EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Chargers matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m. (CBS), at Qualcomm Stadium
Raiders CB Brandian Ross vs. Chargers QB Philip Rivers
Tale of the tape
Ross (29): 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, first season, Youngstown State
Rivers (17): 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, ninth season, North Carolina State
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, one of the game's great trash-talkers, might actually be at a loss for words when he surveys the Raiders secondary Sunday. After all, it should look nothing like the unit he faced way back when, in the season opener.
On Sept. 10, the Raiders secondary was comprised of Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer at cornerback, Michael Huff at free safety and Tyvon Branch at strong safety. This time around, Rivers might face Huff and Brandian Ross at the corners, Matt Giordano at free safety and Mike Mitchell at strong safety.
And the most intriguing Raiders defensive back these days is Brandian Ross, Oakland's "joker" defensive back because he can and has basically played every position in the secondary. No doubt, then, that Ross' path will cross with Rivers' in the season finale.
Ross would get the start at a corner if Phillip Adams' groin injury keeps him out.
"I’m ready to start, yeah," Ross said this week. "I prepare to start at every position every week. So I’m not surprised if I’m ever called to start."
Ross was not with the Raiders in the season opener, when Rivers threw for 231 yards on 24 of 33 passing with a touchdown and a 102.0 passer rating in San Diego's 22-14 victory. In fact, Ross had just been cut by Green Bay, where he had spent the entire 2011 season on the Packers' practice squad as an undrafted free agent. Ross was on the Packers' 53-man roster to begin this season but was inactive for their season opener before being waived on Sept. 10 and re-signed to Green Bay's practice squad two days later.
On Sept. 19, a familiar face swooped in as Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie signed Ross off the Packers' practice squad. But not before Ross had learned some secondary skills at the knee of former Raiders DB Charles Woodson.
"I watched everything he did, from how he covered bigger guys and tight ends and guys who might have been quicker, and how he played safety," Ross said of Woodson. "I just watched his every move and tried to learn as much as I (could) from him because he is a hybrid-type guy who can play multiple positions.
"Never see him sweat. Never. Ever. He can give up a touchdown, he’ll come to the sideline,` Hmmm, OK.’ That’s about it. But then he’ll go out the next drive, the drive after that, and make a play, make up for it, and it’s like, Man, this guy is a great player. He was a great guy to learn from."
In 13 games with the Raiders, Ross has 10 tackles, though his snap count has been going up in recent weeks. On Dec. 6 against Denver, he played five snaps at safety with Branch and Mitchell injured. Against Kansas City on Dec. 16, Ross replaced the concussed Adams at cornerback and broke up a fourth-quarter pass in the end zone to Jon Baldwin that helped seal the Raiders' first shutout in a decade, the 15-0 victory.
"It takes you a little while to get a feel for the scheme and what we're asking him to do," said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. "And then it takes us a while to really get a chance to get comfortable with him, too. And so obviously with some of the injury situations we've faced back there, we were able to get him into the game. He took advantage of the opportunities that he had, and that's what's key.
"You don't know when those opportunities are going to come, but when you get the opportunity you've got to take advantage of it because you may not get a second chance. He took advantage of the opportunity."
Ross, 23, is scheduled to be an exclusive rights free agent at the end of the season.
"The hardest part was really used to getting used to the guys around me, playing with them on the field because everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, figuring those out, knowing where I’m able to take chances and make plays, things like that, was kind of hard. Other than that, the scheme itself was pretty easy for me to learn because I played in Dom Capers’ defense which is a multiple defense and that was like learning Chinese to me so I figured, if I can pick that up at two positions, I could pick this up at multiple positions."
And who better to test himself against than a four-time Pro Bowler who is 10-3 against the Raiders in his career while passing for 2,953 yards with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions?
“It is the one same division," Rivers told San Diego reporters this week, when asked about the rivalry between the Chargers and Raiders.
'We are located rather closely to one another. It goes back a long time. I know the fans in the state of California and around get fired up about it. It just so happens it is the last game of the year this year and it was last year too. I remember in high school the last game of the year was always a rivalry game. They could be 1-10 playing 0-9 or whatever and it was exciting. Obviously the case for these two teams, we both had seasons we didn’t anticipate, but it is a game where both teams will be ready to go."