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It’s Time for Chargers’ Annual Energy Boost : Raiders, Even Without Allen, Provide Their Usual Challenge of Mind, Body

Times Staff Writer

Nothing energizes the Chargers like a game with the Raiders, whom they face today at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The mental challenge is to be psyched right to the edge without going over the line.

The Raiders have been installed as four-point favorites, but that was when everyone thought Marcus Allen would be playing.

“We’re counting on Marcus Allen playing,” Charger Coach Don Coryell said in midweek. “Knowing Marcus, he’s had my vote for several years as the outstanding player in the league, and one of the reasons is he’s so tough. I don’t know, has he ever missed a game?” (Allen has missed one game.) “I don’t remember that one. It certainly wasn’t against us.”

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But Allen’s right ankle, sprained against the Giants last Sunday, has not recuperated quickly. He didn’t practice at all and didn’t even put on sweat clothes for Saturday’s light drill.

Rookie Vance Mueller will start in place of Allen.

Even without Allen, the Chargers expect a challenge.

“We know the Raiders are not used to losing and they’re going to be very physical today,” assistant head coach Al Saunders said.

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“From the first hit, we have to be aware that the tempo and intensity will be higher than normal. Our backs have got to focus on holding onto the ball. Our linemen will have to give a second effort on every block. That mind-set has to extend to every player.”

This game begins a stretch of four straight against AFC West opponents. The Chargers are at Seattle next Monday night, back home against Denver, then travel to Kansas City.

“This is a very critical block of games,” Saunders said. “Our approach is that if we’re going to make the playoffs, we have to win our division. It’s going to be a real chore to win every one of these four games, but that’s our goal. In a sense, the first three weeks of the regular season were just to augment the exhibition games. Now we have a whole new breath of life.”

The Chargers need to make a fresh start after losing to the New York Giants and Washington Redskins in their last two games. Those defeats could be attributed to flaws in the offense, defense and special teams, so any finger-pointing would have to include the entire 45-man roster.

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The Chargers have lost seven straight road games over two seasons and have not beaten the Raiders in Los Angeles since they moved in 1982.

The Raiders haven’t lost two straight home games since 1978. They were defeated in last week’s home opener by the Giants.

Quarterback Dan Fouts, who has been intercepted eight times in the past two weeks, has gained more yards against the Raiders than any other team. His totals: 5,586 yards on 396 of 756 passes, 35 touchdowns and 32 interceptions.

Wide receiver Charlie Joiner needs only 39 yards to break Don Maynard’s National Football League record for receiving yardage, 11,834.

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Fullback Tim Spencer, who has an injured ankle, may not play. He would be replaced by Buford McGee.

For the third consecutive week, the Chargers will test one of the NFL’s top five defenses. The Raiders, whose pass rush is focused on, but certainly not limited to, Howie Long, made four sacks and two interceptions last week. The Raiders have recorded 11 sacks this year, two more than the newly blitz-conscious Chargers.

“We consider Howie the premier defensive lineman in football,” Saunders said. “The Raiders shift him around quite a bit, which means all our offensive linemen may have to contend with him. And we expect our players to perform well.”

The Charger offense has been erratic since the 50-28 opening victory over Miami. Saunders is concerned but not overly anxious.

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“We are so accustomed to being No. 1 in the league on offense that we have come to believe we have the capability to score every time we get the ball,” Saunders said. “We may expect it, but of course it’s an unrealistic expectation.

“It’s just that our own standards are so high; it can be frustrating because we’re always trying to be better.”

Saunders said it’s important for the Chargers to be more effective in the second half than they have been. The Chargers had the ball six times and turned it over each time against New York. Last week, they were limited to two field goals in the second half.

The San Diego defense also must reduce its susceptibility to big plays. The Redskins, in passing for 341 yards, accumulated the majority on half a dozen long plays, the most important for 55 yards with less than two minutes left.

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“Our overall performance against Washington was not so disappointing as our inability to make first downs when we really needed them in the second half, and our inability to stop Washington when we had to,” Saunders said.

“The first 58 minutes of a football game quite often make no difference. It’s how you perform when the game is on the line in the final two minutes.”

Given the history of the Charger-Raider series, there’s no reason to think it will be any different today.

Staff writer Mark Heisler contributed to this story.

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