The Oakland Raiders look to bounce back after dropping a very winnable game against the Redskins. They welcome their southern California rival, the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers have had an up and down season with a 2-2 record, but they feature a top-10 offense. The Raiders had a rough go last week, as Matt Flynn was unable to mount any sort of offensive pressure in the absence of Terrelle Pryor. Pryor is expected to start this week, but Darren McFadden is doubtful with a hamstring injury.
The Raiders would love to get back on the right foot with a bounce back win against their hated rival. The opportunity is there with Pryor back under center against a vulnerable San Diego defense. This has the making of a shootout and the defense that can slow down the opposing offense first is going to win this game. Here are the three things to look for in the upcoming Sunday night contest.
1. How does Pryor look after returning from the concussion:
Pryor has been the spark plug for the Raiders’ offense for the early part of the season, as he has accounted for nearly 850 yards through three games. His legs provide the offense with a legitimate weapon that opposing defenses must account for. They also allow him to create time behind an offensive line that has struggled to keep defensive players out of the backfield early on.
His absence was felt last week, as he missed the game with concussion symptoms. His backup Flynn was unable to get the offense moving consistently and once he lost McFadden, he was unable to put the offense on his shoulders. His limited athleticism was exposed last week, as he was unable to escape the pass rush with seven sacks and could not challenge the defense downfield.
The Chargers defense has not been that solid this year, as they rank in the bottom six in both passing and rushing yards allowed. They also allow nearly 26 points per game. This is a great game for Pryor to showcase his skill set and get the offense rolling after a down week. The key will be how long it takes him to shake off the rust from missing a week. If he can get in the zone early, then Oakland has a shot at taking down San Diego. If he struggles early, then the Raiders might not be able to keep up with the Chargers’ offense.
2. Can the defense slow down Phillip Rivers:
The defense struggled in their last two games, with 875 yards allowed. The problem has been the lack of a pass rush. The Raiders’ defense had nine sacks in their first two game, but have struggled to create pressure with two sacks in the last two weeks combined.
The pass rush is going to be key in the game. Last season, Rivers was sacked 49 times and he struggled with his lowest production over the last several seasons. This year, Rivers has been sacked six times in four games this and Rivers ranks second in the NFL in quarterback rating with 118.8. He has 1,199 yards and 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
The Raiders need to pressure Rivers and get some hits on him early. Rivers is susceptible to being rattled and can be forced into making mistakes when under fire. Rivers has a gun slinger mentality and will try to throw through coverage, so speeding up his internal clock will close the window on a lot those throws and allow the defensive back to make a play on the ball.
The Chargers are not a strong running team, but the Raiders need to keep it at bay and force the Chargers in to third and long. This will allow their pass rushers to pin the ears back and get after the quarterback. Sacks and turnovers are going to be vital in this game, so it is simple put pressure on Rivers early and force him in to some mistakes. If Rivers has time, he will pick the secondary apart and put this game away early.
3. Who wins the turnover battle:
The turnover battle is going to be key in this game, as neither defense has looked particularly strong during the course of the season. So, the ability to get their offenses extra possessions will play a huge role in this game.
Over their last two losses, the Raiders are minus four in the turnover ratio category. Last week, a pick-six turned the momentum in the game, as the Redskins rolled to 24 straight points. The Raiders cannot afford to surrender possessions, as they want to be able to control possession and grind out victories in close games. Turnovers also do not allow opposing offenses to attack a defense that has not looked overly solid this season.
The Chargers have been prone to making mistakes over the last several seasons, particularly with Rivers throwing interceptions. Rivers has 48 interceptions and 24 fumbles lost over his last three full seasons. The Raiders need to force Rivers into mistakes and take the ball out his hands, as the Chargers are fully capable of putting up big offensive numbers. Winning the turnover battle is going to the Raiders their best chance to win and it should be their main focus heading into Sunday night.