Just look at what Justin Herbert did in Week 3: 40-of-47 passing for 405 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a staggering 85.1 percent completion rate for the Los Angeles Chargers quarterback. And who does he draw in Week 4?
The Las Vegas Raiders defense. A unit that nary generates a consistent pass rush and is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 75 percent of their passes for 661 yards and seven touchdowns.
So let’s make no bones about this one. The primary area of concern for the Raiders heading into their Week 4 matchup with the Chargers this Sunday afternoon is No. 10 — Herbert. The 25-year-old Bolts quarterback willed L.A. to a win over the Minnesota Vikings last week and is eager to continue the Chargers’ winning ways.
Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham described what jumps out when watching Herbert on film or even live and the coach’s answer should be concerning for his defenders.
“He has access to the entire field, true access to entire field. Big arm and can throw it anywhere on the field,” Graham said of Herbert during his mid-week press conference. “I’m not a quarterbacks coach, I don’t know how they describe the different ways. He just gets the ball anywhere on the field. I think you’re seeing his intelligence in terms of at the line of scrimmage, they’re going more with the tempo and different things they’re doing there. He can make all the throws; he can hurt you with his legs. He’s a really dynamic player and it’s going to be fun to go against him.”
Fun isn’t necessarily how one would describe the Raiders defense, but the team has the unenviable task of trying to stop or limit Herbert and the Chargers offense in an important AFC West tilt. Both teams are 1-2 overall and victory or defeat will jostle the division hierarchy as the teams try to keep pace with the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs (2-1). Herbert is getting plays called in by offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and the duo have the Bolts sitting pretty as the fifth-ranked offense in points scored (86) and second-ranked group in yards gained (1,250). Moore, who arrived this past offseason, succeeds Joe Lombardi (who is reunited with Sean Payton as the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator), and Graham highlighted the difference in the current Chargers offense compared to last season.
“They’re getting the ball to their go-to guys and the quarterback is making the right decisions,” Graham noted. “Specifically with the scheme, I mean we’re still in the beginning process of watching the tape and stuff. But from what I’ve seen, Keenan Allen is going to catch the ball, they’re going to get the ball to tight ends, they’re going to hand the ball to (Austin) Ekeler if he’s playing. So, I mean, that’s been a pretty good formula for them.”
All that despite Herbert and Moore being backed by the league’s worst defense against the pass.
Check this: If you thought Las Vegas’ defense was bad, Los Angeles’ unit is 28th in points allowed (87) and 31st in yards allowed (1,352). The team is dead last in passing yards yielded with 1,011. The Silver & Black are ranked 24th, 18th, and 15th in each respective category. The Chargers do have a better point differential, however, at -1 (86 points scored, 87 points allowed). The Raiders mark in this category is -32 (45 points scored, 77 allowed).
With a defensive-minded head coach Brandon Staley in tow and Derrick Ansley at defensive coordinator, the Chargers’ being zap less on defense is interesting. Yet, the team plays host to the Raiders — a team that makes a habit of being a remedy for the opposition’s ailments.
If the Chargers don’t target Raiders rookie cornerback Jakorian Bennett, the team’s coaching acumen must be questioned. Las Vegas’ fourth-round pick has started all three games as an outside corner and is charted by Pro Football Reference as allowing 15 catches on 18 targets (83.5 percent completion rate) for 196 yards and one touchdown. Quarterbacks throwing Bennett’s way sport a 130.6 rating.
Even with wide receiver Mike Williams lost for the season with a torn ACL, expect the Chargers to matchup No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen and first-round pick Quinton Johnson on Bennett as much as they can. Both hold a size advantage over Bennett (5-foot-11 and 195 pounds) as Allen stands 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds while Johnson is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
Diligence on Downs
Staley is an aggressive head coach that often greenlights his offense on going for it on fourth down. Combine that with Moore’s creativity, it could spell trouble for a Raiders defense that is ranked 26th in both defending third and fourth downs.
So far, Graham’s unit has 39 third-down attempts this season and opponent’s converted 18 of them (a 46.2 percent rate). Opponent’s have gone for it on fourth down against the Raiders four times and converted three of them (75 percent). And in the red zone, Graham’s defense is allowing eight touchdowns on 11 visits inside the 20 for a 72.7 percent conversion rate which is 27th in the league.
“Coach Staley, he’s an aggressive coach, and between him and the offensive coordinator, you have to have an understanding going into the game that fourth down is live,” Graham said. “It also changes how you think about it on third down and second down, so you got to take that into account.”