Divisional Rivals "Scrapping to Stay...in the (Playoff) Mix"
Thursday's Chargers-Raiders matchup features divisional, in-state rivals playing each other for the first time this season.
"Think of the team you played in high school that was kinda that crosstown team that you always look forward to (playing)," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "It's that kind of old-school rivalry."
Currently, 4-5 Los Angeles stands one-half game behind 4-4 Oakland. The Raiders are one game behind the Colts, while the Bolts are one and a half games out, for the final playoff spot in a crowded AFC playoff picture.
"We're sitting right there kinda in the same boat," Rivers said, "scrapping to stay right there in the mix."
The Chargers are on the upswing, coming off two straight wins, including a 26-11 drubbing of the previously-one-loss Green Bay Packers at home Sunday.
"We feel pretty good right now," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. "Winning breeds confidence. You wanna play as soon as you can after you get one of those wins."
The Raiders, who have won three of four this season at home, are also coming off of a win, a home defeat of a talented Detroit Lions squad.
A Final Trip to The Black Hole for the Bolts
The contest also marks the Bolts' final trip to "The Black Hole," as the Raiders begin their Las Vegas residency in 2020. The Chargers have played in Oakland 46 times over the years, first playing there in 1960, earning a 41-17 victory.
"I have a lot of memories of 'The Black Hole,'" Lynn said. "That's a fun place to play football. Every game is like Halloween. There's a lot of energy and a lot of excitement...I'm going to miss the place."
Rivers, too, is enamored of the novelty of playing at the Coliseum.
"I think what's so interesting is seeing the wide array of ages and personalities and everything, and they're almost in character form," Rivers said. "It's almost a little bit like you have this relationship with the atmosphere and the fans, because you've been there so many times."
The Chargers quarterback said he has played "some memorable games there" and "a bunch of close" ones.
"It'll be a heck of an atmosphere," Rivers said. "It'll be cranked up pretty good. The aura of what that place has been over the years will be alive."
Chargers' Soaring Offense Against Raiders Defense
In Shane Steichen's debut as the Bolts offensive coordinator last Sunday, the offense hummed to the tune of a season-high 442 total yards. The Chargers displayed a healthy offensive mix, throwing 28 times and running it in 38 instances against the Packers, finding success in both realms. Melvin Gordon has also found his groove of late, scoring touchdowns in three straight games, including two rushing touchdowns versus Green Bay.
Furthermore, the Bolts boast a strong passing offense, led by Rivers, who leads the league in yards passing. His many weapons in the air game include wide receiver Keenan Allen, fellow receiver Mike Williams, who's coming off of his first career 100-plus-receiving-yard effort, tight end Hunter Henry and versatile running back Austin Ekeler, who has five receiving touchdowns.
The Chargers rank sixth in passing yards per game and will be facing a Raiders defense that's last in passing yards allowed per game and gave up 406 yards passing and three passing touchdowns to Matthew Stafford last week. Oakland has also forced just seven takeaways this season and ranks 27th in red-zone defense.
The Raiders have allowed 2.75 passing touchdowns per game this year, the most in the league, and rank 25th in sacks per game. They also allow the seventh-most points per game this season.
While Oakland ranks seventh in fewest rushing yards allowed per game and is tied for fourth-best in opposing yards per carry, its opponents target the team so much via the air that it still ranks 28th in overall yards allowed per game.
Penalties and Late Downs
The Raiders have allowed 29 first downs due to penalties, which is the worst in the NFL this season. Oakland also has accumulated the most penalty yards in the league at 80.0 per game, while Los Angeles ranks tenth-best in the category. Over Oakland's previous three games, it has amassed a league-worst 97.7 penalty yards per game.
Late-down conversions may also prove pivotal in this clash between competitive AFC West rivals. The Chargers offense places seventh in third-down conversion percentage this year, while the Raiders defense ranks 29th in opposing third-down conversion rate. Oakland has also struggled stopping its opponents on fourth down, allowing a league-worst conversion percentage in these instances.
