NFL Preview - San Diego (0-0) at Oakland (0-0)
September 10, 2012Eastern Indiana Sports
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - That the Oakland Raiders will enter the 2012 season with a new head coach doesn't qualify as much of a surprise. The San Diego Chargers having the same one roaming the sidelines may have caught a few observers a bit off guard, however.
What's almost unanimously billed as a make-or-break year for Norv Turner begins Monday at the O.co Coliseum, where the embattled Chargers leader takes his team into a season-opening AFC West showdown with the rival Raiders in Dennis Allen's first game as an NFL head coach.
Turner was believed to be a goner as the 2011 campaign entered its final stages, with San Diego bringing a lackluster 4-7 record into the month of December. However, another customary strong finish by the Chargers granted the veteran coach a stay of execution after the team just missed out on a playoff berth.
San Diego closed out with four wins in its last five contests, capped by a 38-26 besting of the Raiders at the Coliseum in which the Bolts erupted for 463 total yards. The victory denied Oakland the AFC West title and left both clubs in a three-way deadlock with Denver for the division lead at 8-8, with the Broncos granted a postseason invite on the tie-breaking system.
The overall result was still considered disappointing for a San Diego squad that's now been left out of the postseason two straight years following a string of four straight AFC West crowns, placing both Turner and general manager A.J. Smith on notice if an improvement doesn't take place in 2012.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency," said Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. "One thing that we do know is we treat every day like it's our last. We don't know what the future holds. And I think that's our goal, that's our motto. I think that reality has set in that we have to make the most out of this year."
Oakland did make a change in command after stumbling down the stretch of last season, with new GM Reggie McKenzie releasing Hue Jackson of his duties after only one year in charge following a sequence of four losses over the final five weeks.
McKenzie tabbed the 39-year-old Allen, who spent last year as Denver's defensive coordinator, to be the Raiders' seventh head coach over a 10-year dry period in which the Silver and Black have failed to qualify for the playoffs each time.
One of those failed hirings was Turner, who managed just nine wins in two seasons with Oakland from 2004-05.
Allen takes over a roster that was partially gutted by McKenzie out of necessity with the Raiders entering the offseason well over the salary cap due to the frivolous spending of the late owner Al Davis. Among those cut loose were linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, running back Michael Bush, cornerback Stanford Routt and tight end Kevin Boss, all of whom were useful contributors to last year's near-playoff appearance.
Bush, now with Chicago, compiled nearly 1,400 yards from scrimmage while filling for Darren McFadden, Oakland's exceptional but incredibly brittle offensive catalyst who sustained a season-ending sprained foot just seven games in.
McFadden has been healthy this preseason and displayed the form that enabled the 2008 first-round pick to pile up 1,157 rushing yards and 507 more receiving while scoring 10 touchdowns in just 13 outings in 2010. As long as he can maintain good health, Allen plans on riding the big-play back as much as need be.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to win a lot of football games, so if that means playing Darren a little or a lot, that's what we're going to do," Allen said.