The more I think about this game, the more crucial it seems. The Raiders desperately need a win and they desperately need to show last week was the start of something, not a flare up that fizzles out. And this is a division rival, which makes it doubly important. These match-ups will be key to the outcome.
Brandon Parker vs Melvin Ingram
Making his first start for the Raiders will be third round rookie Brandon Parker. Just a few months ago he was at North Carolna A&T. Now he’s tasked with protecting Derek Carr at the right tackle spot. He will do that against one of the league’s premiere pass rushers. Ingram will play a fair share of snaps on both sides, so Kolton Miller isn’t out of the woods here. But you can bet the Chargers will put their best pass rusher against the more vulnerable Parker to try give themselves their best chance to get home.
Ingram has 1.5 sacks through the first four games, but even without his partner in crime Joey Bosa on the other side, he still wreaks havoc. Just last week Derwin James got to the quarterback twice. The first was a sack and Ingram was right there as well, giving 49ers QB CJ Bethard nowhere to go. Ingram may have deserve half a sack for that. When James got to the QB again, it was as he threw and there was Ingram to get a hand on the pass and tip it into the arms of teammate Isaac Rochell. Parker will have a tough match-up to start his career.
Amari Cooper vs Casey Hayward
Late last week, Coop got over on former Raiders’ cornerback TJ Carrie. That had a lot to do with the fact that the Browns lost cornerbacks Terrence Mitchell and EJ Gaines, thrusting Carrie into covering the boundary. Prior to Gaines’ departure in the third quarter, Coop had just 3 catches for 37 yards and none of those came on outstanding rookie Denzel Ward.
The Chargers lost one of their top cornerbacks before the season with Jason Verrett being lost for the season. That leaves current 2-time Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward to stop Coop. We have seen Coop step up with big games twice this season. We’ve also seen him disappear in the other two. His performance vs Hayward will be key.
Derek Carr vs Derwin James
James has been a revelation for the Chargers. Not that anyone should be surprised. The only surprise was that he was actually still on the board after the Raiders traded down from 10 to 14 in the first round and the Chargers were able to snag James with pick right after.
James is a certified baller at the safety spot. He does pretty much everything well. It’s why you see him wherever the ball is on any given play. He even has 3.0 sacks in four games this season, which is impressive for anyone and is downright unheard of for a safety.
Carr’s targets will all be affected by James’s presence. Whether it’s looking for a receiver deep – he was intercepted by Browns’ safety Damarious Randall last week on a deep ball attempt to Martavis Bryant --- trying to get the ball to Jared Cook, or keeping from getting sacked on a blitz. Carr will have to keep an eye out for James on any given play.
Marquel Lee vs Melvin Gordon
Gordon is the Chargers’ top weapon on offense. He is a threat out of the backfield either as a runner or a receiver, leading the team with 475 yards on 78 touches from scrimmage (6.1 yards per touch) and 5 touchdowns.
Tahir Whitehead was supposed to be the Raiders’ top linebacker this season, but he has not done well so far. While Lee was expected to see few snaps behind Derrick Johnson and has thus far stepped up as probably the best hope the Raiders have at the linebacker spot. It didn’t seem to matter much who was at linebacker last week against the Browns. Rookie Nick Chubb had 105 yards on three carries (!) including two long touchdown runs of 63 and 41 yards, while Carlos Hyde added 82 yards and a touchdown. Gordon has proven more talented than either of those players.
Arden Key vs Sam Tevi
It’s time. Key has shown improvement over the first four games, and had his best game last week. But he still has yet to put up a sack. Rivers is not easy to sack. He has a quick release with very minimal drawback in his awkward delivery. But he’s not as elusive as Baker Mayfield was last week.
The rookie third round rookie pass rusher (87 overall) is unlikely to face off against former Raiders third round (92 overall) tackle Joe Barksdale. Barksdale is doubtful for the game after having missed the past three games for the Chargers.
Replacing Barksdale again is expected to be 2017 6th round pick Sam Tevi. Rivers has been sacked four times in the past three games, and Tevi gave up two of them along with a pressure that led to a third. That should raise the chances of Key getting that elusive first sack. With just five sacks on the season, the Raiders could certainly use it.