Raiders running back Michael Bush played well against the Chargers last season when Darren McFadden was out. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Last season, the Raiders broke a 13-game losing streak against the Chargers by beating San Diego twice, including once without injured running back Darren McFadden.
Now it appears the Raiders will face the Chargers again without their top back.
McFadden didn’t practice Tuesday, and his status won’t be official until Wednesday afternoon, but it appears certain that Michael Bush again will start for McFadden Thursday night in San Diego when the two struggling 4-4 teams meet for the first time in 2011.
Both teams, in fact, are banged up and both are on losing streaks, the Raiders at two in a row (Chiefs and Broncos) and the Chargers at three (Jets, Chiefs and Packers).
“Obviously you’d always like to have your best players, but we’re not going to make any excuses,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson told reporters this week. “We’ve lost because we haven’t played very good football.”
Also missing practice Tuesday were right tackle Khalif Barnes and center Samson Satele, free safety Michael Huff, strong safeties Mike Mitchell and Chinedum Ndukwe and corner DeMarcus Van Dyke.
Though Barnes and Satele, in particular, say they’ll be ready Thursday night, the injuries could cause some serious shuffling in the offensive line and secondary should one or two players be unable to go or be knocked out in the game.
The Chargers – trying to avoid their first four-game losing streak since 2003 – will be missing standout guard Kris Dielman, receiver Malcom Floyd, linebacker Shaun Phillips and defensive end Luis Castillo. Running back Ryan Mathews returned to practice Tuesday after missing the Packers game, and is expected to play.
Oddsmakers have given a seven-point edge to the Chargers, who have struggled under coach Norv Turner in the first half of recent seasons but have come on stronger in the final eight games.
Over the past four seasons, the Chargers are 26-6 after the midway point of the season, and the Raiders consider San Diego dangerous despite their losing streak.
Quarterback Phillip Rivers leads the NFL, having thrown 14 interceptions already, but Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has seen Rivers’ team beat Oakland in eight of 10 tries.
“Phil has always been like a gunslinger,” Kelly told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “He’s going to give you a chance. It’s just so happened this year that it hasn’t gone his way. But playing against Phil all of these years, man, he’s going to be ready to play.”
The Raiders go into the game hoping their run defense – shredded by Denver – has improved, that they can cut down on their penalties and that quarterback Carson Palmer continues to settle in.
Despite their problems and injuries, the Raiders present problems for San Diego. Rivers says the Raiders’ ability to blitz and give him different looks can’t be underestimated.
“They’re really diverse,” he says of Oakland’s defense. “But the thing that always stands out when you play the Raiders is they’re big and they’re fast.”
Whichever team wins Thursday night will move into first place in the AFC West. The Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs all are 4-4, with the Broncos right behind at 3-5.