Chargers vs Raiders : The air quality seems sufficient enough for football to be played in Oakland on Sunday, when the ice cold Raiders will try and slow down the red hot Chargers in their second matchup of the year.
Los Angeles took Round 1, 26-10, and now the team playing mostly for pride in the second half of 2018 has the lofty task of finding a way to get win No. 2 against a team that might soon sneak its way into the Super Bowl conversation.
Here are three big things to keep an eye on when the Raiders (1-7) and Chargers (6-2) kick off at the Coliseum around 1:05 p.m.
In his last three games against the Raiders, Rivers is 3-0 while completing 75-of-100 passes for 994 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Raiders haven’t been able to even slow down the ageless quarterback in the slightest, and the NFL’s second-worst scoring defense probably won’t be able to on Sunday either. Rivers ranks tied for fifth in the league with 19 touchdown passes and third with a 116.5 passer rating. The Raiders are on pace to allow the most yards per play in a single season since the 1970 merger, currently surrendering 6.8 per play compared to the 2015 Saints’ 6.6 mark right below them, and Rivers sits fourth in the league with 9.09 yards per attempt.
He has Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Melvin Gordon and others at his disposal, which helped him complete 22-of-27 passes for 339 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a astronomic 143.4 passer rating in a Chargers blowout win against the Raiders five weeks ago.
“They have a good, creative scheme. Two distinctly different backs. They have some guys that can really raise hell on the outside now,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “(Tyrell) Williams is healthy. Keenan Allen has been a good player. They have balance. The great thing I think they have going for them is they’re playing good defense. They’re giving Rivers the ball back time and time again. It’ll be a great test for us.”
The Raiders are picking up defensive ends off the street in hopes that someone, anyone willing to wear the silver and black, can pressure the quarterback.
Kony Ealy and Jacquies Smith jumped aboard this week, and one of them only needs two sacks to tie defensive tackle Maurice Hurst for the team lead now that Bruce Irvin’s three sacks are in Atlanta. The Raiders sit dead last in the NFL with seven sacks, and their 59 quarterback pressures are 48 behind the next-worst team in the NFL in that category, the Lions with 107, according to Pro Football Focus.
Ealy is the only player in NFL history with an interception and multiple sacks in a Super Bowl, when he tallied one pick, three sacks and a forced fumble for the Panthers in a 24-10 loss to the Broncos three Super Bowls ago. Smith, whose career has been slowed by injuries in recent years, logged 13.5 sacks over his first two seasons in 2014 and 2015. Both have showed flashes of potential, and the Raiders hope they can rediscover those fleeting moments on Sunday.
“Just the style of play, I feel like it was a great fit. Coach Gruden, (Guenther), all my coaches just make me feel right at home,” Ealy said. “For me it’s just about getting the playbook all the way down. That way I feel comfortable and free to move out there faster and make plays.”
“Right now I feel like the best I’ve felt in a very long time,” Smith said. “Now it’s on me to go out there and put that product out on the field.”
Arden Key, Frostee Rucker, Fadol Brown and now Ealy and Smith compose the Raiders’ group of defensive ends. Last time the two teams played, Irvin sacked Rivers once, but that was it. Now the depleted group will have to find a way to prove they can be something other than abysmal in the second half of the season.
Carr certainly hasn’t played anywhere close to crisp football this season, but it’s hard to resemble a functional NFL quarterback when your body is thumping against the ground all day.
Carr has taken 24 sacks this season, tied for fifth most in the league, on pace to weather a whopping 48 by season’s end. For comparison, Carr only sustained 36 sacks combined over the last two seasons, in which he ranked 34th (16 sacks taken in 2016) and tied for 30th (20 sacks taken in 2017) among all quarterbacks. Now with an often-injured rookie left tackle in Kolton Miller and a revolving door at right tackle, led by rookie third-rounder Brandon Parker (who wasn’t even supposed to play this season before Donald Penn injured his groin), Carr has come face to face with the turf far more than he’d like.
“They’re trying their tail off. We have some young guys trying to play. We have our veteran guys who dominate and they’re great players, but we have some young guys that are just getting their feet wet against the best players in the world,” Carr said. “It’s not easy for them.”
Center Rodney Hudson is the best pass-blocking center in the league and hasn’t allowed a quarterback pressure in seven of eight games, per PFF. That’s about the only positive on the Raiders’ offensive line, though. Right guard Gabe Jackson, despite being lauded as the most underrated player in the league by teammates during training camp, hasn’t been anything special. Pro Bowl left guard Kelechi Osemele has missed three of the last four games with a knee issue.
Whatever the Raiders throw on the field Sunday, likely Miller, Osemele, Hudson, Jackson and Parker, the group won’t have to face star pass-rusher Joey Bosa again. But if the offensive line’s 2018 track record is any indication, it might not matter who lines up on the other side.