Just a little more than 24 hours remains until the Oakland Raiders begin the 2012 season on Monday Night Football against the San Diego Chargers. These two teams match up so well on the field, so this game will come down to who executes their game plan the best.
Here are my five keys to victory for the Raiders:
- Darren McFadden has to run for more than 100 yards- Last season, Oakland was undefeated when they had a running back gain more than 100 yards on the ground. Last season against San Diego, Michael Bush ran for only 66 yards in the Week 17 loss, but had 157 yards in the Week 10 win. The more McFadden runs the ball, the more clock Oakland chews up and leaves less time for San Diego to score. After missing most of last season due to injury, a good game from McFadden will prove he is back healthy and ready to assert himself as one of the best backs in the NFL.
- Carson Palmer must throw no more than one interception- Palmer threw multiple picks in a game four times in 10 games last season and Oakland went 1-3. The Raiders only went 3-3 when he threw one or no interceptions, but those losses corresponded to a lack of a running game. Winning the turnover battle is always big and when you have a quarterback that can be prone to interceptions like Palmer, it is particularly important to take care of the football.
- The Raiders must hold the Chargers to less than 300 yards in the air- This game will turn ugly for the Raiders if Philip Rivers is able to sit back and pick apart the secondary. That is exactly what happened last year in Week 17, when Rivers was hardly pressured and threw for 310 yards and three scores in a Chargers win. In Oakland’s Week 10 win, Rivers threw for 274 yards, but was sacked six times.
- Oakland has to hold San Diego to less than 100 yards rushing- The stats held true last season in this matchup, San Diego winning when they did run for 100 yards and Oakland winning when they didn’t. However, with less weapons on the outside compared to last year, the Chargers will look to use the running game to set up the passing game, so a good run defense will put a lot of pressure on Rivers to throw the ball, especially since San Diego will be without the services of Ryan Matthews, keeping the Chargers’ ground game at bay.
- Oakland must win the battle of special teams- It might not seem like much, but the punting and kicking game can make all the difference in a football game. With two of the best specialists in the league, Oakland will need Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski to be at their best on opening night. This key also extends to the coverage teams in ensuring there are no big returns and to the return teams to try and break returns. One big return can cause a shift in momentum and the Raiders need to keep all their momentum on their side if they want to win.