Keys to the Game: Chargers vs. Raiders

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1. Stay Fully Focused – The Chargers may be 6-2, and the Raiders may be 1-7, but you’d never know it listening to the Bolts talk leading up to the game. Head Coach Anthony Lynn is making absolutely sure the team knows how dangerous Oakland may prove to be come Sunday. Thus, the Bolts are taking this game as seriously as any opponent this year, and for good reason, knowing fully well what their bitter division rival is capable of. Lynn shared with the media how he told the players about some games from his past in which his team wasn’t fully focused, stressing to the Bolts not to let that history repeat itself by not fully focusing on the task at hand:

“It's the National Football League. They know that you can get beat any given Sunday. I told them about the story about the '98 Broncos, undefeated. We go play New York, who has only won three games all year, and we got beat in that game. We went on to win the Super Bowl that year — but that's a game we feel like we played them ten times and beat them ten times, but we got beat that day. We played Buffalo pretty good before the half (this year). They go the next week and dominate a good Vikings team. So it happens every week. We just want to make sure it doesn't happen to us.”

Philip Rivers also offered some wise words that provide insight into the mindset of the team:

“I wouldn't define what we've done yet as success. I think we've had some weekly success. We had success Sunday and we won. We had success on that day, but I don't know that anybody in that locker room feels like, ‘Hey, man, we're a successful group.’ We have a long way to go. I've been on teams that are 4-8, made it in. Last year, turned it around and fell just short. Another team in 2014, we were 7-3 or whatever — we were 7-4 — and finished 9-7 and missed it by a game. So, it's a long season. We're truly one week at a time. This league is week-to-week to me. I don't fall into where people say, ‘Oh, this patch of the schedule is easier than that patch.’ They all count. We have a division game on the road this week to try to get our seventh win.”

2. Get Gordon Going – Oakland ranks last in the league in rushing yards against, giving up 114.5 yards per game on the ground. However, while the Chargers got the win when they hosted the Raiders back in Week 5, Oakland held Melvin Gordon in check. In fact, they limited him to an uncharacteristic 58 yards on the ground while averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. For some perspective, here are Gordon’s numbers for the two games after and prior to that game; Seahawks – 113 yards and 7.1 ypc, Cleveland - 132 yards and 7.3 ypc, 49ers - 104 yards and 6.9 ypc, Rams – 80 yards and 5.3 ypc. In order to sweep the season series, the Bolts know they’ll need more from their star running back than the last outing as Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt summed up what went wrong on the ground the last time these teams squared off:

“They played well. They did a good job against us. They played very aggressively. They were physical. You know, they did a nice job against us. That's happened to us a couple times this year where we haven't been as effective as we would have liked to have been running the football, and hopefully we can — we work every week trying to put together a plan that we feel like is a good attack against our opponent, and hopefully we can execute it, but I have a lot of respect for the way those guys played us. Four minutes left in the second quarter, it's (tied at three points each) and we hadn't done much. We hit a couple of runs early, but it was tough after that. That's something obviously that we'd like to do better, but they did a nice job against us.”

3. Stall Carr – Derek Carr is the key to the Raiders offense, and he had an efficient outing back in Week 5. The 27-year-old passer completed 24 of 33 passes (72.7 percent) for 268 yards, one touchdown and one pick for a 94.0 passer rating. On the year, Carr has completed 204 of 282 attempts (72.3 percent) for 2,198 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight picks for a 94.8 passer rating. While he has thrown some costly interceptions at inopportune times, such as Melvin Ingram’s interception in the end zone in their first meeting, his completion percentage ranks among the league leaders. Overall, as Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley explains, the Bolts have the utmost respect for Oakland’s quarterback and what that offense is capable of:

“The Raiders, they're doing some good things offensively. You see it in spurts. You know, like the Indianapolis game, I think when you look at Carr, I think he completed 16 or 17 passes in a row, and they had the ability to put up a lot of points just like you've seen throughout the season. So, I think the key to them is when they get into a rhythm and they're rolling, they come in bunches. Yards come in bunches, and his accuracy, I think he's still the second-leading quarterback as far as completion percentage in the league. So you see the accuracy, you see the timing, you see the rhythm and they have some good skill players.”

4. A New Type of Challenge – The Bolts went into the last meeting deadset on stopping Marshawn Lynch. Well, the bruising back won’t be out there this time as he’s on Oakland’s Reserve/Injured list. That means the Chargers face a new type of challenge on the ground against a pair of running backs who complement each other perfectly. Doug Martin has gotten the lion’s share of carries of late, and on the year he’s toted the rock 51 times for 220 yards. His 4.3 yards per carry is a hair better than what Lynch (4.2) was averaging. Meanwhile, Jalen Richard has been a nightmare for teams to handle in the passing game, and he actually leads the Raiders in receptions. Overall, he’s caught 43 passes for 348 yards. Thus, Bradley hammered home the importance of stopping Oakland’s one-two punch in the backfield:

“The running game is a little bit different than with Marshawn, so it's more of it by committee, although Martin you see, and I know how strongly they feel about him. They feel like he is really a franchise-type running back, and you see him on tape do some really good things, as well. The big thing for them is once they build a rhythm and confidence and they get rolling, it can take off really quickly. That's the challenge with this — we go into every game, stopping the run is very important to us, and try to eliminate some of these big plays that are going on. I think last week we did a better job with that coming out of the bye week, and this week will be no different.”

5. Badgley’s Back – The big news this week coming out of Hoag Performance Center was the team’s change at kicker as they released Caleb Sturgis and brought back Michael Badgley. The rookie kicker was perfect in his two-game stint filling in for Sturgis while the veteran was injured, and the team has full confidence in him taking over the spot. Badgley has a tough test ahead of him playing in “The Black Hole” up in Oakland, but Rivers explained why he, and the entire team, believes in their new kicker:

“We have to control what we control offensively, defensively and then have the faith that Mike's going to do a heck of a job. I think he's done just that so far. His time in preseason and his time here has been solid. Just being around him just a little bit, he's got a heck of a lot of confidence, and the guys believe in him. Whoever trots out there, we're going to believe in, and we can control what we can control. Can it be frustrating? Certainly. It's an emotional game, but we look forward to Mike being out there.”

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