Here are five keys to the game heading into Sunday's clash between the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.
1. Stall Carr – Derek Carr has the Raiders humming as they enter Week 5 ranked second in the NFL in total offense, averaging 441.8 yards per game. The passing attack has been particularly lethal, ranking fourth in the league (333.0). Carr has been the straw that stirs the drink, completing a whopping 71.0 percent of his passes (120 of 169) for 1,373 yards and six touchdowns. His Achilles' heel thus far has been turnovers as he's thrown seven picks through four games. The Bolts allowed the 49ers to march downfield last week at times, but came up with timely stops and takeaways when it mattered most. They'll need to be just as effective against their arch rival as Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley was effusive in his praise for Carr:
"What stands out is his completion percentage. I mean, he is completing a lot of passes. If you just pull up the games and put up completions, you see a lot of completions in a row where he's rolling. He's No. 1 in the AFC in completion percentage right now, and it shows up over 70 percent. So when he has time and is in a rhythm he's been very, very effective. I think he's been playing very effective."
2. Eyes on Irvin – Oakland boasts one of the top defensive playmakers of the last 10 years in Bruce Irvin. The seven-year vet continues to operate at a high level, tying for the team lead with 2.0 sacks. The Chargers are well aware of how he can wreck a game after facing him twice a year for the past two years. Thus, the Bolts must have an eye on where Irvin is at all times with a plan on how to limit him. Philip Rivers has gone up against some of the top talents the game has to offer, and he described how Irvin is a complete player:
"He plays well against the run and the pass. He's a guy that's had a solid career in his time in Seattle and Oakland both. He's an every-down player. He's on the field. He hardly ever comes out. He can rush the passer, but he also plays the run very well. He's a productive player."
3. Ground and Pound – Melvin Gordon has been virtually unstoppable to start the year, and the Bolts will likely look to give him a heavy workload against a Raiders' defense who has struggled stopping the run. Oakland ranks 30th in the league in rushing, giving up an average of 139.3 yards per game. Thus, it's only natural to find ways to put the ball in Gordon's hands, especially since Head Coach Anthony Lynn noted the Bolts' bell-cow has taken his game to new heights:
"Since I've been with Mel, he has gotten better and better and better — and that's what you want to see out of a talented young football player. He's really done a great job as a receiver and really been a factor to make huge plays for us. From what I've seen of him — 2016 was my first year with him — and I always thought he was a good runner. He was very successful early in that season, especially in red zone carries. I think he was leading the league in touchdowns for a little while. So I think he has been driven to get his game to another level, and I think we're seeing the benefit to that. He's worked hard. He's studied it. I saw him out there today when we were going through the walkthrough working on his footwork on a certain run. [He] just wanted to make sure in his mind he had it, knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to hit the play. That's what you see from a real professional, especially one of those guys that really is a good player in this league."
4. Don't Forget About Phil – While establishing the ground attack is of the utmost importance, you still can't forget about Philip Rivers. After all, there's something about facing the Raiders that brings out the best in the quarterback. Rivers has faced Oakland 24 times, throwing for 6,055 yards and 41 touchdowns to just 18 picks while completing over 64 percent of his passes. That's good for a 96.4 passer rating. Rivers has been rolling to start the season, matching a personal best with 11 touchdown passes over four games. Thus, it's important for the Bolts to attack the Raiders through the air and maintain balance on offense. Still, Rivers was quick to dismiss that there is any secret to his success against the division rival:
"I don't think so. Shoot, against those division teams, you want to play well against those, and hopefully have a good record against those guys. They've had different defenses and different coaches and things over the last 15 years, so I don't think there's anything to a certain scheme or anything like that, but hopefully we keep it going."
5. Hit Lynch Early and Often – If you put on film of the Raiders' first four games and zero in on Marshawn Lynch, you'd swear you're watching tape from a few years ago. The physical, bruising back is playing as angry as ever, running over defenders on his way to lengthy runs. While he had a strong year last season in his return from a one-year sabbatical, this year he is truly looking like his old Beast Mode self. Bradley has an intimate knowledge of Lynch dating back to their time together in Seattle, and he noted how the best way to mitigate his damage is to hit him early and often:
"Obviously when he gets going and has some space (he's tough to defend). And he can create space on his own, too. He's a guy that attacks the edges, he'll run through the middle and we've got to confine that space. Setting the edge is going to be really, really important. Just try not to let him get going because we're going to need everybody to get him down."
The Chargers take the practice field ahead of Week 5's home matchup versus the Raiders.