Yet, the key matchups remain largely the same. The Chargers still have one of the best edge rushing duos in the game. They still have a perfect complementary duo of receivers.
And because they are healthier than they were in the first matchup—unlike most teams in the league—they also have a safety duo who could make life difficult on Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense.
Here are the three key matchups for Sunday’s AFC West rivalry game.
CB Trayvon Mullen vs. WR Keenan Allen/Mike Williams
One of the things that makes preparing for the Chargers offense easier is that Keenan Allen runs almost exclusively short to intermediate depth routes—mostly the out route, with some short-ins, and curls. Mike Williams mostly runs the deeper routes.
The problem in preparing for them is, first, Allen is one of the best route runners in the game. Every out route is run differently. He just knows how to get open.
Williams, meanwhile, is not the route runner that Allen is. He doesn’t need to be though. He’s a freak athlete with excellent speed and size which is capped with incredible ball-tracking ability. He’s becoming one of the best “jump ball” receivers in football.
And though each is somewhat predictable in terms of where they’ll end up on a pass route, they still line up all over the field. Allen will line up in tight splits, or all the way out to the numbers. Williams does the same. And neither is limited to one side or the other.
There are different ways to think about attacking this from a defensive perspective. You could have Trayvon Mullen try to neutralize the better of the two—Allen. Or you could have him attempt to neutralize Williams. Or, you keep your corners on the same side and simply take whichever receiver lines up on that side.
The Raiders could switch up the strategy by half or quarter, as some teams have been known to do. But either way, given the overall struggles of the secondary, they’re going to have come up with a solid plan to slow this duo.
RT Brandon Parker/David Sharpe vs. EDGE Joey Bosa/Melvin Ingram III
Similar to how the Chargers keep things simple with their passing concepts, they also keep it simple defensively—rarely, if ever, lining up Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the same side.
Why they refuse to use such an obvious strategy is anyone’s guess. But at least Brandon Parker knows he can focus on a one-on-one matchup against one of them rather than having to help inside on one and kick out to the other as he might if the Chargers ever used common sense and aligned them on the same side.
That said, going one-on-one against either Bosa or Ingram is a nightmare for any tackle in the league. Few tackles can match the speed and power of Bosa, or the bend and quick burst of Ingram, at least over the course of an entire game.
Kolton Miller is the lucky recipient of the player not lined up opposite Parker. It should be quite a challenge for both of them on Sunday. There’s never a break for either tackle. And I suppose that’s the benefit of lining them up on opposite sides.
*David Sharpe is listed as the right tackle on the Raiders’ depth chart, though Brandon Parker has started the past two games.
Derek Carr’s eyes vs. S Derwin James
In reality, this is about all parts of Derek Carr—his eyes, his mind, his shoulders, and his feet. Each part needs to play a key role against one of the most dynamic safeties in football; a safety who does stuff like this:
*derwin james appreciation tweet* pic.twitter.com/x28OdIWhNI— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) December 8, 2019
Derwin James comes up big and makes sure Travis Kelce doesn't get the first down. Still amazes me how many teams passed on him. pic.twitter.com/21tAlXqMQk— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 14, 2018
Or how about this?
Derwin James/Josh Jones.— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) March 22, 2019
Safeties aren’t all built the same. Not all have the instincts on the backend like a Derwin James... Gotta put players in position to be successful pic.twitter.com/uodVnJjVOI
Carr has to know where No. 33 is at all times. There’s no other way around it. From there, he needs to use his eyes to move James. He needs to have “quiet feet” and utilize manipulative head and shoulder fakes.
It’s a difficult task for Carr. Few safeties influence the game as much as James. And without Josh Jacobs to hand off to, he may have to sling it a bit more than Gruden and Carr would like to against the Chargers defense.
Even if the Raiders are able to neutralize James via game plan and execution from Carr, they still have to deal with Adrian Phillips, who also made the Pro Bowl a season ago.
The four verticals passing concept is one of the best ways to defeat the Chargers’ Cover 3 defense. But given the personnel matchups involved in this game, Carr doesn’t figure to have enough time to go through the varied progressions required of that concept.
Carr is going to have to be nearly perfect with the subtleties of quarterback play to beat James and the Chargers defense.