As much as the Raiders struggle defensively on third and fourth downs, they thrive offensively in these late-down situations. Oakland's offense has converted 49.5 percent of its third-down opportunities, good for second in the league, and has gone 6-for-9 when it's gone for it on fourth down. With the Chargers' defense tied for 25th in third-down defense, both teams have struggled this year defending on late downs.
Both the Chargers and Raiders will be playing Thursday night after just three days of rest.
"These Thursday night games, they're tough," Lynn said. "It's a quick turnaround, so we've really practiced recovery and mental preparation this week."
Gruden also spoke about the challenge of playing on a short week.
"I don't think there's any advantage to playing on Thursday," Gruden said. "I'm not a big fan of it...I believe in preparation. You take a little time to heal and prepare your game to play once a week, but we'll do the best we can...It does compromise both teams, certainly."
Raiders Players and Matchups to Watch
Derek Carr vs. Chargers Pass Defense
In Raiders quarterback Derek Carr's sixth NFL season, he is playing arguably his best football. Through eight games, Carr leads the league in completion percentage, ranks sixth in passer rating and has thrown 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
"He's our leader," Gruden said. "He's doing a lot of very good things, and he's gonna have to be at his best Thursday."
Oakland's signal caller also ranks sixth in passer rating this season, notably ahead of two future Hall of Famers in Aaron Rodgers and Carr's Thursday opponent, Rivers.
Lynn has been impressed by Carr, who passed Hall of Famer Ken Stabler this past Sunday for most game-winning drives in franchise history with 18.
"Quarterback's playing pretty damn good," Lynn said. "To me, he looks more confident this year. He's making better decisions and taking care of the football."
Carr will face a Chargers secondary that allows the second-highest completion percentage and the eighth-most yards per pass attempt this season. However, the Bolts have allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards per contest this year.
Raiders O-line vs. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram
Oakland possesses one of the best offensive lines in the league after being well below average in this facet last season.
"They spent a lot of money, and money will bring in some talent," Chargers defensive end Isaac Rochell said. "But they look really good. They got some vets in there (in)...Trent Brown (and Richie) Incognito, and they got some other inside guys that are good."
Carr has been sacked just nine times in 2019 after being sacked 51 times last season, which was tied for third-worst in the league. After last week's win over the Lions, backup running back DeAndré Washington described the O-line as "savages," meaning it as a compliment. And the unit was without its starting center Rodney Hudson and right tackle Brown missing much of the game due to injury. Hudson, Brown and James were all limited in practice Tuesday.
The offensive line has not given up a sack in four of the team's past five games, making the Raiders the only team this season to hold four different teams without a sack.
Lynn said that it's going to be difficult to slow the Raiders running game because of their O-line.
"They have one of the biggest offensive lines we've seen all year," Lynn said.
When fully healthy, Oakland's starting front five averages a height of 6-5 and a weight of 336 pounds.
"He's on a great run, (and) he's a great player," Gruden said of Bosa. "Unfortunately for us, he's gonna be here Thursday night. We gotta be at our best. He's a heck of a player, no doubt."
Lynn added that Bosa has been "playing very unselfishly."
"He's playing at a very high level," Lynn said. "He's one of our better players for a reason."
As for Ingram, he has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons. The pair combined for three sacks and six QB hits in the Chargers' Sunday win over the Packers.
Naturally, Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has also been impressed by the duo of dynamic edge rushers.
"Those two are very good rushers," Bradley said. "That's a blessing for us defensively. Those guys attract a lot of attention."
Rookie running back Josh Jacobs has also benefited from the Raiders' dominant offensive line and deserves plenty of credit himself for his early success.
He has already recorded three multi-touchdown games and is the reigning AFC Rookie of the Month.
"He's having a heck of a year," Lynn said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he was the (Offensive) Rookie of the Year...He has a nose for the end zone. He's a dynamic player."
Gruden said the team considered drafting Jacobs, whom it selected 24th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, with their No. 4 pick and that he hasn't been surprised by how well Jacobs has performed.
"He's a great kid, he's fast, he's powerful, he's really into football," Gruden said, "and he's buttoned-up all the way, so we expected big things from him."
