Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 5 match between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.
1. Stall Carr–Derek Carr has been mentioned as a possible NFL MVP candidate, and it's easy to see why as the third year quarterback is firing on all cylinders. Carr is 104 for 153 for 1,066 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception through four games, and a major reason for his success has been his ability to operate in the pocket. Oakland has surrendered a league-low two sacks all year, so it's no surprise that Carr has only thrown just one pick. In order to have success, the Bolts know they must affect the quarterback. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano explained why that is a difficult task:
"I think a guy that is playing really well is Carr. He's not turning the ball over, he's smart with the football. His completion percentage I believe is up seven percent from last year, so he is throwing at a high level. The one thing they are not giving up (is) sacks as an offensive unit, and they're not turning the ball over. That's huge for us going up there against a division opponent."
2. Stop the Irvin and Mack Attack– You may be surprised to learn that Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have combined for only three sacks on the season. This is another case when a stat sheet can be misleading as they have had a profound impact that goes beyond registering sacks. The bookend pass rushers have been disruptive, constantly bringing pressure and disturbing the opposition's aerial assault. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt emphasized how Irvin and Mack can take over a game as the Chargers must be mindful of where they are at all times:
"Listen, those guys come after you and they do a good job. They are very good football players. I couldn't tell you what their numbers were, but they get pressure on the quarterback and you've got to be aware of that. They are good football players."
3. Who Steps Up vs. Cooper and Crabtree? –Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have emerged as arguably the top receiving duo in the league this year. Cooper has 20 catches on the year for 318 yards while Crabtree has caught 26 passes for 308 yards and four TDs. The key for the Bolts will be limiting their damage, which is more difficult without Jason Verrett as the Pro Bowl corner is out for the year with a partially torn ACL. The onus turns to Craig Magar, Pierre Desir, Steve Williams and Trevor Williams to step up. Pagano opened up about how difficult it will be without Verrett, but said that is no excuse:
"Just go compete, you can't stop. Nobody in this league feels sorry for you, or what you are going through or anything of that nature. Nobody cares what you are going through except the guys in that locker room and your fan base that truly understand that next (man) up mentality. You have to have it. I'm not going to sit here and sugar coat it; the guy is a Pro Bowl player. Are we going to miss him? You're damn right we're going to miss him. Do we need to overcome it? Yes! You have to. You can't blink.
4. What is the Bosa Factor? – The third overall pick in the NFL Draft will make his much anticipated debut on Sunday. What kind of impact Joey Bosa will have remains to be seen, but Head Coach Mike McCoy noted the team has a flexible plan in place for the number of snaps he'll be on the field. It's been a long time coming for the Ohio State product, but he's grateful to finally get the chance to play:
"I feel good. The coaches have a great plan for me and everybody, really. I trust in them to get me ready, and I'm definitely ready. I have been training really hard to get back in shape. It has been probably two-a-days for the past two weeks, so I am feeling really good physically. Mentally, it took just a couple days of being out there to get into the swing (of things) of knowing the playbook and the play."
5. FINISH! – The first four games of the year for the Chargers and Raiders have followed a similar script. It's only the ending that's been different. While both teams have seen the majority of their games decided in the final minute, the Raiders have been able to finish while the Bolts have not, which is why they boast inverse records. McCoy explained how that has been the biggest difference in how each team's season has gone to date, stressing the need to finish:
"They've had some close games too that they've got down in certain situations, and they've made those plays to win it. That's the league. Look at how many close games there are. You've got to find a way to make that play to finish the game. That's what it's all about. It's not just us. It's every time in the league. You've just got to go out there and execute."