As devastating wildfires continue to spread throughout California, we are, yet again, reminded that sports are but a mere diversion when putting life into context. The thoughts of Californians, as well as all Americans, are with all those affected.
However, as they often say in California, the show must go on. There is a game to be played by division rivals the Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers in a key AFC West matchup. While much concern had arisen as to whether the air quality would allow the game to be played in Oakland as scheduled, the improvements were sufficient enough for the NFL to declare that the Oakland Coliseum would remain the home venue.
The Raiders will look to snap a three-game losing streak to their divisional rivals. The Chargers got their first win of the season last week, beating the New York Giants 27-22 on the road. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw for three touchdowns in a game that ended the Chargers’ nine-game losing streak dating back to last season.
At 1-4, it can be said that the Bolts have underachieved, thus far. On the same note, the Raiders have compiled a 2-3 record, which is below this season’s expectations for the Silver and Black. One would be remiss to ignore the fact that the Raiders struggles have been, in part, due to the health of quarterback Derek Carr. For the Chargers, inconsistent play, and a bit of bad luck, have played major roles in their difficulties. However, one thing is certain. Both teams will enter Sunday with much to prove. Divisional games are always hotly contested, and this one should be no different.
As we enter Sunday’s contest, here some things on which you might want to keep a sharp eye.
Rivers vs. Raiders Defense
While the Chargers have won just one game this season, it isn’t because of the play of quarterback Philip Rivers. He enters Week Six ranking fifth in the NFL in passing yards with 1,365 and seventh in touchdown passes with nine. Rivers will face a Raiders defense that is giving up only 226.6 yards through the air during their first five games.
Oakland is one of three teams that hasn’t recorded a single interception this season. The Raiders secondary is undoubtedly aware of the drought and hopes that they can get some opportunities against Rivers this weekend. Khalil Mack and the Raiders’ defense has done an excellent job of getting pressure on Philip Rivers in the past. The Bolts offensive line will have its work cut out for them on Sunday. They just be up to the challenge for the Chargers to have a chance at winning.
Derek Carr, meet LA’s Dymanic Duo
Carr missed last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens due to a back injury he suffered against the Denver Broncos in Week Four. He was replaced by backup EJ Manuel, which was one of the contributing factors to the Raiders’ third straight loss.
Head coach Jack Del Rio said earlier this week that he is expecting Carr to start against the Chargers. Earlier this week, Carr said he didn’t expect the back injury to limit him in any way.
“No. If it was restrictive, I wouldn’t put my teammates in a bad spot. That’s for sure.”
Carr said on Wednesday.
Before his injury, Carr was having a fantastic season with 753 passing yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 101.2. Certainly, Carr’s return will give the Chargers’ defense a formidable challenge on Sunday.
On the flip side, Chargers’ defensive ends, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, have been a pass-rushing dynamic duo so far this season. Ingram, who has been playing out of his mind, has 7.5 sacks already and should be in the way-too-early conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Bosa hasn’t been too shabby either, posting 4.5 sacks of his own. Carr will be back in action, but will undoubtedly be less than 100 percent. Look for Bosa and Ingram to aggressively rush the quarterback on Sunday, pitting as much pressure on Carr as possible.
…And Introducing, Mike Williams
Los Angeles hopes to finally have its first-round draft pick on the field Sunday. The wide receiver, chosen seventh overall in the 2017 draft, missed all of training camp and the first five games due to a back injury. His debut has been highly anticipated.
In his final season at Clemson, Williams caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 13 touchdowns. When asked about his newest target, Rivers said earlier this week:
”He’s shown some things just in the time he’s been able to be back on the field with us, that you can quickly see why he was taken where he was taken, just physically the things he can do.”
If Williams can show he’s healthy and can get up to speed quickly, it will give Rivers another offensive weapon, in an already impressive arsenal.
In a game where both teams desperately need a win, it appears the Raiders have the advantage. Derek Carr’s return will greatly help an offense that was limited with backup quarterback EJ Manuel at the helm. Look for Oakland to stretch the ball downfield to exploit the Chargers secondary. The Raiders also have the option of using running back Marshawn Lynch to control the clock.
The Chargers the Raiders typically engage in close games. This one shouldn’t be any different. Los Angeles should keep it close, but Oakland likely pulls out the narrow victory at home.
Raiders 28, Chargers 24
-Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. He is also a National Content Writer and covers the NFL for cover32.com.
Jameis Winston channels his inner Ric Flair