Chargers (2-2) vs. Oakland (1-3)
When Chargers have the ball
Melvin Gordon is coming off a game in which he bullied through and over assorted San Francisco 49ers en route to his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season. All of this came after a three-game start that had everyone gushing about Gordon’s abilities as a pass catcher. Yeah, he has been that good. So has Austin Ekeler. Through the season’s first quarter, the Chargers’ top two running backs are on pace for 3,304 yards from scrimmage and 28 touchdowns. Oakland counters with a defense that ranks 30th in yards rushing allowed and next to last in points. The Raiders are young up front and less than accomplished on the back end. Leading up to this game, coordinator Paul Guenther was asked if Oakland’s defensive backs are fast enough to limit big plays. “Well, we got what we got,” he said. “We gotta do the best job with what we’ve got right now.” Uh, OK. What the Raiders also have lacked is a steady pass rush. They are tied for last in the NFL with five sacks. That’s the same number Khalil Mack has by himself for the Chicago Bears. Sorry, too soon?
When Raiders have the ball
Oakland does have weapons for quarterback Derek Carr, most notably tight end Jared Cook and wideout Amari Cooper. The Raiders entered Week 5 with the NFL’s fourth-best passing attack and as one of eight teams averaging at least 300 yards through the air. Despite all that real estate, Carr’s quarterback rating ranks 30th, barely ahead of C.J. Beathard, the San Francisco backup quarterback the Chargers beat last week. Carr’s biggest issue is his NFL-high seven interceptions. The Chargers are tied for sixth with five interceptions and are 21st overall against the pass. Against Carr, this could be a good week for the celebrated “Jack Boys” to reestablish their presence. The group has been largely quiet in 2018. As for a ground game, the Raiders offer Marshawn Lynch, whose average of 75 yards rushing is seventh in the league, three spots ahead of Gordon. “He’ll just try to run through your face over and over again,” Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram said. “You’ve got to try running through his face over and over again.” The Chargers have been middle of the road at stopping the run but this week get back tackle Corey Liuget from suspension.
When they kick
Caleb Sturgis has missed three extra points over the last two games, a performance that demanded a change. No other kicker has missed more than two extra points. So the Chargers hired a new holder. Veteran punter Donnie Jones will begin his 15th NFL season when he makes his Chargers debut. He held for Sturgis for two full seasons and the start of a third in Philadelphia before the kicker was injured. Last week, the Raiders used rookie Matt McCrane, who kicked the winning field goal in overtime against Cleveland after replacing the injured Mike Nugent. A longtime NFL veteran, Nugent hurt his hip during Week 3.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
Four of the last five games in this rivalry have been decided by three or fewer points. The other result was a 30-10 Chargers victory on New Year’s Eve, the most recent meeting. The last time Jon Gruden coached the Raiders against the Chargers was Dec. 15, 2001. That was so long ago that Philip Rivers was a sophomore at North Carolina State. Given Oakland’s defense at the moment, he might feel as if he’s playing in college again.