Thursday Night Football features the Raiders and division rival Los Angeles Chargers meeting in what will be the Chargers’ last game in the Black Hole. Los Angeles has struggled much more than expected this season, and hadn’t been looking like the team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year.
However, just last week against Green Bay the Chargers handed the the Packers their worst loss of the season in a lopsided 26-11 victory. There are multiple factors that went into this win. How can the Raiders stay on course and send the Chargers out of Oakland with a loss? Let’s take a look.
Offense full of mismatches
The Chargers offense is a pick-your-poison team that features pass catchers of every variety at the disposal of a wily QB in Philip Rivers, who knows how to use his weapons.
The most frightening match-up for the Raiders will be how to defend RB Austin Ekeler in the pass game. The pass-catching back is turning into one of the best receivers at his position in all of football. Not only can he run routes out of the back-field, he can line up at WR and take it to the house. Linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow have each been beaten for a TD by a RB on a route over the last three weeks. And Ekeler is the best they will have faced this year.
Then there is TE Hunter Henry, who over the past few weeks has put up great numbers since coming back from injury. Henry stands at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and uses his body to shield the ball from would-be defenders. Not only is Henry big, he’s a savvy route runner who can contort his body to adjust to passes anywhere in his radius.
The reason why Ekeler and Henry are so tough to defend is the presence of top tier perimeter threats, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Allen in particular requires extra attention in coverage because of his superior route running ability and run after catch prowess. While defenses have been doubling or bracketing Allen, the other receivers have proven to be able to win their individual 1-on-1 matchups. The Oakland defense will have their hands full getting off the field on third downs.
Defense built to rush the passer
The Chargers front-7 is full of potent pass rushers. Led by Joey Bosa but rounded out by Melvin Ingram, Uchenna Nwosu, and Jerry Tillery. Each has done well to pressure opposing QBs this year.
If you are faint of heart, close your eyes if the Raiders offense gets into a 3rd-and-long situation against the Chargers defense. This sack in particular gets home in less than two seconds from the time the QB has the ball in his hands.
The Chargers scheme is a big reason for their pass rush success. They will often line up with three rushers down and pick up their fourth rusher to move him anywhere. The stunts they can get into are borderline impossible to predict as a result, and offensive lines cannot afford to get confused when a player like Josey Bosa is coming for them.
Like most pass rush oriented defenses, running the ball is simply the best way to attack them. They Chargers have proved susceptible to the ground game this year. Aside from Bosa, their defensive line is simply better at rushing the passer and can get swallowed up when an offensive line decides to exert their will.
Also littered throughout the Chargers tape is some very suspect tackling in the open field. They allow highlight runs like the one above from Derrick Henry just about every week. Josh Jacobs should feast on this defense at the second level.
Another area the Chargers can be attacked is via play-action. This tactic will help buy time for Derek Carr by selling the run and taking those opportunities to push the ball downfield. This three-TE look from Denver took advantage of the Cover 3 defense that the Chargers use as their base. Darren Waller should have his opportunities for targets running down the seam.
Keys to Victory
- Win on first down
- Lean on Josh Jacobs
- Target Darren Waller down the field
- Be unpredictable about which personnel is covering RBs and TEs
- Limit big gains with sound tackling
- Win 1-on-1 on the outside