Don’t expect a ton of scoring on Thursday Night Football in Week 15 as the Las Vegas Raiders are coming off of an outing where they were shut out, and the Los Angeles Chargers will likely be without starting quarterback Justin Herbert, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Herbert fractured the index finger on his throwing hand last Sunday and the Chargers only scored seven points without him, which is a big reason why DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the total for Thursday’s game set at 34 points. So, a low-scoring affair is expected and plays a major factor in this week’s key matchups.
Raiders Offensive Tackles vs. Khalil Mack
When these two teams played back in Week 4, former Raider Khalil Mack wrecked the Silver and Black’s offensive game plan with six sacks. Since then, Mack has continued to be on a tear as he leads the league with 15 sacks and has had eight in the last six games.
Jermaine Eluemunor was one of Las Vegas’ biggest culprits in that first meeting as he had arguably his worst game of the season, surrendering seven pressures and three sacks, per Pro Football Focus.
Meanwhile, Kolton Miller was more consistent with just two pressures yielded, but Miller did give up a sack in that contest, too. As for the Raiders’ other option at tackle, Thayer Munford Jr. only took five snaps in pass protection and allowed a hurry on one of those limited opportunities.
Miller missed this past Sunday’s contest with a shoulder injury—the third time he’s been sidelined in the team’s last four games—so who will be holding down the edges is a bit of a mystery at this point.
Regardless, both of Las Vegas’ offensive tackles are going to need to show up as Mack lines up on both sides of the center with 328 defensive snaps as a left outside linebacker or LEO and 383 at right outside backer or REO, per PFF.
Robert Spillane vs. Austin Ekeler
With backup quarterback Easton Stick likely making his first NFL start on Thursday, expect Los Angeles to lean heavily on its rushing attack.
While Austin Ekeler is having a down year with 136 carries for 497 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games for a career-low 3.7 yards per rush, he’s still a quality back and is coming off of a solid outing with 100 total yards and score on 15 touches.
Also, Ekeler is averaging 2.64 yards after first contact on the ground, has forced 19 missed tackles as a rusher, per PFF, and is still one of the league’s most productive pass-catching running backs. His 345 receiving yards are the eighth-most at the position and all but one of the guys ahead of him have played in three more games. Additionally, the seven-year veteran’s 9.6 yards per catch rank sixth among running backs.
Meanwhile, Robert Spillane has been a quality run defender all season for the Raiders with an impressive 85.2 PFF run defense grade that is a top 10 mark among linebackers. Part of the reason for that is the 26 defensive stops he’s logged which is tied for 12th at his position.
However, Spillane has been up and down in coverage throughout the year with 421 receiving yards surrendered and a PFF grade that sits right at the baseline (60.1) in that department.
Ekeler was injured in Week 4, so this will be the first time these two face each other this season and the winner will have a big impact on Los Angeles’ offensive success given the quarterback situation.
Michael Mayer vs. Derwin James Jr.
In the past, Derwin James Jr. has given Raiders’ tight ends trouble as he was one of the few defenders who could consistently keep Darren Waller in check. However, this season has been a different story as James Jr. has already allowed a career-high 391 receiving yards, per PFF, and the Chargers as a whole have given up the fifth-most yards to tight ends (784).
That gives Michael Mayer a great opportunity to make a name for himself on Thursday night.
While Mayer wasn’t targeted the first time these two teams played, he’s been much more involved in the offense since then as all but two of his 265 receiving yards have come in Week 5 or later.
The rookie has had a few nice grabs throughout the campaign to give him some exciting potential, but he hasn’t had that marquee game to make a statement that he’s going to be a legitimate threat in the league for years to come. However, this week could provide that opportunity for Mayer to announce his arrival on a national stage and provide some optimism for the Raiders’ future.