8:20 PM EST, FOX – Line: Chargers -1, Over/Under: 48
Bitter rivals looking to further their chances of landing a Wild Card meet in a midweek battle by the Bay, as the Los Angeles Chargers face off against the Oakland Raiders, from RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, California. This is matchup where you have two teams that despite owning similar records, are no doubt enjoying/enduring very different seasons, which is all due to perspective. The Chargers (4-5, 3rd in AFC West) for example, were expected to contend for a the AFC West crown, and by extension served as one of the conference’s legitimate Super Bowl suitors, but through nine games have grossly disappointed. A year after going 12-4 and advancing to the Playoffs for the first time since 2013, Los Angeles has very much been a mixed bag in 2019. After besting the Colts in a thrilling 30-24 Overtime Victory in the Season Opener, Anthony Lynn’s charges went on to lose five out of their following six games, with an Offense struggling to find balance due to the holdout of Pro-Bowl Tailback, Melvin Gordon (64 CAR, 192 YDS, 3.0 Y/C, 3 TD), and a porous Offensive Line once again riddled with injuries, failing to provide 38-Year Old Quarterback, Philip Rivers (67.0%, 2,609 YDS, 7.23 NY/A, 12 TD, 7 INT, 55.6 QBR), with the necessary support to make the most of the twilight of his venerable career. Starting Interior Linemen, Forrest Lamp (Shin) and Mike Pouncey (Neck), are both on Injured Reserve, and Left Tackle, Russell Okung (Calf) has been limited in practice of late following his return from a health scare that caused him to miss the team’s first seven games. As a result, the Offense has been sorely one-dimensional, averaging just 79.4 Yards per Game (28th Overall) on 22.0 Rushing Attempts (25th Overall), parlaying to a miserable 3.6 Yards per Carry (27th Overall). Though his replacement, Austin Ekeler (84 CAR, 321 YDS, 3.8 Y/C, 3 TD) has performed well in his absence, Gordon’s lack of presence has played a role in this as well, for while the former has been productive, his true value lies as a Receiver out of the backfield (55 REC, 530 YDS, 9.6 Y/R, 5 TD), particularly on Third Down. In this, the proof is in the numbers, folks; the Chargers have had no issue moving the chains, converting a solid 45.9% of their Third Downs (7th Overall), but have otherwise stalled in the Red Zone, where they’ve scored a Touchdown on a meager 46.9% of their opportunities (24th Overall). Since ending his holdout, which failed to net him the lucrative extension or trade that he desired, Gordon has been slow to return to form, averaging a career-low 3.0 Yards per Carry on 12.8 Attempts per Game. In turn, after throwing 508 Passes in 2018, his lowest figure since 2009, Rivers, who currently leads the NFL with 2,609 Passing Yards, has already tossed 333 Passes this season, which has him on pace for 592 Attempts, which would rank as the second-highest of his career. Needless to say, this isn’t the Gameplan that Lynn and his Coaching Staff expected to utilize heading into their Quarterback’s sixteenth season. And it’s with that said, that Los Angeles fired Offensive Coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt shortly before last weekend’s meeting with the red-hot Green Bay Packers, with the intent of returning to a more balanced attack. Credit to Lynn, because the change paid immediate dividends, as the Bolts trampled the visiting Packers, rushing for a season-high 159 Yards, marking the first time that they passed the 100-Yard Threshold since Week Two. While the 26-11 victory was far from flawless, the hosts manhandled the visiting side on many different fronts, including Total Yards (442-184), First Downs (24-13), Third Downs (5/11-2/10), and Time of Possession (35:51). If not for four of their first five drives ending with a Field Goal courtesy of Michael Badgley, this game would have appeared even more one-sided than the final score would indicate. Rivers deftly completed 21-of-28 Passes for 294 Yards, while Gordon (20 CAR, 80 YDS, 2 TD) and Ekeler (12 CAR, 70 YDS) combined for 150 Rushing Yards on Thirty-Two Carries, along with another Fifty-Two Yards through the air, while Mike Williams (29 REC, 530 YDS, 18.3 Y/R) turned in a career day with 111 Receiving Yards on just Three Catches. Defensively, Los Angeles was very impressive, relegating former MVP Quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, to arguably his worst performance in quite a while, completing 23-of-35 Passes for scant 161 Yards and a Touchdown, sacking him three times , all of which came from the tandem of Joey Bosa (46 TKL, 11 TFL, 17 QBH, 8.5 SK, 1 FF) and Melvin Ingram (20 TKL, 5 TFL, 5 QBH, 2.5 SK, 1 FR), who had combined for Six Quarterback Hits with 1.5 Sacks apiece. Winners of two straight games with an opportunity to make some considerable headway within the division thanks to meetings with the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs before a long overdue Bye Week, this is a team that has chance to build some precious momentum, and they can really turn matters to their advantage given that they’ll have eleven days of rest between their next two contests. The time is now, Lightning Bolts, what will you do?
