X-Factors For Season Finale: Chargers VS. Raiders
While the entire NFL season has been full of ups and downs and unexpected things constantly occurring, the Chargers sit with the ability to make the playoffs by winning one last game. Despite the inconsistencies that this team has had, every single fan would’ve been ecstatic to be in this position at the beginning of the season. It could not be more poetic than the team they are playing is in the same scenario, and it happens to be their division rival, The Las Vegas Raiders. I am going to dive into 3 different x-factors for this upcoming game and what the Chargers can do to come out on top and ultimately, go to the playoffs.
X-Factor 1: Get to the quarterback early and often
I’m definitely not only bringing this up because of what Joey Bosa said in the press conference after the Chargers beat the Raiders earlier this year, maybe I am. For those that don’t remember Bosa essentially said that once Derek Carr gets pressured, he shuts down. While this is an issue for many quarterbacks, it was interesting that Bosa mentioned that. Carr mentioned that it got him mad, while Bosa probably doesn’t care, I anticipate Carr taking these things personally and trying to come out on fire. How do you stop that? By doing exactly what Bosa talked about, get pressure on him early and often.
Bosa is not the only playmaker on this defense, we have seen many others step up recently. Jerry Tillery has been playing solid as of late and is making big-time plays. Uchenna Nwosu continues to be a force, while his sack numbers aren’t high he is constantly getting pressure on the quarterback. Kyler Fackrell looks to be coming back this week to play for the first time since he underwent a knee procedure a few weeks ago and that could be a big help. Fackrell usually plays 40-50% of the snaps and will be a welcome sight for some extra depth to keep everyone fresh. While those are a few players that can make an impact, Derwin James probably impacts this defense more than anyone. I anticipate the Chargers not leaving anything off the field this week and expect them to be very aggressive with how they use James.
X-Factor 2: Help the right tackle
The main 2 options at right tackle this season have been Storm Norton the majority of the time and recently, Trey Pipkins. Last week both of them came off of the Covid-19 list but Pipkins was feeling better, and he dominated. Pipkins played great and Norton has consistently improved throughout the season. I would assume that Norton would start this week, but whoever it is, they will have their hands full. There is no reason to even write about Rashawn Slater since he dominates whomever he goes against. This week, the right tackles will be going against Maxx Crosby the majority of the time. Crosby has had a phenomenal season and continues to put up pressures at a high rate.
It is not rocket science or something that isn’t known, but quarterbacks play better when they have a clean pocket. I’m not asking Norton or Pipkins to take Crosby out of the game, if they can just slow him down to not be at his usual level of production, that’s a win. I’m not sure how this Raiders defense that never sends an extra guy to the quarterback will ever stop this offense if Crosby gets slowed down. Justin Herbert will have ample time to dissect this defense. I don’t see how the Chargers lose this game if the right tackles play as well as they can.
X-Factor 3: Derwin James
I don’t like to write about someone that is so obvious because of course a player like James will be a factor in this game. It’s different in my opinion this time, I mentioned it a little in my first x-factor. I truly believe that Brandon Staley is fully going to unleash him this game and let him run wild. James is known to be excellent against tight ends, however, the Chargers have one of the worst defenses in the NFL against tight ends. When the Chargers played the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago, Travis Kelce was shut down the entire game while James was in. As soon as James went down, Kelce won the game for them by dominating.
The reason I bring this up, the Raiders may have one of the best tight ends in the NFL. He may just be coming back from injury but Darren Waller is never someone that you can take lightly. I love the idea of having James blitz all over the field and being all over the place. In this game, at least in a very obvious passing situation, I would almost rather have Derwin focus on Waller instead of other areas of the field. When Waller plays, the Raiders offense exclusively runs through him, you shut him down and you put yourself in a good position to win this game. On top of these things, Derwin can leave his mark by rushing the quarterback. I think he will get a sack this game coming off the edge and set the tone from there.
I am so excited for this game, it’s the last game of the NFL regular season and it doesn’t get better. Two teams both with the ability to go to the playoffs by winning a game. Everyone knows that the Chargers have more talent, that is very evident, but that doesn’t matter as much as you think. This team has been wildly inconsistent this season despite all of that talent. It is going to come down to who wants this more. It’s rare that I go a whole article with not talking about Herbert in-depth, but we all know what he is about in primetime games. This is the biggest game of his career and I believe he shows out and throws for at least 369 yards to hit 5,000 yards to be the first quarterback in Charger’s history to hit that mark.
Final score prediction: Chargers 34, Raiders 27