Chargers at Raiders: Channel, time, how to stream, odds, pick, what to know about Thursday Night Football
The Raiders have exceeded many people's expectations so far, while the Chargers appear to be back on track
The Kansas City Chiefs lead the AFC West with a 6-3 record, but they don't exactly have the division title wrapped up just yet. The Oakland Raiders (4-4) and Los Angeles Chargers (4-5) are on the outside looking in, but they do have a shot to catch up to their rivals if they can catch fire over the next few weeks.
They each have the opportunity to continue their winning ways tonight, having recently defeated NFC North foes. Oakland topped the Lions in a shootout last week, while the Chargers are coming off back-to-back victories over the Bears and Packers. These teams can't afford many more losses if they want to make a run at a division title or wild card spot, so each game is of paramount importance.
Jared Dubin joined Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to further break down the matchup between the Chargers and Raiders. Listen below and be sure to subscribe:
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When the Raiders have the ball
Before we get to the actual matchup, I have to use at least part of this space to take a big, fat "L" on the Raiders offense as a whole. In the lead-up to the season I practically could not wait to tell people how bad I thought the Raiders would be; and not just because of their awful defense. The offensive line would be bad, I said. Derek Carr did not have a group of skill players who matched his skill set. I did not trust Jon Gruden to put Josh Jacobs in position to succeed.
Almost all of that has been wrong. Oakland ranks only 11th in yards per game and 16th in points per game, but the team ranks fifth in overall offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders' DVOA, and is also one of just three teams that ranks in the top six in both rush offense and pass offense DVOA.
The Raiders rank second in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate and Carr has been one of the least-pressured quarterbacks in the league. Carr has indeed has a mismatched group of receivers, but he's found a way to succeed anyway, completing 71 percent of his passes at an average of 7.9 yards per attempt, with 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He's formed a fantastic connection with rehabilitated tight end Darren Waller (48-558-3) and has with Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, and Foster Moreau.
Oakland's run-blocking has also been excellent, checking in fourth in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards, and as a result Jacobs has emerged as one of the leading candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He's averaging 4.9 yards per carry, ranks 11th in rushing success rate at Football Outsiders, and is on pace for a 1,480-yard, 12-touchdown season on the ground.
So, the Chargers. The following players are on injured reserve: Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, and Adrian Phillips. The following players are either out or questionable for Thursday night's game: Justin Jones, Cortez Broughton, Denzel Perryman, Roderic Teamer, and Brandon Mebane. All of these injuries have resulted in the Chargers defense taking a fairly massive step backward despite characteristically excellent seasons from Joey Bosa and Casey Hayward.
The Chargers are in the bottom third of the league in rush (25th), pass (23rd), and overall (26th) defensive DVOA a year after ranking inside the top 10 in all three of those same categories. They've been particularly vulnerable to passes over the middle of the field (29th in DVOA), which is not a good thing when you're about to face one of the league's better quarterback-tight end connections in Carr and Waller. (Much of this can undoubtedly be traced to the absences of their top three safeties: James, Adderley, and Phillips.) All of the injuries in the secondary have put added pressure on players like Desmond King II and Rayshawn Jenkins, who have largely not been quite as up to the task as they were a year ago.
The Raiders' receiving corps outside of Waller did not seem like much of a threat through the first six weeks or so of the season, but Williams, Renfrow, and Moreau have come on of late. Oakland's last two opponents schemed to take away Waller over the middle and it's resulted in big games for the other guys. We'll have to see how the Chargers choose to approach that same group of players on Thursday, but it seems same to assume Waller could have a bit more room to operate than he has the past couple weeks.
Jacobs, meanwhile, has essentially shown he can find success against anybody. His two-touchdown debut against the Broncos excepted (3.70 yards per carry), Jacobs has averaged at least 4.29 yards per carry in every game, and he's topped 79 yards in six of eight Oakland contests. The Chargers' run defense has not exactly been all that imposing, so Jacobs should be able to get things going on the ground once again.
When the Chargers have the ball
About two weeks ago, the Chargers looked like a team that was dead in the water. They'd lost five of their last six games, gotten embarrassed by the Devlin Hodges-quarterbacked Steelers in primetime, and then found themselves unable to do anything at all to get Melvin Gordon untracked upon his return from a contract holdout.
Things flipped in the past two weeks, as they managed to scratch out a win against the Bears by locking down defensively, and then played perhaps their most complete game of the season against the Packers last week. Philip Rivers was efficient, Melvin Gordon ground out some yards and found the end zone a couple times, Austin Ekeler chipped in as usual, Mike Williams finally got going, Hunter Henry continued rolling, and the defense completely shut down Aaron Jones and kept Aaron Rodgers in check.
Much like the Los Angeles defense, though, this Chargers offense has been beset by injuries throughout the season. Russell Okung only recently returned from a season-long absence, while Mike Pouncey, Forrest Lamp, Travis Benjamin, and Dontrelle Inman are all on IR. Henry was also out for several weeks, while Williams has been playing through injuries for essentially the entire season.
Lucky for the Chargers, though, they are about to run into one of the friendliest defenses in the NFL. Oakland ranks 27th in yards allowed, 26th in points allowed, and 29th in defensive DVOA. They've been solid against the run (11th) but atrocious against the pass (29th), with No. 1 wideouts (30th), No. 2 wideouts (28th), tight ends (22nd), and running backs (28th) all causing problems for them in the passing game. Against a team employing Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, Melvin Gordon, and Austin Ekeler, that's not what you want.
The real weakness of the Raiders defense is their pass rush, and that also plays right into LA's hands. Oakland ranks 22nd in pressure rate and 24th in adjusted sack rate per Football Outsiders, and that means this could be one of those games where Rivers is relatively unhurried in the pocket, and he has plenty of time to find his guys down the field. Those guys already have the advantage over the Raiders secondary, so it's tough to see the Chargers struggling to move the ball through the air.
Given the strength of the Oakland run defense this seems like the type of game the Chargers would be wise to put on Rivers' shoulders, but they have shown over the past several weeks that they are extremely stubborn about the need to keep Gordon involved with a bunch of carries. Their commitment to doing that should be more situation-based than identity-based, and tonight should be one of the situations where they attack through the air more often than not.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Raiders 23
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