked for the first time since 2006, was tackled for a loss on a low snap and nearly had two other attempts blocked. No one could have faulted coach Dennis Allen if he had gone for it on every fourth down in the second half.