Chargers defense dominates Raiders

The Chargers' defense, led by linebacker Shawne Merriman, simply dominated the Raiders, writes John Clayton.

Updated: September 12, 2006, 11:01 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Seeing LaDainian Tomlinson run through the Raiders' defense is nothing new.

Tomlinson has been doing it forever against the Raiders. On Monday night, the Chargers won their sixth consecutive game against Oakland, a 27-0 victory in the second game of ESPN's doubleheader debut of "Monday Night Football" (the Vikings defeated the Redskins 19-16 in the first game).

While Tomlinson was taking handoffs from a new quarterback, Philip Rivers, what was really new about the Chargers' dominating victory was the Chargers' new dominator, linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Merriman sacked Raiders quarterback Aaron Brooks three times in a game in which the Chargers' front seven carved several black holes in the Raiders' offensive line.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesVery few players escaped the wrath -- and grasp -- of San Diego's Shawne Merriman.
Late last season Merriman had a statement moment when he became one of the team's defensive leaders. He stood up in a meeting despite being a rookie and shouted out instructions regarding what the defense needed to do to be successful.

On Monday night before a national audience, Merriman had his coming-out party as perhaps the best defensive player in football. He was unblockable. He beat left tackle Robert Gallery for a sack with his quickness. On one play, he threw halfback LaMont Jordan aside to bring down Brooks.

In a town that idolized Junior Seau, Merriman is rapidly becoming the West Coast version of Lawrence Taylor. The guy is virtually unblockable and he knows it. And he's not afraid to say it, either. He calls himself "Lights Out" because that what he does to quarterbacks and ballcarriers. He turns their lights out.

"The statement I made a while ago, that I want to be better than Junior Seau and want to be better than some guys, might have been a little misleading in how it came out," Merriman said. "You can't talk in this league without backing it up. It's one of things you don't do. If you go about saying it, you've got to do it."

And he did it. The way Merriman sliced through Oakland's blocking schemes was embarrassing for the Raiders.

Merriman's effort on Monday night was about as dominating as it gets. The defense was playing with emotion for teammate Steve Foley, who was shot three times last week by an off-duty police officer who suspected him of drunken driving; Foley is on the non-football injured reserve list and will miss the season. The Raiders had only 48 plays and managed 129 total yards. The Chargers recorded nine quarterback sacks, and after each sack Merriman and teammates did Foley's celebration dance.

"We knew that we had to come in here with high fists with these guys because they have talent," Merriman said. "They have some of the better receivers in the league, and they have one of the better running backs. Aaron Brooks is nothing but a wide receiver who can throw the ball, and he can run, too. We had to come in here and out-physical these guys."

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer started the game as he always does against the Raiders. He gives the ball to Tomlinson. LT touched the ball on 12 of the first 15 offensive plays, rushing for 88 yards on his first 11 carries and catching a pass. It enabled the Chargers to jump out to a 10-0 lead.

"I love this kind of football," Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "I wish we could run like that all the time. Plus, it's a great way to break in a new quarterback. There will be plenty of times when we'll need him [Rivers] to throw, but letting us run the ball and letting him go 'ding-ding' with a couple of passes is a great start."

Rivers threw only 11 passes, completing eight for 108 yards. Tomlinson rushed for 131 yards on 31 carries.

"The key was to make sure we didn't turn the ball over," Schottenheimer said. "We knew this was going to be a tough-in-the-trenches type of football [game]."

Rivers said after the game it might be his lowest passing total all season, but he didn't mind it. He made three big-time throws in the game. In the second quarter, he threw a laser beam to Keenan McCardell for 18 yards along the sidelines on a third-and-8. On the next play, he avoided a rush and found tight end Antonio Gates for 22 yards in a drive that led to a field goal and a 13-0 lead. He iced the game in the fourth quarter with a nice 38-yard play-action pass down the sidelines to Eric Parker.

But the star of the game was Merriman and the Chargers' front seven.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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