Meanwhile, perspective has lent a positive view to the Raiders’ (4-4, 2nd in AFC West) tepid performance through the first half of the season. In his first season back with the franchise that launched his Head Coaching Career, Jon Gruden looked out of touch as he ultimately failed to inspire a miserably depleted team to a 4-12 finish. Essentially, Oakland was this year’s version of the Miami Dolphins, trading away many of their top performers for premium Draft Picks in an attempt to accelerate what was sure to be a lengthy rebuild. However, eight games into 2019 and it appears that said rebuild may not be as lengthy as initially imagined, for this is a team that has already matched their win total from the previous term, and they’ve done it in half as many contests. Credit to Gruden and new General Manager, Mike Mayock, who have seen an immediate return on many of the players that they selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, particularly Tailback, Josh Jacobs (152 CAR, 740 YDS, 4.9 Y/C, 6 TD), who has served as the cauldron for an Offense that has been sneaky good thus far. Simply put, anytime you find yourself in the same conversation as the likes of Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, you’re doing something right, which is precisely where the Rookie has found himself; the No. 24 Overall Pick has rushed for more yards (740) than either of his hallowed predecessors, with his three 100-Yard Games thus far matching Allen’s total in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. The 21-Year old was essential to his team’s dramatic 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions, which was the club’s first true home game since Week Two. Jacobs rushed for a 120 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns on Twenty-Eight Carries, as the Raiders piled up 450 Total yards (171 Rushing) and moved the football at will against the visitor’s Defense. Derek Carr (71.2%, 1,984 YDS, 7.44 NY/A, 13 TD, 4 INT, 55.1 QBR), who is thriving in his second year under Gruden’s tutelage, deftly completed 20-of-31 Passes for 289 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, each to a midround Rookie, the first to Tight End, Foster Moreau (14 REC, 134 YDS, 9.6 Y/R, 3 TD), and the last to Hunter Renfrow (24 REC, 257 YDS, 10.7 Y/R, 2 TD), which also proved to be the game-winner. In fact, Oakland became just the second team in NFL History to have Four Touchdowns scored exclusively by Rookies in a single game, which must have the aforementioned brain trust grinning from ear to ear. Furthermore, a number of the team’s Free Agent Acquisitions have made a sizable impact, which has really helped put the Antonio Brown debacle behind them; Super Bowl Champion Tackle, has been a mountain at Right Tackle, with former Chargers’ Receiver, Tyrell Williams (23 REC, 355 YDS, 15.4 Y/R, 5 TD) scoring a Touchdown in all but one of the six games he’s played in, while unheralded Tight End, Darren Waller (48 REC, 548 YDS, 11.4 Y/R, 3 TD), is one of the most improved players in the league. Their presence, coupled with the steady improvement of Sophomore Left Tackle, Kolton Miller, and the healthy return of Guard, Gabe Jackson, has allowed Oakland to bully teams in the trenches, where their Rushing Attack has afforded Carr much more time to probe opposing Defenses downfield. Through eight games, the ground game has churned out 136.4 Yards per Game (6th Overall) on 4.8 Yards per Carry (8th Overall), with Carr averaging a stellar 7.49 Net Yards per Attempt (6th Overall). Protection is paramount when it comes to the 28-Year Old, who a year after taking a career-worst Fifty-One Sacks (8.4%), has only been dropped for a loss on nine occasions for a career-best Sack Percentage of 3.5%. With all that said, as much growth as they’ve shown on the offensive side of the football, it’s become clear that they still have a very long way to go on Defense, where they’ve been fairly listless thus far in 2019. After amassing an anemic Thirteen Sacks last season, the lowest single-season total since 2008, the Raiders have already collected fifteen, but that hasn’t translated to the desired results; Oakland as been downright dreadful against the Pass, allowing a league-worst 297.5 Yards (32nd Overall) and Twenty-Two Touchdowns (32nd Overall) through the air, while yielding a dismal 8.0 Net Yards per Attempt. Needless to say, they need to do more, but that appears to be unlikely given some of the turnover on this unit. Remember, Gruden and Mayock lost veteran Linebacker, Vontaze Burfict (18 TKL, 1 PD), to a season-ending suspension for yet another headshot of an opposing player, traded away underperforming Cornerback, Gareon Conley (23 TKL, 1 INT, 2 PD), to the Houston Texans three weeks ago for a 2020 Third Round Pick, and have been without the No. 27 Overall Pick, Safety, Jonathan Abram (5 TKL, 1 PD), since the Season Opener when he tore the labrum and rotator cuff in his shoulder. Furthermore, the No. 6 Overall Pick, Defensive End, Clelin Ferrell (15 TKL, 2 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK, ), has been slow to make an impact off the Edge, particularly after losing 15 lbs following a stomach illness during the team’s trip to London last month.