Key Matchups For The Chargers To Beat The Raiders

October 2020. Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps | Under Creative Commons License
Billion Dollar View Allegiant Stadium Las Vegas, Nevada October 2020. Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps | Under Creative Commons License

The Los Angeles Chargers will head to Las Vegas for a Thursday matchup with the Raiders this week. The Chargers of course are coming off their victory over the Atlanta Falcons, and the Raiders are coming off their loss to the Indianapolis Colts and Philip Rivers. The Chargers will look to avenge their loss to the Raiders from earlier in the season, and break the losing streak to division opponents. 

Believe it or not, the Chargers actually have a better record than the Raiders over the last month of the season. The Chargers are 2-2, and the Raiders are 1-3. The Chargers will get the opportunity to play spoiler in this game as well, as the Raiders’ playoffs hopes are hanging on by a thread. A loss to the Chargers would all but guarantee them being eliminated. The Raiders getting eliminated from the playoffs by losses to Rivers and Justin Herbert in back to back weeks is about as good as it gets for Chargers fans this season. 

Each team is really in a position where they are fighting for their respective lives. If the Raiders win out, they’ll be right back in the playoff mix. If the Chargers win out, they’ll likely save their coaches’ jobs. A loss would essentially seal their fates either way. 

This should be an excellent game overall, the games with the Raiders are always close. Herbert needs just three passing touchdowns to break the rookie record, and if the Chargers open up the playbook a little more, he has a legitimate shot to break it in this very game. He finished their last matchup completing 28 of 42 passing attempts, for 326 yards and two touchdowns – which easily could have been three if Mike Williams or Donald Parham could’ve held onto the ball at the end. 

This should be a good matchup for Herbert, who hopefully will be able to cement his rookie of the year status in a prime time spot. But I will be focusing my attention here on other key matchups that will play deciding factors in the outcome of the game. 

Key Matchups For The Chargers To Beat The Raiders

Chargers Pass Rush vs Raiders Offensive Line

The Raiders offensive line when healthy is one of the best in the business. Kolton Miller, Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson, Richie Incognito, and Trent Brown are some of the most talented and physical groups in the league. They have not been healthy at all this season, very similar to the Chargers in that way. Brown and Incognito in particular have missed a bunch of games. Incognito is still dealing with some injuries, but after spending most of the season on the Covid list, Brown was finally able to get back on the field last week. 

Last week this group only allowed five pressures against a very good Colts defense. Derek Carr actually led their team in allowed pressures, and you don’t see that happen all that often. The Chargers defensive front kind of got manhandled in the run game the last time they played, although Joey Bosa did not play in that game. They have to do a much better job on the early downs and set the Raiders up in obvious passing situations. 

If they’re able to do that, they’ll have a chance to force Carr into some turnovers and poor play. On the season, Carr has completed 75% of his passes when he has a clean pocket in front of him. When he does get under pressure, that number drops all the way down to 48%, per Pro Football Focus. That is a drastic decline, and frankly, one that shouldn’t be happening for a veteran quarterback. He still has a tendency to get flustered when under pressure and the Chargers have to take advantage of that.

The battle on the right side in particular is going to have a huge impact on which team is able to win this game. Brown is one of the best right tackles in the game, and Bosa is one of the best pass rushers in the game. If Bosa has a big day, the Chargers should be in good shape. If Brown is able to hold him down, then the Raiders will probably win. It seems simple but the Chargers need their best player to show out this week.

Austin Ekeler and Kalen Ballage vs Raiders Run Defense

The last time the Chargers and Raiders played, Austin Ekeler was on injured reserve and Kalen Ballage was making his season debut. Ballage ran hard and made plays in the passing game as well. He brought a really nice element of physicality and provided a spark to the running game that the Chargers desperately needed. It has easily been his best game as a Charger thus far.

This time around, the Chargers will have Ekeler and Ballage together. Ekeler has dominated snaps and touches in the backfield ever since he returned but the Chargers might be better off working Ballage into the game plan a little more frequently so they can get the most out of both backs. 

The Raiders have one of the worst run defenses in the league, and it’s gotten progressively worse throughout the season. There are only seven teams in the NFL that give up more yards rushing per game than the Raiders do. And they could be playing without their best defensive player in Johnathan Abram, who’s dealing with a concussion. The Raiders just got gashed by the Colts run game, and I have to imagine Anthony Lynn was salivating at the potential of featuring the running game this week. Ekeler could be in store for a monster game on Thursday night. 

Chargers Secondary vs Raiders Wide Receivers 

The Raiders will be without their best wide receiver in Henry Ruggs on Thursday. Ruggs was placed on the league’s Covid reserve list and will be unavailable. In the last game these two played, Ruggs was guarded most closely by Michael Davis. Davis also spent some time shadowing Darren Waller. Without Ruggs, Waller and the other receiving threats will take on a more significant role. This likely means Nelson Agholor, and Bryan Edwards will start on the outside, with Hunter Renfrow manning the slot like he always does. 

It will be interesting to see how the Chargers use Davis this game since he is usually the team’s best option with opposing speedsters. In the last meeting, Casey Hayward was burned deep by Agholor on a few occasions. So it makes sense to have Davis spend most of his time shadowing him. They cannot let him beat them over the top again if the Chargers are going to win. Anthony Lynn said earlier in the week that Hayward is still battling through the groin injury that has been giving him issues pretty much all season long. As good of a story as Davis’ emergence has been, they simply need Hayward to be better. 

Each of these key matchups has featured players who were unavailable in the previous matchup with the Raiders. That includes Chris Harris. While he is clearly not the same kind of player he once was, he’s still very capable of making an impact each and every week. He’s been the team’s best slot corner this season and having him in a matchup with Waller and Renfrow will be a huge help for this Chargers defense. 

The Chargers were one play away from beating the Raiders last time around, and that was without those three players – and Trai Turner for that matter. Overall this is a really good matchup for the Chargers offense. Along with the three matchups above, this game is ultimately going to come down to two things: 1) will the Chargers open up their offensive playbook a little more and let Herbert push the ball down the field, and 2) can they stop the run more effectively and keep a lid on Josh Jacobs. I think they will be able to do those two things, and I think they will be able to eliminate the Raiders from the playoff picture. I’ll take the Chargers over the Raiders, 27-20. 

October 2020. Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps | Under Creative Commons License

Billion Dollar View
Allegiant Stadium
Las Vegas, Nevada
October 2020. Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps | Under Creative Commons License