There aren’t many “must-win” games in Week 4, but a divisional matchup between two 1-2 teams meets the criteria. That’s the situation the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers are in heading into this Sunday as the loser’s playoff hopes will take a dramatic hit.
The Raiders will be looking to pull off a significant upset with DraftKings Sportsbook slating them as a touchdown underdog, so winning the key matchups below will be crucial for Las Vegas’ postseason chances.
1) Nate Hobbs vs. Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen has made an 11-year career out of living in the slot and this season has been no different. According to Pro Football Focus, he leads the league in receptions (18) and yards (204) as an inside receiver. He also ranks ninth with an 86.0 receiving grade and has been efficient with 2.37 yards per route run which is 12th-best.
Nate Hobbs is a worthy adversary though as he’s a solid slot corner, allowing 1.5 yards per coverage snap with a 72.4 PFF coverage grade that is a top-25 mark at the position so far this season. But what happens after the catch will have a big impact on this matchup, too.
Over the last three weeks, Allen has racked up 153 yards after the catch—second-most behind Justin Jefferson—while Hobbs has accumulated three defensive stops in coverage—tied for 18th among corners. However, what might tilt the matchup in the wideout’s favor is Hobbs is tied for the second-most missed tackles at his position with three, per PFF.
These two didn’t have any targets against each other last season, but with Mike Williams now out for the season, I’d expect Justin Herbert to be looking Allen’s way frequently this Sunday, so Hobbs better be up for the task.
2) Maxx Crosby vs. Chargers OL
I considered picking one of the Chargers’ offensive tackles to single out here, but Las Vegas started moving Maxx Crosby around last week to help solve some of their pass rush woes. For example, he took just 15 snaps on the right side in the first two games of the year combined but had 17 reps on the right against Pittsburgh. And that seemed to work as the Raiders had a season-high 19 pressures while Crosby accounted for nine of them.
Based on that, I’d expect Patrick Graham to deploy a similar strategy especially since Los Angeles’ offensive line has been pretty good in pass protection so far. Despite having the fifth-most snaps in pass protection, they’ve only given up 24 pressures which is tied for the sixth-fewest in the league, per PFF. Also, the Chargers’ line is currently tied with the Raiders’ with the fifth-best pass-blocking efficiency rating (89.3).
I wouldn’t be surprised if Graham tries to move Crosby around early in the game to see which offensive lineman is having an off-game and then attacks said player with one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL the rest of the way out. If that’s the case, center Corey Linsley would be the most likely target as he holds the lowest PFF pass-blocking grade (54.3) and is tied for the most pressures surrendered (six) for the Chargers.
Last week, the Raiders put Crosby on a lot of stunts where he ended up rushing on the inside of the line, so that’s something to keep an eye on this Sunday.
3) LV’s pass protection vs. LAC’s pass rush
Similar to the last matchup, it’s hard to pinpoint one player from each side as Los Angeles has several guys who can put pressure on the quarterback and Las Vegas has been very stout in pass protection as a whole so far.
For example, Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa are the big names on the Bolt’s defensive line and both have been good in the early stages of 2023 with 12 and eight pressures, respectively. However, rookie Tuli Tuipulotu leads the team with 13 and is tied for 10th among edge defenders league-wide.
In addition to that, defensive tackle Morgan Fox has nine pressures and the Chargers are averaging three sacks a game, so this will be another big test for the Raiders offensive line.
The good news is no one on Las Vegas’ line has given up more than five pressures so far this season and, as mentioned above, they’re one of the best units in the league when it comes to protecting the passer. The bad news is they’re coming off of their worst performance as 13 of the 18 pressures and all four sacks they allowed in September came against Pittsburgh, per PFF.
So, the Raiders' offensive line could use a bounce-back performance and it will have to come against another strong unit.