Week Nine Key Matchups: Chargers vs Raiders

Joey Bosa And The Chargers Defensive Line. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | The LAFB Network
Joey Bosa And The Chargers Defensive Line. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | The LAFB Network

The beauty of the NFL is that each team gets the chance to have a clean slate every week. Yes the Chargers have blown four straight double-digit leads, yes they have lost eight straight AFC West games, yes they are 2-5. BUT, they get a great opportunity to right the ship this weekend against a long time rival. Games against the Raiders always mean more, and getting a win this weekend would be a monumental momentum shift in Los Angeles. To say this is a must-win game for Anthony Lynn and company is an understatement. His seat is getting mighty warm, and the seat of his defensive coordinator is raging. 

A win on Sunday and a stoppage of the divisional losing streak would buy Lynn more time to get this ship right. If he loses, and that losing streak is extended to nine, he can kiss the 2021 season goodbye. Firing a head coach mid-season is not the Charger way, and frankly, it’s just not smart. If they lose on Sunday, they would be sitting at 2-6, what would firing Lynn actually accomplish? The Chargers have some good young offensive coaches on the roster in offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, and Quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton. They also have two very good positional coaches on defense in Ron Milus and Giff Smith. Are any of them really capable of fixing 2-6 and getting to the playoffs? Not likely. Head coaching decisions are meant for the offseason.

On the other side on Sunday, is Jon Gruden. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And to his credit, he seems to be building something in Las Vegas – at least on offense. He’s got Derek Carr playing at an all-time level. He’s completing a career-high 71% of his passes and has a career-best touchdown percentage with 6%. The run game with Josh Jacobs is also clicking, and the Raiders offensive line is massive. The Raiders have one winning season since they made it to the Super Bowl in 2002, so it’s not that much of a stretch to say that this is probably their best team in a very long time. 

That being said, let’s get to some key matchups. 

Week Nine Key Matchups: Chargers vs Raiders

Chargers Second Level Vs Darren Waller

If there is one player that should concern Chargers fans more than anyone else on the Raiders roster, it’s star tight end, Darren Waller. The Chargers have REALLY struggled against teams with good tight ends. The one elite tight end (Travis Kelce in week two) they’ve played against had 90 yards and a touchdown, and that was WITH Chris Harris and Desmond King both active. This week, they’ll go up against Waller without those two. Will the Chargers have enough ammunition to even limit him? 

With George Kittle and Zach Ertz’s injury problems, Waller has established himself as the second-best tight end in football. He is a huge matchup problem for any defense. The best thing Gruden is doing on offense is the way he uses him. They will motion him in and out of sets to isolate mismatches against the defense. They’ll line him up behind Henry Ruggs to eliminate double teams. They’ll use him in their screen game to get him in space. He’s their number one target in the red zone. They’ve even handed the ball off to him a couple of times. The bottom line is that Waller is the engine of their offense. All the attention will be focused on Jacobs and the running game, but Waller is really the key to stopping their offense.

The reason why this is listed as a battle for the Chargers second level is because it’s not going to be any one player to make it happen. This is a spot where the Chargers will really miss Derwin James. He’s the one player on the roster that could line up one on one all day against Waller and shut him down. It would be very intriguing to see Nasir Adderley line up on him just to see what the former college cornerback could do in isolated coverage instances. It could also work to their advantage because Adderley has really struggled to make plays in space as a tackler this year. Other than that, they just don’t have the horses to inspire any kind of confidence that they’ll be able to keep Waller in check. Unless they are sending double teams his way like the Patriots did earlier this season, the expectation should be that Waller is going to have a big day. And that is bad news for the Chargers defense.

*Casey Hayward and Brandon Facyson are currently listed as questionable.

The Chargers Pass Rush Vs The Raiders Offensive Line

While the Chargers secondary has been very ineffective in 2020, the pass rush has been a different story. This game could be greatly impacted by the injury report, unfortunately yet again, as Joey Bosa hasn’t practiced all week for the Chargers due to a concussion and Trent Brown is back on the Covid reserve list for the Raiders. Bosa being able to play would obviously be a huge help for the Chargers, otherwise, they’ll need other guys to step up in his absence and that is not something that happened in Denver last week. 

The backups behind Brown have been a bit of a mixed bag this year. Sam Young has been the main one to play behind him, and he’s allowed two sacks this year. Young has also missed some time though so Brandon Parker has also played sparingly at right tackle. Per Pro Football Focus, Parker has been the much better pass blocker and Young the much better run blocker between the two. So there’s not really a preference of who gets the start – potentially having Brown inactive is a plus for the Chargers. 

With the Secondary in a bad spot this week, the Chargers really need the pass rush to show up in a big way. That is really the best way they can take the pressure off of the former Jack Boyz’ shoulders. (Former because they are no longer deserving of the nickname.) They had 24 total pressures last week against the Broncos, led by Jerry Tillery with six. But after Bosa left the game early in the fourth quarter the pass rush disappeared, which allowed Drew Lock to sit pretty in the pocket and march up and down the field. 

Lock and Carr are eerily similar quarterbacks, both are more over the middle technicians than they are down the field artists like Justin Herbert is. Carr is going to get the ball out of his hands quick, it’s his best attribute. That’s something the Chargers have really struggled with from the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady , and of course Lock (late in the game) last week. 

Melvin Ingram has dominated the Raiders over the course of his career. He’s sacked Carr more than any other quarterback. He hasn’t been overly impactful in the box score since returning from injury, that needs to change this week if the Chargers are going to win.

Justin Herbert Vs The Raiders Defense

Finally something positive. As much as Gruden has the Raiders offense rolling, he still doesn’t know how to build a defense. They spent a lot of money on free agent acquisitions on that side of the ball, such as Cory Littleton, but it just hasn’t panned out. Through seven games, the Raiders rank 24th in passing defense and scoring defense. They’re a little more stout against the run where they rank in the middle of the pack, but this is a very good matchup for the Chargers star rookie. 

Herbert threw two interceptions on Sunday against the Broncos, but he also threw three touchdowns. He matched Deshaun Watson as being the only rookies to throw for three or more touchdowns in four consecutive games. Herbert has handled every wrench thrown his way beautifully this season, and he’ll now look to carry the Chargers to his second career victory. 

While the Chargers are hurting on defense, they might be getting five-time Pro Bowler Trai Turner back into the lineup this week. Coach Lynn called him a true game-time decision this week. The Raiders defensive line is tied for 31st in sacks, and they don’t generate that many pressures either. Clelin Ferrell leads their team in pressures with sixteen, which is the same amount that Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph has. To say the Raiders pass rush is a work in progress would be an understatement. 

Herbert has been running for his life for a very large portion of his budding career. The Chargers offensive line did a fantastic job protecting him last week against the Broncos and that should continue this week against the Raiders. 

While Chargers fans should have full confidence in Herbert and the offense’s ability to put up a lot of points on Sunday, the defense is in a really poor spot. Now, you add in the “fluid” (I’m guessing it’s Covid related) situation with Hayward and Facyson, Bosa likely being inactive, and you get a very pessimistic outlook. The Chargers could certainly win, because their offense is capable of carrying them to a victory. But unless the defense is able to create a couple of turnovers, I just don’t see it happening. I’ll predict a Raiders victory, 34 to 30.