After dropping the ball both literally and figuratively in their week 5 loss to the Ravens, the Raiders now face two division rivals in 5 days. First hosting the L.A. Chargers Sunday followed up by their Thursday Night game against the Kansas City Chiefs, also at home. The season will almost be at the halfway point following those games and this may end up being the defining moment of the 2017 season.
Both games are huge. Oakland cannot afford to fall any farther behind and still have a chance at the division title. The Raiders of course will take it one game at a time, so we will do the same. Let’s take a look at the keys to the Raiders beating L.A.
Keep a lid on it
‘The Raiders defense has done a great job covering the deep pass,’ said nobody that has watched the team this season. They rank 28th in net yards gained per pass.
Keeping the Chargers offense from taking advantage of this weakness will be a tough task. L.A. quarterback Phillip Rivers has been one of the best at gashing the Raiders defense for big plays over the years.
The secondary, and especially cornerback Sean Smith, will need to play better than they have thus far. While the anger of the fan base has been focused on Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, the problems have not been all on them.
“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said Thursday when asked to evaluate Sean Smith’s play so far. “I think that it’s a matter of making plays. I think that all of us aren’t happy with the way things have been going. We have to continue to improve. There are some things when you look at our group that we’ve improved on and there’s somethings we still have to improve.
“I don’t think it’s fair to point one person out. This is the ultimate team game. Everybody is connected. The pass rush, the guys in the middle, everybody is working together. Everybody is connected. We’re up and we’re celebrating as winners. When we’re unhappy and we lose, we lose as a team as well. It’s not singular. It’s team.”
Even if the defense does give up some big plays, they can make up for it by coming up with their first interception this season. Rivers has 5 interceptions through the first 5 games and he is always good for at least one arm punt per game.
Find some healthy bodies
It would figure that the Raiders would go into this crucial week when they are at their weakest from a physical standpoint. Oakland has 11 players who were either limited or did not participate in Thursdays practice.
Among those on the injury report were linebackers Marquel Lee who was out and Cory James who was limited. The Raiders have been very thin at the linebacker spot all year and now have two of their best backers possibly missing this game.
The cornerback position is even more banged up. Rookie corner Gareon Conley and fellow corner Antonio Hamilton haven’t been practicing while David Amerson was limited. Prompting the team to sign free agent corner Demetrius McCray. Rivers is going to attack the secondary, hopefully Amerson at the very least can play in this game.
With all the front line guys who may miss this game, the backups will be called upon to step up. Practice will be even more important to get those guys up to speed and more comfortable in their new roles. Could one or two of these second string players earn starting jobs?
“We’ll see,” Norton continued. “Practice is practice. Games are games. I think that study is one thing, but I don’t think anybody knows exactly what is going to happen. You know a lot of different players with different sizes. The bigger guys aren’t the better guys. The smaller guys aren’t the better guys.
“It’s the guys who are prepared, who practice, who know what they’re doing and go out and make plays. It just comes down to how do you play on Sunday, and that has a lot to do with how you practice and prepare during the week.”
Control time of possession
In each of their last three games the Raiders have lost the time of possession battle with their opponents having the ball for 104:46 minutes to the Raiders time of 75:14 minutes. That is over an entire quarter of possession differential in three games. Of all the stats the Raiders need to change, this is the most important.
The Chargers had their first 100-yard rusher last week with Melvin Gordon gaining 105 yards on 20 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. That first 100 yard rushing game earned the Chargers their first win of the season. Expect them to lean on the run game again especially with the Raiders defense being ranked 25th against the run.
The Raiders defense has not held a team under 100 rushing yards since week 1 when they only allowed the Titans 95 yards on the ground. They have given up 528 yards in the four games after that for an average of 132 rushing yards per game. Getting the ball run down your throat will not lead to many victories.
The Raiders will want to lean on the run as well if nothing else than to keep their injury riddled defense on the sidelines. They looked like they could have controlled last weeks game if they didn’t have an early turnover returned for a touchdown then being forced to play catch up.
“Last week was a step in the right direction for us in the run game and the production there.” Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing said Thursday. “We’re excited about the way that’s trending. Just continue to look for ways to grow and highlight our guys skill sets, whether it be run or pass game and take another step forward.”
Losing this game will not be the final nail in the coffin for the Raiders division and playoff hopes but they will not have much of a margin for error. Oakland’s season will not end this week but it will certainly be defined by it.