The first AFC matchup for the Chargers is coming up this Sunday against the Raiders. Both teams stand at 1-2 and are looking to stay alive as long as they can for the chance at the postseason.
The Chargers could be without several injured starters. The Raiders could be without starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Like all games within the AFC West, this one could go either way.
Below are three storylines to follow closely when the Chargers and Raiders take the field inside SoFi Stadium.
1.) Can the Chargers right the rushing attack against the Raiders middling run defense?
After exploding for 234 rushing yards against the Dolphins in Week One, the Chargers have managed just 91 yards over their past two games. That simply isn’t good enough for a team with high aspirations and a new offensive coordinator with even higher expectations. Sure, the team has been without Austin Ekeler, but there’s still a pair of mid-round draft picks behind him who have enough experience and/or pedigree that it should be somewhat reasonable to expect the group to handle the load in his absence.
The Raiders run defense has allowed and average of 127.3 rushing yards per game this season which is ranked 21st in the league. That’s a soft enough matchup that, regardless of whether Ekeler returns this week, the group of Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, and Elijah Dotson should be able to find some success against them.
2.) How many more opportunities will Quentin Johnston see with Mike Williams lost for the season?
Through the first three weeks of his rookie season, Johnston has five catches on eight targets for 26 yards. That’s likely not what many would have predicted for him up to this point, but not at all surprising for those who were keeping their ear close to training camp.
Before falling victim to a torn ACL, Williams had received 26 targets from Herbert through the first 2+ games. It’s likely Josh Palmer eats into the number and with Austin Ekeler set to return potentially this week (but most likely after the Week Five bye), that numbers gets eaten into even further. So what the realistic expectation for Johnston going forward?
This week, at least, I expect Johnston to receive somewhere between 5-7 targets but with a chance to see more should the running remain anemic. If Herbert is chucking it 40 or more times than that number likely rises. But apart from general targets, will his usage change? Kellen Moore has been mainly giving Johnston looks off bubble screens and other routes near the line of scrimmage. I don’t think that can remain the case if he’s going to be asked to help carry the load as one of the top three wideouts on offense. Johnston showed he can get open at all three levels of the field during the preseason so I do hope we get a chance to see him targeted deeper down the field.
Of course, this is all to say that he’s continued hitting the JUGS machine after practice to limit those pesky drops.
3.) If J.C Jackson returns, how will the Chargers utilize him against the Raiders?
In a surprise twist, the Chargers made J.C. Jackson inactive against the Vikings in a move that Brandon Staley was in the best interest of the team and their chance at beating Justin Jefferson and the Vikings. The Bolts ultimately won that game which means, in the end, it was the right call.
But earlier this week, Jackson told the media that while not being 100 percent healthy by his standards, he was “confused” by the decision and still hadn’t gotten a real answer. He went on to say that he expects to play against the Raiders after being asked by the staff if he’d be ready to go.
Through two games played this season, Jackson has allowed six completions for 118 yards and a touchdown. He does have one interception, but that highlight was quickly forgotten when he took it out of the end zone to the four-yard line. Several plays later, he was burned by Tyreek Hill for a score.
Jackson was signed to be the team’s CB1 who would following the top opposing wideouts. He was signed to shadow the Justin Jeffersons and Davante Adams of the world, but there’s been nothing to breed confidence he’s going to be that player again. Either way, the only thing he can do is get back on the field and prove it, one week at a time.