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Raiders-Chargers Showdown: Zapping the Bolts easier said than done

Carr, Vegas get 2nd shot at Bosa, L.A. in must-win season finale

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa (97) had a brutal blunt assessment of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) after Los Angeles’ 28-14 win over Las Vegas earlier this season.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Joey Bosa’s blunt assessment of Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr during the postgame press conference back in Week 4 was one hell of a lightning bolt.

“We knew once we hit him a few times, he really gets shook,” the brutally honest Los Angeles Chargers pass rusher said of Carr after the Chargers’ 28-14 win back in Week 4. “And you saw on CC (Christian Covington’s) sack, he was pretty much curling into a ball before we even got back there. Great dude, great player, he’s been having a great year, but we know once you get pressure on him, he kind of shuts down and he’s not as effective with a crowded pocket, so that was the key to it.”

“It pissed me off, but that’s not a bad thing either,” Carr said of Bosa’s comments. “I love Joey. He knows that. We’ve gone back and forth, talking crap. He’s entitled to his opinion. We’ll see them again.”

Then again is a critical Sunday night clash between the two AFC West foes. The winner of the game gets into the playoffs, although there is a scenario both can get in with a tie if the Jacksonville Jaguars topple the Indianapolis Colts earlier in the day. That said, neither the Raiders nor the Chargers appear ready to help each other out and end their tilt with a stalemate.

If the Raiders are using what Bosa said as motivation, it didn’t show this week. Similar case for the Chargers. As the two teams prepped for the regular-season finale, both Bosa and Carr showcased hall of fame-level backpedals that only the best NFL cornerbacks showcased in their prime, from their earlier comments.

“I’m a fan of him,” Bosa said. “I think we get along. I was just pointing out something that I noticed. When he gets pressured, he seems to shut down a little bit. Seems like a lot of quarterbacks do that. He’s one of the top passers in the league.”

Carr reciprocated.

“I think the world of Joey,” Carr said earlier this week. “I think the part we missed, he said I was a great player and a great dude. I think we should talk about that stuff instead of the negative stuff because I think the world of him. I wish him the best always, except this week, that’s for sure. I think he’s a good dude, good player. But honestly, that stuff is so old, and I’ve been just through too much to even care, to be honest. Let alone in my career, just even this year.”

While the postgame comments from Bosa and Carr are now considered water under the bridge, the rivalry between the Bolts and Raiders is a roaring rapid in comparison. Put a playoff berth on the line and the NFL’s final regular-season game should be an excellent primetime clash. The elements are all there: Two division foes going in 9-7. The ultra-aggressive Brandon Staley leading his Chargers with the conservative Rich Bisaccia leading his Raiders. Vegas riding a three-game win streak. And L.A., the team that snapped the Silver & Black’s last three-game win streak in that October 4 win inside SoFi Stadium.

Unlike the Raiders' previous engagements to get to 9-7, the Chargers will have their star quarterback Justin Herbert with a full practice week under his belt. Las Vegas’ wins over the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts saw the team contend with backup signal callers and a starter in Carson Wentz last week that missed a substantial chunk of practice time due to landing on the COVID-19 list.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) is eight catches from tying the single-season franchise reception record of 107 (held by tight end Darren Waller).
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night’s clash will be a true test of the Raiders’ defensive prowess. And the Chargers are quite familiar with Vegas defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. He coached the Bolts defense for four seasons prior to jumping to the Raiders.

By The Numbers

Chargers: The Bolts boast the sixth-ranked offense in terms of points scored (442) and yards gained (6,194). L.A.’s air attack is the fourth-ranked group in both touchdowns (35) and yards (4,445). The team’s run game is 20th in yards (1,749) but ninth in touchdowns (17). Defensively, the Chargers are 26th in points allowed (424) and 23rd in yards yielded (5,776). Against the pass, the team is 13th in yards given up (3,589) and 18th in touchdowns allowed (25). The Bolts are 21sth in interceptions with 11. Defending the run, L.A. is 30th in yards yielded (2,187) and 29th in rushing touchdowns given up (21). The Chargers’ point differential is 18.

Raiders: Vegas sports the 18th ranked offense in points scored (339) and 11th in yardage (5,838). The Silver & Black air attack is sixth in yards gained (4,395) but 17th in touchdowns scored (21). The ground attack is 29th in yards gained (1,443) and 18th in touchdowns (13). Defensively, Vegas is 24th in points allowed (407) and 13th in yards allowed (5,292). Through the air, the defense is 10th in yards yielded (3,434), 19th in touchdowns allowed (26) and dead last in interceptions (five). Against the run, the Raiders are 21st in yards allowed (1,858) and 23rd in touchdowns yielded (17). Vegas’ point differential is a staggering -68.

Injury Front

Chargers: Defensive linemen Joe Gaziano did not practice the entire week due to an ankle ailment and has been ruled out. Linebacker Drue Tranquill (ankle) returned to practice on Friday and is listed as questionable.

Raiders: Tight end Darren Waller (knee) returned to practice but will be a game-day decision along with running back Josh Jacobs (ribs), nose tackle Jonathan Hankins (back) and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. (ankle).

Keep An Eye On

Chargers: Running back Austin Ekeler. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound running back was electrifying in the team’s initial meeting back in Week 4 as he galloped for 117 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He also had 28 yards and a score receiving in that game. If Vegas is going to contain the Chargers’ high-octane offense, they must do a better job corralling Ekeler this go-around.

“He’s very talented and it’s not just like he runs the ball. He’s stronger than he appears, he runs with his pads behind him. He does a good job of start and stop and then his ability as a receiver,” Bradley said of Ekeler. “Multiple games where he’s had over 100 plus yards running and receiving the ball, so he creates some issues. The matchups that he has, like I said, angle routes, flat routes, go balls. I mean he’ll line up in empty and run a double move on you. So, at times he’s treated like another receiver, and he can be a matchup issue.

“So, to know where he’s at on the field and awareness. And he’s a guy that they’ll look to. I mean they’ve got a lot of threats, but he’s definitely a guy that they have some routes designed for. We got beat on a route in the red zone last time we played them. We just have to have really good awareness and be aware of our matchups.”

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers tailback Austin Ekeler stiff arms Raiders safety Austin Ekeler during the team’s initial meeting back in October.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders: Free safety Tre’Von Moehrig. The 6-foot-2, 202-pound rookie has done a great job as the back-end safety net, however, Vegas needs him to be the takeaway artist he was in college. With the Chargers’ penchant to attack vertically, the Raiders need the instinctive and rangy Moehrig to make L.A. pay when they throw deep passes. Moehrig rarely comes off the field (1,059 total snaps, 99 percent of Raiders defensive snaps) and has started all 16 games prior to the finale. The lone game where he didn’t play every defensive snap was Week 3 against Miami (93 percent).