Right off the bat when you look at the Raiders, you have to acknowledge that they have a winning record (4-3) and that they’ve got victories over three opponents who handed the Chargers a loss earlier this year (KC, CAR, and NO).
Yet, at the same time, the Chargers have shown to have a better offense and defense, in terms of total yards gained and allowed, per game.
The biggest difference between the two, however, is turnovers. Derek Carr has been playing pretty lights-out with 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. While Herbert has more touchdowns scored to his name, he’s thrown five picks of his own.
This game will likely come down to who screws up the least. The Raiders average allowing 29.0 points per game while the Bolts give up 26.4. Offensively, L.A. scores 25.6 and Las Vegas puts up 26.7 on average.
One could almost expect a shootout in this one, as well.
But with that being said, let’s get into the three keys I believe could lead the Chargers to their first AFC West victory since 2018.
1.) Exploit the Raiders’ banged up defense
As of Thursday afternoon, the Raiders listed a number of starters on defense as DNPs, including safeties Jonathan Abram and Jeff Heath, along with defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and Jonathan Hankins.
With those names potentially out this weekend, the Chargers offense could see some success in their two-favorite ways to move the ball: over the top of the defense and running the football. Justin Herbert has a great chance of throwing for 3+ touchdowns for the fifth-straight week and the running game could see another revitalization, just like it did against Denver when they rushed for a season-high 210 yards.
There’s also a chance for the Raiders’ first-round cornerback, Damon Arnette, to return from IR and play in his first game since Week 3. Through his three games, Arnette has totaled just 13 tackles with a single pass breakup.
Overall, the Raiders defense has allowed an average of 377.9 yards per game and 29.0 points per game, good for 12th and eighth in the NFL, respectively. They’ve also allowed 30+ points in five of their seven games this season. My money is on the Chargers being able to move the ball fairly easily on Sunday.
2.) Make them pay off the edges
Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller has yet to practice this week with an apparent ankle injury. Right tackle Trent Brown, who just had himself a medical scare last Sunday, was also just placed back on the reserve/COVID-19 list late yesterday. With that in mind, there’s a chance Las Vegas will be without its’ starting tackles against the Chargers.
However, the Bolts look to be without Joey Bosa as he’s still recovering from a concussion that he sustained mysteriously against the Broncos. That still leaves them with Melvin Ingram, Uchenna Nwosu, and Jerry Tillery as the team’s primary pass-rushers. If anything, thus may be a good game for Gus Bradley to get creative with pressure packages. That may mean utilizing Kenneth Murray in the A gaps over potentially blitzing some like Rayshawn Jenkins, who has a sack on the season already.
3.) Keep the linebackers off of Darren Waller in coverage
The biggest weakness across the entire Chargers defense this season has been the lack of serviceable linebackers in coverage. That’s frustrating in way because the Chargers’ duo of Kyzir White — a former safety — and Kenneth Murray make up one of the most athletic pairs of linebackers in the NFL. Somehow, some way, neither has the necessary chops to stay with much of anyone in coverage these days. At the moment, White and Murray are third and eighth, respectively in yards allowed in coverage with 180 and 169. Both also allow a completion percentage of over 76%.
Knowing all of this, I don’t think the Chargers can survive leaving coverage duties to Murray and White on the Raiders’ leading receiver. During the team’s game against the Saints, I mentioned that the Bolts needed to do the same with Jared Cook. While Cook did end up with a score, he was limited for the majority for the majority of the game until the weekly collapse began.