Jacobs ranks fifth in rushing yards per game with 92.5 and is tied for fifth among starting running backs in yards per carry (4.9) and rushing touchdowns (6). The 21-year-old has also helped the Raiders move the sticks, standing third in rushing first downs per game at his position and sixth in the category overall. Jacobs has also compiled five 20-plus-rushing-yard plays.
Most impressively, Jacobs has yet to fumble in his NFL career, but perhaps this shouldn't surprise, as he fumbled only three times in his 42-game collegiate career at Alabama.
Bradley said, "What really jumps out at (the Chargers' coaching staff) is their ability to run the ball effectively." The defensive coordinator also characterized the Raiders as "a very committed run team," which he said, "opens up their passing game."
For all of Jacobs' success, he has yet to establish himself as a receiving threat, averaging 12.8 receiving yards per contest.
The Chargers' run defense is coming off a game where it allowed just 45 yards rushing to the Packers on 11 carries. Lynn said a major defensive priority for his team is to contain Jacobs.
"We have to slow this young man down," Lynn said. "I don't think anybody has stopped him."
Carr's Receiving Weapons: Darren Waller, Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow
Carr loves utilizing his tight ends in the passing game, as the Raiders' starting tight end leads the team in yards receiving for the third straight season.
Tight end Darren Waller is enjoying a breakout season at the age of 27. Having been in the NFL since 2015, he's starting for the first time in his career and already easily has season-highs in every category. The 6-6, 255-pound Waller also has big-play ability, ranking first among tight ends this season in yards after catch, and he's second at his position in receptions per game.
The Chargers also must pay attention to a familiar face in Tyrell Williams, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Bolts before signing a four-year contract with the Raiders this past offseason.
"(He's made) explosive plays, just like he did here," Bradley said. "He can really stretch the field, building speed, and he can get on top of you real quick. His length (allows him to) catch a lot of balls over his head. Because of his size, he gives the quarterback a lot of wiggle room."
Williams led the 2016 Chargers in yards receiving and receptions. He remains a scoring threat, scoring a touchdown in five of the six games he's played this season.
"I think (Williams) is now starting to get healthy, but he can really run," Gruden said. "He can win the 50/50 balls, and he's a detailed, high-character guy, the kind of player that we're trying to build our team around."
Rookie wideout Hunter Renfrow has caught fire of late, finding the end zone in back-to-back games and averaging 71 receiving yards per game during this stretch.
- Thursday, Nov. 7, at 5:20 p.m. PT
- Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
- TV: FOX (simulcast on NFL Network) – Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews & Kristina Pink (sideline)
- Radio (English): KFI-AM 640 - Matt "Money" Smith (play-by-play), Daniel Jeremiah (analyst) and Shannon Farren (sideline)
- Radio (Spanish): KFWB-AM 980 - Mario Solis (play-by-play) and Jorge Villanueva (analyst)
- Amazon Prime Video Stream: The clash between the Chargers and Raiders will also be streamed live on Amazon Prime Video. The game will be called by Andrea Kremer and Hannah Storm. Those with a Prime membership can stream the game for free.
- APP: Chargers Mobile (iOS), Yahoo Sports (Android)
For more information on how to watch the game including the mobile app and live streaming, click here.
In the teams' long-running rivalry of 118 regular-season games, the Raiders hold a mere eight-point advantage in the overall points differential. While the Chargers have gone 54-62-2 in these games, they have won the past four meetings. When the Raiders play the Bolts at home, they have gone 31-27-1.
Raiders' Last Time Out
The Raiders are fresh off a 31-24 home win against the Detroit Lions, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 2:04 left in the game. Oakland then stopped Detroit from getting into the end zone to tie the game with a touchdown after the Lions had second-and-goal from the Raiders' 4-yard line with 24 seconds on the clock.
The contest featured standout performances from Carr and Jacobs. Oakland's rookie running back scored two touchdowns and ran for 120 yards, while Carr threw for two scores and had a passer rating of 116.2.
The Raiders possessed the ball for 5:40 longer than the Lions but allowed 473 total yards.
Chargers Watch Parties
This week, the official Bolts Watch Party at OUE Skyspace in Los Angeles is already sold out. For more information about the other watch parties that will be held across Southern California, click here.