This season, Chargers coaches are giving quarterback Philip Rivers much more freedom at the line of scrimmage.
Under new head coach Mike McCoy, San Diego often goes to its no-huddle offense, with Rivers given the chance to look things over and audible out of whatever play has been called.
That could mean a long night for rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden when the two AFC West teams meet at O.co Coliseum in an 8:30 start Sunday night.
Rivers, off to one of the best starts of his career, will no doubt have his eyes on No. 25 whenever Hayden’s on the field, looking for a chance to exploit the Raiders’ No. 1 draft pick. Already this season, Hayden has been thrown at often by the likes of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
So Rivers – who ranks No. 2 in the NFL in passer rating, No. 2 in TD passes (11) and No. 2 in completion percentage (73.9) – may test Hayden early and often.
San Diego’s wideouts aren’t great and the receiving corps has been hurt by injuries, but on passing downs when the Raiders are in their nickel, Hayden may be the guy Rivers goes after.
Against the Redskins, Hayden was on Pierre Garcon in the third quarter when Robert Griffin III connected with Garcon for the go-ahead TD in the third quarter. And in his first three games, Hayden had allowed 13 completions in 17 passes thrown his way for 152 yards. He also missed six tackles against the Broncos and had a 24-yard pass interference penalty vs. Denver.
The Raiders say they like Hayden’s ability, character and work ethic, but haven’t been shy about saying he needs to get better.
Starting corner Mike Jenkins told Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle that Hayden needs to learn quickly from his mistakes.
“It’s up to you to prove everybody on the other team that you’re worth it,” Jenkins’ said of the first-round pick. “He is a great cornerback, and he’s just young.”
Added head coach Dennis Allen of the TD Hayden allowed vs. Washington: “He needs to get tighter (in his coverage), yes, he needs to get tighter. That’s another of those learning experiences for him.”
For sure, the Rivers-Hayden matchup isn’t the only thing to watch Sunday night, when the 2-2 Chargers come in as 3-point favorites over the 1-3 Raiders.
The Raiders will have Terrelle Pryor back at quarterback after a week off for concussion symptoms, and fullback Marcel Reece should also return after injuring his knee last week. Running back Darren McFadden, however, hasn’t practiced all week and now looks very doubtful, meaning Rashad Jennings will get the bulk of the carries.
The Chargers will have to contain Pryor’s running ability, and Pryor also has been starting to connect with wide receiver Denarius Moore. In their last game together vs. the Broncos, Moore had six catches for 124 yards and a TD.
After sitting out a week, Pryor says he’s good to go. And just because he took a hit and sustained a concussion doesn’t mean he’s going to stop running when he sees an opening.
“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” Pryor told reporters this week. “That how I live, for now. I just try to make the right decisions and the smart decisions and be a smart person and player. Obviously, if there’s three guys coming cramming down on me, I don’t want to challenge all three of those guys, so get down. Just be myself and play football. That’s how I have to play.”