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Final Thoughts: Bolts Ready for Return to Las Vegas

5T week 13

Welcome to Week 13.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of the Chargers-Raiders matchup:

1. Back to Las Vegas we go

Almost half of the Chargers 53-man roster wasn't in Las Vegas 11 months ago when the Bolts saw their season end in heartbreaking fashion.

But for those who were there, they remember the feeling.

"A bad taste in my mouth, and for all of us, after that game," running back Joshua Kelley said Friday.

Yet as the Bolts prepare for their first trip to Allegiant Stadium since the 2021 season finale, it's not as if they are harping on that game.

"We played them Week 1, so it was more [amped] then because we knew what happened," Kelley said. 

A handful of Chargers coaches echoed that sentiment this week.

"I'm not going to speak for anybody else, I'll just speak for myself, but, no, it will have zero impact on the game," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said when asked if there would be any emotional carryover.

Chargers Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill said: "We just have so many new guys a part of the defense. For those guys, they didn't experience it the same way that the guys who have been here experienced it. We just want to treat it as such: a new year, a new opportunity."

Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi added: "It's a new day and a new game. A lot of different faces on both sidelines. Just trying to get this win this week."

A win would go a long way in helping the Bolts boost their playoff chances as we hit the final stretch of the 2022 season.

As it stands now, the 6-5 Chargers occupy the No. 8 seed in the AFC and are one spot out of a postseason berth.

The biggest objective in Week 13 is obviously to get a win over Las Vegas and complete the Bolts first season sweep of their rival since 2018.

But the Chargers could also get some help and tighten the race with five games to go. 

The Bengals (7-5) hold the sixth seed and host the Chiefs (9-2) on Sunday, while the seventh-seeded Jets (7-4) are at the Vikings (9-2).

"The fourth quarter of our season is approaching," Kelley said. "We know this is a division game. We gotta have this one."

2. A look at the O-line

The Bolts will likely go with their sixth starting offensive line combination of the 2022 season on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Jamree Salyer (left tackle), Matt Feiler (left guard) and Zion Johnson (right guard) will be in their usual starting spots.

But with center Corey Linsely (concussion) and right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee) ruled out, the Chargers will rely on Will Clapp in the middle and Foster Sarell on the outside.

Clapp, who is in line to make his third start this season, drew praise from Staley earlier this week.

"Exemplary from a backup center. That's why we went and got him. The familiarity with Joe and [Offensive Line Coach] Brendan [Nugent] was really significant," Staley said. "Then, much like a backup quarterback is, I think that relationship with the starting center is very important, the relationship with the quarterbacks.

"He has a great way about him. He's come in and played quality football for us and given us an opportunity to win a bunch of games," Staley added. "We're glad that we have him. One of those underrated offseason signings for our football team."

Staley also confirmed Sarell will make his second start of the year, with the other coming against the 49ers.

Sarell will have his hands full against Maxx Crosby, who leads the Raiders with 10.5 sacks.

"He is a guy that can just completely ruin your day. Just someone that we are going to be aware of," Hill said. "Him being on the field and where he is and what play we are running, we are taking a player like that into account every single play."

3. Looking for a 3rd-quarter TD

A good stat: the Bolts rank fourth in the entire league this season by averaging 15.1 points in the first half.

A not-so-good stat: the Chargers are 28th overall in second-half scoring at just 7.5 points.

A big reason why?

The Bolts have scored just 33 points in the third quarter all season, with 27 of those coming in the first five games of the season. In the last six games, the Chargers have been shut out four times and kicked a pair of field goals.

Staley on Wednesday talked about trying to spark that area of the game for the Bolts.

"Huge because it changes the momentum of the game. Just like a couple of these recent games where we come out and score the ball early, and what that does for your team," Staley said. "When you come out and score the ball, then it completely changes the feeling of the team. The emphasis is going to continue to be on the explosions, staying away from negative plays, and when you get into the red area, converting your opportunities. You have to score touchdowns.

"We are working hard as a group. Our offense has done a really good job, I think, of staying together this season. I thought last week's game was a good example of that, working through some adjustments. That's what I want to see, as a coach," Staley added. "I want to see those in-game adjustments that mean a lot. I thought, last week, we did a good job of that, but we have to continue to start fast in both halves, for sure."

The Chargers most-recent touchdown in the third quarter came in Cleveland.

Justin Herbert hopes to change that in Week 13.

"We need to execute better, keep converting on third downs," Herbert said. "As long as you're able to extend drives on third downs, I think that sets you up for a good possession.

"Keeping pushing the ball down the field, limiting turnovers, establishing our run game," Herbert continued.

4. Contributions on special teams

The final few minutes of the Chargers Week 12 win at Arizona was all about complimentary football.

First, punter JK Scott's punt pinned Arizona at its own 10-yard line, which helped produce a three-and-out from the Bolts defense.

DeAndre Carter then provided a spark with. 20-yard punt return that set the offense up with a short field, which they converted for a touchdown and go-ahead, two-point conversion.

After a well-executed kickoff that burned a few seconds off the clock, the defense then shut the door.

That's a half-dozen things that the Bolts did well, with three of them coming on special teams.

"Complimentary football … we talked about that in OTAs," said Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken. "I was really happy with the way that worked out."

Scott's excellent performance led to him being named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, making him the third specialist to win that award this season (along with Dustin Hopkins and Cameron Dicker).

Now the Bolts head to Las Vegas, where the Raiders feature a strong special teams unit.

Kicker Daniel Carlson is among the best in the league and has made 23 of 25 field goals, while Ficken praised other aspects of that unit, too.

"They're a very complete team, a very physical bunch," Ficken said. "They do a great job and it's going to be a tough task."

If the Bolts want to get another road win Sunday, special teams will likely need to continue their strong showing.

5. News and notes

A pair of Chargers — linebacker Drue Tranquill and defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko — missed Friday's practice will an illness.

Both are listed as questionable, but Staley said both are in line to play against the Raiders.

Elsewhere, safety Nasir Adderley appears to be in line to return to the starting lineup after missing Week 12 with a thumb injury.

Adderley was limited in Wednesday's practice and had a full club on his right hand, but he had a less-glaring protection Thursday and Friday.

"Nas is going to play in this game," Staley said. "He'll have a full-hand [function], just something on his thumb."

Finally, wide receiver Mike Williams won't play against the Raiders with an ankle injury.

"Mike is progressing," Staley said. "He's doing better each day. Can't make it to this game, I still consider him day-to-day. [He's] working hard and I like where he's at."

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Friday practice at Hoag Performance Center

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