The Chargers are in Las Vegas for a battle of back-up quarterbacks and reserves, as both the Raiders and the Bolts are dealing with numerous injuries to star players.
It will be a game of evaluation and prospecting for both teams, seeing which players should be retained and built around as part of their respective rebuilds.
We had the opportunity to speak with Matt Holder from Silver and Black Pride for the second time this season, and he was kind enough to give some detailed answers to questions I had. Here is what he had to say.
1) Charger fans have been debating for much of the season the pros and cons of firing a coach midseason, and having an interim head coach take over the rest of the way. The Raiders have found themselves in this situation twice in recent memory, and both times it seemed to yield pretty positive results. What has the overall effect of Antonio Pierce’s leadership been on the team’s chemistry, attitude, and performance since he’s taken over as head coach?
Pierce has definitely injected a new energy in the locker room. That was obvious from the jump as the players were saying it and there was a clear boost in energy when they were on the field. There’s no doubt that the Raiders’ collective effort level has risen since getting rid of Josh McDaniels and elevating Pierce as the interim head coach. However, with three losses in a row, including an embarrassing one last week, the mystique seems to have worn off. Also, hindsight is 20/20 but Pierce’s two wins did come against two bad New York teams.
Long story short, the team got an initial boost by firing the head coach midseason but it hasn’t been sustainable so far.
2) On paper, Josh Jacobs hasn’t replicated the same success he had last season, but has seemed to pick it up since Pierce took over. Do you anticipate Jacobs finishing the season strong? Will the Raiders lock him into a multi-year deal, or do you anticipate them tagging him again?
Jacobs has been much more productive lately, but he is coming off of a poor performance against Minnesota where he was making some questionable reads and only picked up 34 rushing yards on 13 carries. He also suffered a quad injury late in the game that puts his status for Thursday night in question and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shuts it down for the rest of the year seeing as the Raiders have nothing to play for and he’s an impending free agent.
Without a permanent general manager and head coach, it’s hard to say what the organization will do with Jacobs moving forward, especially with the stigma around paying running backs. But it’s not a secret that he’s one of Mark Davis’ favorite players on the roster, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Davis hire a duo willing to build around JJ.
Update: Josh Jacobs has been ruled OUT for the game
3) Andre James has been your starting center for three years, and is an upcoming unrestricted free agent. How important has he been in a season that has seen some quarterback and head coaching turmoil?
James is really just an average center. He’s not terrible to the point where Las Vegas should be looking to replace him, but he’s also not good enough to prevent them going after a better player if the opportunity presents itself this offseason. So, it’s certainly been beneficial to have some consistency at center given all of the craziness and turnover that has happened this season, but I don’t think James is that essential to the operation. Granted, this game could show how valuable he is to the offense as he also left Sunday’s contest with an injury and might be out on Thursday.
4) How do you anticipate defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to attack an injured and discouraged Chargers’ offense?
Graham likes to disguise a lot of coverages and rotate safeties post-snap to try to confuse quarterbacks, so I’d imagine he’ll do that a lot against the Chargers seeing as Easton Stick will be making his first NFL start. Graham isn’t known as a big blitzer, but he will occasionally rush five and bring some heat with linebacker Robert Spillane on third downs. Spillane has also been involved in some line games and twists, most frequently with defensive tackle Adam Butler, so that could be a big part of the game plan as well given Stick’s inexperience.
Generally, Graham is a bend but-don’t-break type of defensive play-caller, often using light boxes and giving up short passes. However, that could change this week as he might prioritize stopping Austin Ekeler and the Chargers’ rushing attack to force Stick to beat him.
5) DraftKings Sportsbook has this over/under at 34 points. Ouch. Do you anticipate Aidan O’Connell and Easton Stick to exceed expectations and each lead their offenses to paydirt a couple of times?
Simply put, no.
Last week, these two teams combined for seven points with the Raiders getting shutout, so it’s hard to see them combing for four more touchdowns than what they were able to produce just four days before. Diving deeper, neither team has scored 20 or more points in about a month which leads me to believe we are in for a low-scoring affair. Also, as of Wednesday morning, Pierce said he hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback just yet so Jimmy Garoppolo could be under center, and if that happens, I really like the under!