Before the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers square off in their huge Week 18 Sunday Night Football matchup, Michael Peterson from Bolts from the Blue was kind enough to answer my questions for Raider Nation.
1. I know you don’t speak for the entire fan base but with how up and down the Chargers’ season has been, I’m curious if you have a pulse on how confident they are heading into this Sunday and does having the Week 4 win boost that confidence?
With the win over the Broncos, the fan base is currently as confident as they can be heading into a divisional matchup against a team they already beat by double-digits to begin the year. Let’s just call it “cautious optimism” for now. We know when this team is clicking, they’re a really tough club to beat. However, we’ve also seen how fast things can spiral out of control when they aren’t, no matter who their opponent is. You just have to trust that, with everything that is on the line in this game — a playoff berth, bragging rights in the division, etc. — that every single person on that team will be locked in and ready to go to war on Sunday afternoon.
2. Justin Herbert is one of the best young QBs in the league, but being so young means he’s been vulnerable to make “rookie mistakes” in the past. How has his decision-making grown? Is he still making those hero throws as I like to call him that lead to interceptions?
For the better part of the season, Herbert’s heroics were certainly balanced out with some frustrating interceptions. However, the majority of his interceptions have come from tipped passes and dropped balls via his receivers. He’s thrown some iffy passes, for sure, but it certainly hasn’t been all on him.
Over the past month, Herbert has looked a lot better as a processor of the field. He isn’t simply checking down for the sake of it and he’s not throwing jump balls for sake of hoping for the big play. He’s been reserved enough to keep the offense going but also knows when to let it fly. On the year, Herbert has the lowest turnover-worthy throw rate while under pressure in the NFL as he’s thrown just two such passes under duress in 177 total qualifying attempts. The man is almost unflappable and it’s a big reason why he’s already accomplished so much in just his first two years in the NFL.
3. Rashawn Slater started the year off hot but he’s come back down to earth a little bit since the last time these two teams played. Slater has allowed four sacks since that last game, which isn’t terrible by any means, but I’m curious what type of pass rushers have given him trouble? And how do you think he stacks up against Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue.
To be fair to Slater, I can confidently say that the two sacks he was credited for allowing against Cleveland were arguably not his fault at all. On the first sack, the Browns ran a stunt where the interior defender bull-rushed into the inside shoulder of Slater while the edge rusher looped back inside towards left guard Matt Feiler. Feiler did not pass set enough to pass off the defensive tackle in a fashion that could have allowed Slater to take over the block. Slater was hung out to dry and since the defender was Slater’s “responsibility” after that point, he was given the sack.
On his second, Slater had Myles Garrett right where he wanted him after countering a spin move, but Ekeler chipped Garrett towards the inside while Slater was setting to his outside. That left Slater once again in a can’t-win situation as Ekeler essentially helped Garrett get past the rookie left tackle.
Now as for the other two sacks, you have to give credit where it’s due. Trey Hendrickson and Alex Highsmith got the best of Slater in their respective games and that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Slater is still one of the best tackles in football in year one and his future is as bright as they get.
He’ll have a tough challenge with Crosby and Yannick, but if Crosby normally aligns to the quarterback’s right, he’ll face either Trey Pipkins or Storm Norton. Ngakoue is likely the main opposition for Slater and I personally have a ton of confidence in Slater to make sure he does not affect Sunday’s game all that much.
4. Joey Bosa has terrorized the Raiders for years, but Uchenna Nwosu has burst onto the scene this year to replace Melvin Ingram. How have Bosa and Nwosu complimented each other this season and can you compare Nwosu to Ingram?
I’d say the best way that Nwosu has complemented Bosa is that he’s able to play the run well enough that teams aren’t simply targeting his side when running the football. He makes his fair share of plays at and around the line of scrimmage and also has one of the better pass-rush win rates, according to ESPN’s Seth Walder.
Updated edge chart!— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 5, 2022
Double team rate when pass rushing at edge (x) by pass rush win rate at edge (y).
T.J. Watt may be the sack leader but Myles Garrett is No. 1 in PRWR at edge.
(ESPN metrics w/ NFL Next Gen Stats data) pic.twitter.com/w3HBfjR4FF
The current version of Nwosu has honestly been better than the version of Ingram that the Chargers got over his final two seasons, especially over the player he was in 2020 when he failed to record a single sack or tackle for loss. While Nwosu could always be more effective, he’s actually making plays weekly as opposed to disappearing for entire games.
5. At safety, I think everyone knows about Derwin James at this point but Nasir Adderley is more under the radar of the two. So, a similar question as before, what does Adderley bring to the table and how does that complement James?
Nasir Adderley has taken another notable step forward in his development this year despite playing in his second scheme in his first three years. After struggling to handle the responsibilities of being the single-high safety in Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 defense, he’s been much more effective in Brandon Staley’s heavy Cover 2 look. He has more room for error which has allowed him to play more freely knowing a mistake isn’t going to likely cost his team a whole lot. But overall, another year next to James has obviously paid dividends. His play on the back end has certainly helped the Chargers create one of the best pass defenses in the NFL.