Three forced turnovers to zero. That disparity in the turnover differential helped the Los Angeles Chargers triumph over the Las Vegas Raiders 24-19 this past Sunday. For the Silver & Black to be successful this season, the turnover margin needs to be either flipped or closer than the kind or margin seen in the season opener.
The trio of turnovers — all interceptions thrown by quarterback Derek Carr — stymied the Raiders. While the Chargers scored points off of only one of those interceptions (a 23-yard dime from quarterback Justin Herbert to wide receiver DeAndre Carter late in the second quarter) the other picks stalled a Raiders offense trying to build an identity in 2022. So far, the book on Las Vegas is the usually sharp Carr was anything but in the season opener. He was sacked five times in addition to the three picks and while he did toss two touchdowns, Carr ended up completing only 59.5% of his passes — the 27th lowest percentage in his 128 career games.
Let’s look at it from another angle, too.
#Raiders D allowed 2 1st downs and forced 3 3-and-outs in final 5 drives yesterday. This is what Raiders offense did in that span:— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) September 12, 2022
Turnover on downs
The tweet above is a quick rundown of the noticeable absence of complementary football.
Complementary football in a nutshell: The offense helping the defense by producing points and possession time. The defense getting the ball back to the offense with three-and-outs or turnovers. Special teams providing field position and points.
While the Raiders defense did force three punts from the Chargers’ in L.A.’s final five drives (context: L.A. missed a 49-yard field goal in between the punts and the fifth drive was victory formation stuff but still counts), Las Vegas offense responded with two interceptions, one touchdown (a three-yard touchdown strike from Carr to wide receiver Davante Adams), and a turnover on downs (the Khalil Mack sack on the Raiders final drive). Just seven points in four possessions isn’t good enough. Especially against the division rival Chargers, a team also looking to become a legitimate contender.
When asked if the determination to force turnovers was ramped up for his Raiders defense in the face of those three interceptions, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham provided a diplomatic answer.
“Well, turnovers are a big indicator on who’s going to win or lose the game. So, I think our focus from day one is we want ball hawks on the defense, so whether it’s punching out the ball, high pointing the ball for interceptions, causing tips. That’s a main focus,” Graham said during his Tuesday press conference. “I mean, most defenses in the league would say that. Each week we try to emphasize it, each week we try to emphasize the targets and when we don’t get the results you don’t want to overreact, to steal your term there, but we got to just go back to the drawing board, just keep working on fundamentals and keep working at it. But we’re always focused on as a defense, trying to get the ball away from the offense. The game was about the ball. So, if you could get the ball, that’s a good thing.”
Another good thing is the season-opening loss is one game of the 17 on the Raiders’ slate. It doesn’t truly define what the team is or what it can accomplish. There’s ample time to regroup and right the ship. But one thing is clear: Complementary football must become a real thing for the Silver & Black. And that starts in Week 2 against the incoming Arizona Cardinals. The Cards are in a similar circumstance in that their a team eager to prove the Week 1 showing isn’t indicative of what they’re all about. Both teams will be champing at the bit to get into the win column and it’ll come down to which team avoids or limits mistakes while playing the best complementary football it can.
The Cardinals head into Allegiant Stadium with an 0-1 mark after a 44-21 shellacking by the Kansas City Chiefs opening weekend. Arizona’s offense and defense will present Las Vegas with its own unique challenges this Sunday. Offensively, the Cardinals generated 282 total yards (179 passing, 103 rushing) while allowing a whopping 488 (360 passing, 128 rushing).
Offensively the team is led by quarterback Kyler Murray and even though the team is missing it’s best receiving weapon in DeAndre Hopkins, Graham is well aware of the other talents on the Cardinals offense.
“Well, I mean, the game is about the people. So obviously, if Hopkins was there, it would be a little bit different,” Graham said. “But you look at the guys that he has now, (Marquise) Hollywood (Brown). You talk about the back (James Conner) is pretty dynamic, the tight end (Zach) Ertz. I mean, last time, I went against Arizona, he didn’t have Ertz and he’s pretty dynamic and even the young kid that just stepped in there, 83, (Greg) Dortch, he made some plays the other day. I know this, with a quarterback like [Kyler] Murray, he knows how to get the ball in the playmaker’s hands. And so, we just got to really focus on making sure we’re defending their scheme, make sure we’re trying to take away their best players, and then see what happens from there.”
Defensively, the Cardinals gave up 23 unanswered points after they cut the deficit to 14-7 against the Chiefs. The team is going to be hellbent on ensuring they don’t allow an outburst of points again, so expect Vance Joseph’s pressure defense to put the heat on Carr and the Raiders offense.
Check this out:
Patrick Mahomes was blitzed on over half of his dropbacks (54%) for the first time in his career.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 11, 2022
Mahomes threw a career-high 4 TD passes vs the blitz, tied for the most in a game in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016).#KCvsARI | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/BaelGfAFlZ
Even though Joseph’s Cardinals defense got torched by Patrick Mahomes, don’t expect him to pull the reins on a similar 54 percent blitz rate against the Raiders.
“I mean, Arizona presents a certain number of things defensively different than what we just faced. That’s every week in the NFL,” Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi said. “I think at the end of the day, it goes back to following your rules. We established some rules for the offensive line and same thing for the skill guys. We think it’s going be one front, it could be something different. We think it’s going to be one coverage; it could be something different. But if you follow your rules in that specific route, or that pass concept, that protection, then hopefully those things are able to carry you through for that series or that game.”