By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
AP file photo: Oakland Raiders Michael Crabtree (15) runs a pass route against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday Crabtree who scored three touchdowns is looking forward to the challenge of the San Diego Chargers next Sunday
OAKLAND, Calif — It’s been three weeks since Raider Nation has seen their team up close, and the last time the Silver & Black were at the Oakland Coliseum, their home opener, they lost to the Atlanta Falcons 35-28 in Week 2 dropping Oakland’s record to 1-1.
After playing three of their first four games on the road, Oakland (3-1), will play their next two games at home, both against AFC West opponents, first hosting the San Diego Chargers Sunday in Week 5 action at 1:25 p.m. PT.
Oakland welcomes the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 16 (Week 6).
The Raiders slipped by the Ravens, 28-27, in Baltimore last Sunday.
Quarterback Derek Carr, as cool as a cucumber, drove Oakland 66 yards in six plays, and found wide receiver Michael Crabtree tip-toeing the back of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter.
The third-year quarterback from Fresno State has played more like a 10-year veteran during the first month of the season, throwing for 1,066 yards, nine touchdowns, to just one interception.
“He is a guy that is very well-prepared,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said via CBSSports.com. “He’s really, I think, taken a step forward in terms of emotional control, the poise to be, kind of, surgeon-like and just be accurate with the ball and let his playmakers do their thing.”
Crabtree, who is off to a tremendous start to the season as well, dominated the Ravens’ second-ranked defense, scoring three touchdowns on seven catches for 88 yards.
The eight-year veteran from Texas Tech has become Carr’s big-play guy, leading the Raiders in receptions (26), touchdowns (4), and is second behind fellow wide out Amari Cooper (318) in receiving yards with 308.
Rookies are being thrust into live action for Oakland, especially as injuries begin to pile up.
The Raiders’ fifth-ranked rushing attack could be down a man Sunday, as starter Latavius Murray (toe) is not expected to play, so Oakland will rely heavily on rookie running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.
Washington, who will likely start, is second on the team with 147 rushing yards on 23 carries, while Richard is third with 144 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries.
Middle linebacker Ben Heeney and tight end Lee Smith, who were both placed on season-ending injured reserve this week, will rely on rookie middle linebacker Corey James to fill Heeney’s void.
James, who took over for Heeney during Oakland’s 17-10 road victory in Tennessee during Week 3, recorded a team-high 15 tackles (3 assisted) in Week 4.
Smith, who was key in Oakland’s ground game with his strong blocking, leaves those duties to second-year tight end Clive Walford and fourth-year tight end, Mychal Rivera
The offensive line has been dealing with some injuries at tackle with Menelik Watson and Austin Howard. Rookie Vadal Alexander stepped in against Baltimore and solidified a unit that didn’t allow a sack in the game to a Ravens team that entered Week 4 with six sacks.
San Diego (1-3) travel to Northern California as a broken down team, blowing three leads in the fourth quarter in the team’s final five minutes of the game this season.
The Chargers blew a 13-point second half lead in a 35-34 loss to the New Orleans Saints, thanks to fumbles by wide receiver Travis Benjamin and running back Melvin Gordon.
Benjamin, who signed with San Diego in the offseason following four years in Cleveland, leads the Chargers with 21 catches for 277 and two touchdowns.
San Diego’s season has been decimated by injuries, with 14 players on injured reserve.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries have taken out top-flight wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Danny Woodhead on the offensive side, but that doesn’t seem to bother Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Despite all of the season-ending injuries, and with security blanket in tight end Antonio Gates dealing with a hamstring injury, Rivers has continued to put up arcade-like numbers throwing for 1,110 yards, seven touchdowns, and just one interception.
Rivers’s 104.5 passer rating ranks seventh in the league behind Carr’s 104.6, while engineering an offense that averages 30.2 points per game.
Defensively, San Diego lost star linebacker Manti Te’o (Achilles) in the third game of the season, but linebackers Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown have filled in nicely combining for 44 tackles and two sacks.
The loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett for the season with a partially torn ACL really hurts San Diego’s pass defense, especially against Cooper and Crabtree.
Cornerback Casey Hayward has recorded three of the team’s six interceptions, while outside linebacker Melvin Ingram is the team leader with three sacks.
On paper, Oakland should dominate San Diego, but Rivers, who is 14-6 with 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for his career against the Raiders, is the quarterback who can prevent Oakland from earning their first win at home Sunday if he gets hot.
Oakland took both meetings last year against San Diego.