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5 Final Thoughts: Chargers Focused on Team Effort Around Easton Stick


The Chargers are 5-8 as they head to Las Vegas to meet the Raiders on Thursday Night Football.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 15:

1. A team effort

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick has dominated the headlines this week.

That's going to be the case after the Bolts placed Justin Herbert on Injured Reserve, meaning the 28-year-old Stick is in line to make his first NFL start Thursday night.

But as the Chargers prepare for a Week 15 road date with the Raiders, the Bolts offense is honed in on helping Stick realize that he doesn't need to do it all in primetime.

"100 percent. Just like every week," left tackle Rashawn Slater said. "Everyone is going to focus on [Stick], but we know what we have to do to win.

"It's always a team thing, no one man can do it all … especially this week," Slater added.

Stick said Tuesday that he has tons of faith in the Chargers locker room to help him out, especially on a short week on the road.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said he expects Bolts skill players to help elevate Stick against Las Vegas. Unfortunately, that group won't include Keenan Allen, who is out for Week 15 with a heel injury. 

"What he has to do is just play within himself, which is what he does," Staley said. "He doesn't try to do too much out there — just stay within himself, let the offense work for you. We have to play team offense on Thursday."

Staley also noted that the team will rely on Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore, who went through a similar scenario last season in Dallas.

"One of the reasons why I was so excited to team up with Kellen was the work that he did with Cooper Rush. Dak Prescott went down and they went on that really good run with Cooper Rush as their backup quarterback," Staley said. "The way that they had to play with Cooper Rush was different than the way that they were playing with Dak, but that's what you have to do, you have to make adjustments.

"Then, the rest of your team has to come alive and you have to play the game the way that it needs to be played in order to win," Staley added. "That's what we're going to try and do on Thursday."

Khalil Mack said the Chargers defense, which has played better of late, will also need to do their part in make life easier for Stick in his first start.

"A big opportunity for our guy Easton Stick to step in and show us what he's capable of, along with our defensive performance," Mack said. "Traveling on the road, you have to pack your defense and your special teams."

2. An encore for Mack?

Speaking of Mack, he had the game of a lifetime the last time these teams met.

What does the outside linebacker remember from Week 4?

"We got the win, which is the most important thing," Mack said. "We were able to affect the quarterback a little bit. Hopefully that's still on the table this week."

Mack, as humble as ever, didn't want to harp too much on his 6.0-sack performance against the Raiders.

That sack total was a single-game career high for Mack and also set a Chargers single-game franchise record.

"Ultimately, just team ball and all 11 guys working together," Mack said.

The 32-year-old has continued to thrive since then as he currently leads the NFL with 15.0 sacks, which ties his career best.

As Week 15 approaches, Mack has numerous accolades within range.

He currently sits on 99.5 career sacks, so any sacks going forward would put him at 100 and also set a new single-game best.

The Chargers single-season franchise record of 17.0, held by Shawne Merriman and Leslie O'Neal, is also within range.

One thing to keep in mind ahead of Thursday: Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller, one of the game's better left tackles, is out with a shoulder injury. 

That means Mack could be in for another monstrous performance.

Not that Mack is worried about his personal stats.

"It's just another game, man," Mack said. "Another opportunity to go out there and win."

3. Keep an eye on Crosby

Staley was asked about the Raiders roster earlier this week, noting that "they have some difference-makers that you have to be aware of."

The first name Staley mentioned?

Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who will give the Bolts offensive line one their toughest tests of the season Thursday night.

Slater said he welcomes the chance to go against Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby.

"It's a fun challenge. Any time you get to go against guys like that, it's kind of like a test for you," Slater said. "You get to prove [yourself]. He's one of the best in the league, it's an amazing opportunity to be able to go against those guys.

"You can always expect their best and it's going to be a challenge, but that's where the fun is," Slater said.

Crosby has already set a career high with 13.5 sacks, a tally that is tied for the third-best total in the league.

He has a pair of sacks in Week 4 against the Chargers, and Staley said the Bolts offense needs to stay on track Thursday so that Crosby can't get into favorable scenarios.

"We have to make sure that we're the aggressors in the game, truly making them defend the run and the pass and putting the pressure on them every snap to have to deal with us," Staley said. "Not being in those tough situations when you're behind, not only the sticks, but behind on the scoreboard, where you have to throw your way back."

Get an inside look as the Chargers induct legendary tight end Antonio Gates as the 41st member the Chargers Hall of Fame at halftime of the team's Week 14 game against the Broncos at SoFi Stadium

4. O'Connell shows progression

Raiders quarterback Aidan O'Connell made his first NFL start all the way back in Week 4.

He was sacked seven times and threw for 238 yards with an interception as he tallied a passer rating of 68.1.

The Bolts expect a more confident performance this time around from O'Connell, who is 2-4 as a starter in the league.

"He's played more ball," Staley said. "This guy had a really good preseason. I think there's a reason why they went to him as the starter because they felt like he was playing well enough to be the starter. It wasn't like, 'Hey, we're just building for the future.'

"They felt like he was good enough to be their starter. He has played in more games now, he has seen more football," Staley added. "I think that any time you can get that experience, whether it's a good experience or a bad experience, as a young player, it's invaluable. He has our respect."

Derwin James, Jr. added: "He's done a great job for his team. He's still young, still learning … but he is going to develop more."

5. Palmer set to return

One piece of positive news for the Chargers: wide receiver Joshua Palmer is set to make his return to the lineup this week.

The Bolts wide receiver was placed on Injured Reserve with a knee injury after Week 8's win over the Bears.

Palmer was designated to return to practice last week and was limited in all three sessions.

He was full in all three walk-through sessions this week and will play against the Raiders, although not in a full capacity.

"I don't think the full, normal wide receiver load with his first game back, but you'll see him in action," Staley said.

Palmer has 23 catches for 377 yards and a touchdown this season.

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