QBs focal point of Raiders-Chargers

In the first NFL game on Thursday since the first week of the season, the Oakland Raiders will visit the San Diego Chargers with the two tied atop the AFC West. Both enter the contest heading the wrong way, as the Raiders have lost two straight and the Chargers three straight games. While the issues of these teams are not limited to quarterback play, the struggles of the Chargers Philip Rivers and the Raiders Carson Palmer will undoubtedly be the focus when the two take the field.

Both quarterbacks have struggled this season, primarily with interceptions. Rivers is among the league leaders in many interception-related categories, a far cry from his career performance leading up to this season. Rivers threw a career-high three interceptions in week 9, snapping his streak of 87 consecutive starts without a three-interception game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the longest streak in NFL history by any player at any point in his career – and in Rivers’ case, it coincided with the start of his career. Rivers leads the NFL in both interception (14) and multi-interception games (6), in stark contrast to his run from 2006-10, during which he recorded just 15 multi-interception games in 80 starts.

Going further, Rivers has a league-worst seven interceptions when facing at least five pass rushers after throwing three against the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. Rivers and John Beck of the Washington Redskins are the only qualified quarterbacks without a touchdown pass against five or more pass rushers. Once again in stark contrast to his previous work, Rivers had a +21 touchdown-to-interception differential against that same pressure from 2008-10.

Highest Interception Rate
Min. 200 Pass Attempts This Season

The Raiders traded valuable draft picks to acquire Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals and while the sample size is small, it has not been a promising start. Palmer has thrown six interceptions in just 56 attempts this season. His rate would more than double the quarterback with the worst interception rate among those with at least 200 pass attempts this season – an honor led by the aforementioned Rivers.

While Palmer was brought in captain a more dynamic offense, the team has actually stumbled in games he’s played, though the first of which was started by Kyle Boller. A comparison between the team’s production with Jason Campbell under center compared to the Palmer/Boller duo is striking. The team's completion percentage is down (60.6 to 50.0), interceptions are up (4 to 9) and Campbell clearly outperformed Palmer/Boller in terms of Total QBR (58.1 to 19.8).

In addition, the Raiders, long known for their preference for the deep ball, have not been successful on deep passes this season. In fact, the team ranks among the worst in the NFL is several deep-passing related categories. And while the team has started to complete more deep passes with Palmer on board – 10 completions of 21+ yards in two games, 17 in six games prior – the impact of those is yet to manifest itself.

Raiders Passing 21+ Yards Downfield
This Season

However, there are some positive trends at play here as well. For his career, Palmer has completed 71.8 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and just one interception in three starts against the Chargers. Likewise, Rivers is 8-2 for his career against the Raiders with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Their respective teams will need their franchise quarterbacks to play like they have historically against their Thursday opponents, rather than how they have played lately in 2011. After all, there are historical trends in play - the Raiders have won two straight against the Chargers and have not won three in a row since 2000-01, while the Chargers have lost three straight overall and have not lost four straight since 2002-03. One of those will be extended Thursday and it will likely come down to the play of Rivers and Palmer.