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Raiders-Chargers Week 15: Areas of Concern

Quelling the Mack Attack and putting boards on the board, can Las Vegas do both?

Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots
Former Raider and current Los Angeles Chargers pass rusher Khalil Mack leads the NFL in sacks with 15. The 32-year-old had six sacks the last time the Bolts and Raiders played in Week 4.
Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

The last time the Las Vegas Raiders offense faced the Los Angeles Chargers with rookie Aidan O’Connell under center, Bolts pass rusher Khalil Mack racked up six sacks. That Week 4 matchup in Southern California ended in L.A.’s favor 24-17.

Here we are in Week 15 and O’Connell is entrenched as the starting quarterback and Mack leads the league in sacks with 15.

A lot has changed with the Raiders since that initial meeting at SoFi Stadium. Josh McDaniels is no longer the head coach and play caller, he’s been replaced by Antonio Pierce and the one calling the plays is Bo Hardegree. The interim head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, started off well going 2-0 but the team has lost three-straight games. The most recent a 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings after two weeks of preparation thanks to the bye week.

But when it comes to overall records, the Raiders and Bolts are working in the same factory of sadness at 5-8 overall. The two AFC West squads are in the division cellar as the Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) hold a one-game lead over the surging Denver Broncos (7-6) with Raiders looking to snap a three-game skid while the Chargers seek a victory after last week’s defeat.

Both teams need a victory in the worst way and the quick-turnaround Thursday night tilt on Amazon Prime means one slumping AFC West squad is going to win — unless its a draw.

Which leads us back to Mack, the prime area of concern for Las Vegas.

“We’re going to have to do more than we did the last time. He likes playing against the Raiders, we know that. He has really good games against the Raiders,” Pierce said during his Wednesday morning press conference.

If the Raiders are to have any success on offense, they’ll need to quell the Mack Attack as best as it can. Left tackle Kolton Miller and center Andre James are listed as out for the Thursday night clash their absences will compound matters, of course.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders
If Las Vegas Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller (74) is a no go for the Week 15 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday, the Silver & Black offensive line will shuffle once more.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Even at the ripe age of 32, Mack still showcases the speed-to-power, and vice versa, transition and the long-arm stab that makes him a pain to block. The edge rusher had a string of eight sacks in five games recently, although he was held sack-less and only two total tackles in the Chargers’ 24-7 loss to the Broncos this past Sunday.

O’Connell still tends to hold on to the ball too long, and with round two with Mack on the horizon, the Raiders would be wise deploy quick passes instead of long developing ones to help combat Mack’s pass rush.

Defensively, we’re dealing with a very good group of players on that side of the ball. So, we’re looking for a team effort from the Chargers,” Pierce said during his Monday press conference. “They’re coming off a disappointing loss like us. Divisional game, neither team likes each other, it should be fun.”

Measuring Stick?

With starter Justin Herbert lost for the rest of the season to a fractured right finger, the next man up for the Bolts is Easton Stick. A fifth-round pick from the 2019 NFL Draft, Stick went 13 of 24 for 179 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in relief of the injured Herbert last week against the Broncos. He was sacked twice and fumbled the same amount of times in that game, too.

Outside of a one pass attempt for four yards in 2020, those stats sum up Stick’s career thus far in the NFL. The 28-year-old North Dakota State product will get his first NFL start inside Allegiant Stadium against the host Raiders.

“Short week, right? So, are they going to throw the whole playbook at him? No. What did he do in that second half? What did he do in the preseason? We’ll go back and look at all his film, but more importantly the scheme,” said Pierce when asked about Stick and film study during Monday media availability. “Kellen Moore is going to stick to what they do well.”

Here’s an interesting tidbit on how quarterback’s have done against the Raiders since 2010:

AOC Progress

The Raiders shouldn’t consider benching O’Connell, no matter how bad things get — the 3-0 defeat was rock bottom — as seeing exactly what the rookie quarterback brings to the table will give the team valuable insight and intel on the steps it must take this coming offseason. Ride with AOC, get all the data and film to make an informed decision, and give the kid invaluable NFL experience.

That all said, savvy defensive play caller Brian Flores and his Vikings defense had the neophyte signal caller in the spin cycle this past Sunday.

The pre-snap look was disguised to perfection as the post snap coverage had O’Connell confused and tentative.

The NFL is such a copy cat league, it would be a supreme shocker if Chargers head coach Brandon Staley didn’t call his defense in similar manner Thursday night. What O’Connell expected from his pre-snap read rarely happened last week and Staley would be wise to do the same on a short week. Force O’Connell to show real-time growth.

As the quarterback, O’Connell is at the forefront of the Raiders offense and, based off last week’s donut on the scoreboard, there’s no where to go but up from a shutout defeat. Moving the ball with more consistency, gaining more than just eight first downs, and scoring more than zero points is the challenge. The Chargers will do their darndest to shut down the Raiders offense, but Hardegree needs to call a sound game and O’Connell must execute the calls, to combat that.

As mentioned above, an offensive line shuffle will happen with Jermaine Eluemunor likely going to left tackle with Thayer Munford Jr. manning the right spot. Guard Dylan Parham likely moves over to center, too. Add in the potential absence of workhorse running back Josh Jacobs and the Raiders are limping onto Thursday’s game. But the Bolts are in similar circumstance having to forge a path forward without Herbert at quarterback and wide receiver Keenan Allen declared out for the matchup.