OAKLAND -- The biggest makeover in the history of a storied franchise would seem to give the Raiders an advantage when it comes to the element of surprise.

The San Diego Chargers have played the Raiders 104 times but never have known less about their opponent than they will in Monday's 7:15 p.m. season opener at O.co Coliseum.

Every time the AFC West rivals have played since 1963 included the imprint of Raiders owner Al Davis, who began as a Los Angeles Chargers assistant under Sid Gillman and died last Oct. 8.

The aftermath of a 38-26 win by the Chargers in Oakland to knock the Raiders out of the playoffs on Jan. 1 included the ushering in of a new regime headed by general manager Reggie McKenzie and his hand-picked coach, Dennis Allen.

The front office updating and restructuring engineered by McKenzie will have organizational impact but as a practical matter takes a back seat to what Allen has done with the on-field product for the season opener.

The Chargers will see some of the same faces across the line of scrimmage but are preparing for an entirely different team when it comes to systems of football. On offense, the Raiders have returned to a West Coast-based system with a zone running scheme augmented by rollouts and bootlegs that play off those runs.

The big change is on defense, which got an unprecedented schematic overhaul by Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.

"I don't know if it's an edge or not," Allen said. "They go to work every day, too."


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Part of the workday for Chargers coach Norv Turner has included film study of the 2011 Denver Broncos as he attempts to decipher what the Raiders will do on defense. Allen was the Broncos' defensive coordinator last year.

"You start by preparing for the personnel that is on the field," Turner told Bay Area reporters by conference call. "The next step is the scheme, and it's a scheme similar to what they did in Denver. I do believe they do a great job of mixing the defenses and taking advantage of their personnel."

Gone is the strict adherence to the man-to-man press coverage and traditional four-man rush favored by Davis. Allen and Tarver have blended in zone coverages and blitzes. The single deep safety anchored in the middle -- long a staple of Oakland defense -- may or may not be in evidence depending on the alignment.

Allen has emphasized disciplined fitting of gaps by the front seven to deliver a better run defense after the team gave up 5.1 yards per carry a year ago, and through the preseason, the Raiders surrendered 3.5 yards per attempt.

Even a moderate defensive upgrade could make a big difference. The Raiders were 8-0 when they held opponents to 27 points or less last season and 0-8 when they didn't.

Safety Michael Huff knows how people will react if the Raiders struggle defensively.

"We know everybody is going to judge us off what we do Monday night," he said. "We look forward to it, though."

Some things to keep an eye on Monday:

  • Which quarterback makes the big mistake, Carson Palmer of the Raiders or Philip Rivers?

    Palmer had 16 interceptions in 10 games in 2012 and four more this preseason as he adjusted to throwing from a moving pocket. Rivers threw 17 interceptions in a span of 10 games last season, 20 overall, and is comfortable putting the ball up for grabs to give his receivers a chance to make a play.

    Palmer: "I'm not worried about anything other than getting completions and finding a way to win. You can't worry about anything else or have any negative thoughts in your head."

    Rivers: "There's a fine line to being careful and being careless. You don't want to play the game careful because then you don't make the big plays. At the same, you don't want to get carried away with trying to fit every ball in there."

  • Can the Raiders control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball?

    Running back Darren McFadden looked explosive and comfortable behind the zone scheme and will be leaned upon heavily. Meanwhile, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is out while he recovers from a broken collarbone, and undrafted rookie Michael Harris is starting at left tackle.

  • Can the Raiders hold their own on special teams?

    It was a rough go during preseason, although it was rife with experimentation in terms of personnel. It will be Phillip Adams on punt returns and Taiwan Jones returning kickoffs.

    For more on the Raiders, visit the Inside the Oakland Raiders blog at ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders. Follow Jerry McDonald on Twitter at Twitter.com/Jerrymcd.