Opposition Research: Breaking Down The Raiders

The Chargers will play their third division game of the season tomorrow, when they travel to Oakland to take on the Raiders. There was some concern that the game wouldn't be able to be played in Oakland due to the Bay Area fires and resulting poor air quality, but it will go on as scheduled. If the Chargers can get a win they'll move into a tie with the Raiders for third place in the AFC West and resurrect their season.

The Raiders, hailed by many as a super bowl contender, find themselves in the midst of a three game skid after starting off 2-0. The Raiders have been plagued by a leaky defense and the inability to get their run game going. They will get the much needed return of Derek Carr after he missed last week's game against the Ravens with a back injury. Here's what the Chargers can expect on both sides of the ball:

OFFENSE:

Coming into the season, Oakland's offense was expected by most to be one of the top units in the league. They returned almost all of their pieces from last year's offense and added Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch, who returned to the NFL after a year long retirement. Instead of building on last year's success, they've regressed notably.

Oakland was sixth in the league last year in total yardage, this year they're 29th. They have one of the league's better offensive lines, anchored by left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Gabe Jackson, both of whom were recently signed to extensions. Despite the stellar O-line, they haven't been able to spark anything on the ground. Lynch looks like he's lost a stop, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and just 2.7 yards per carry over their last three games. It wouldn't be surprising to see Lynch start ceding more playing time to Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington soon.

Even Carr hasn't looked like he did last season, struggling at times and especially in big moments. He continued his trend of folding in primetime games two weeks ago when he had one of the worst starts of his career on Sunday Night Football against the Redskins. The main storyline in the Raiders passing game has been the continued absence of Amari Cooper. Cooper, the third year former #4 overall pick, topped 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons but has just 118 yards so far this year including just four catches for 23 yards over his past three games. Cooper has struggled with drops and shown a general lack of chemistry with Carr so far.

The Chargers will need to prevent Cooper from breaking out of his slump and he should see plenty of Casey Hayward on Sunday. The other wideout they'll need to contain is Michael Crabtree, who returned last week after missing week four with a chest injury. The Raiders new addition in the passing game is Jared Cook, the tight end signed away from Green Bay this past march. Cook has been OK, averaging about 40 yards per game, but has had several crucial errors including a dropped potential game winning touchdown against Denver and a crucial lost fumble last week against Baltimore.

Overall, the Raiders offense will likely come down to how healthy Carr is and how well he can play. If he's at all limited he could struggle against an underrated Chargers secondary. Despite Lynch's recent struggles, I would expect the Raiders game-plan to feature him heavily. Not just to give Carr a break but also because of the Chargers struggles against the run. The Chargers have struggled to stop opposing teams' rushing attacks all season long and has particularly struggled to bring down big backs. In week two, Jay Ajayi bounced off Chargers defenders all day long and routinely broke tackles. The Chargers will have to bring Lynch down at first contact to avoid opening things up for Carr.

DEFENSE:

The Raiders' achilles heel this year has been, like every year, their defense. Their secondary is allowing an absurd 8.1 yard per pass attempt, good for 29th in the league. They aren't much better against the run, averaging giving up a 25th best 124.6 yards per game.

They still have one of the league's best defenders, Khalil Mack, who's capable of being a one man wrecking crew but unfortunately for them he can't do everything. Their corners and safeties are among the worst in the league and if they aren't generating consistent pressure they get picked apart easily.

The Chargers are finally getting top pick Mike Williams back as another upgrade to their passing game, and Anthony Lynn would be wise to challenge this Oakland secondary over the top with some deep balls to Tyrell Williams. The Charges O-line has regressed notably in recent weeks, and this matchup will be firmly on their shoulders. The Raiders only real defensive threat is their pass rush, so if Philip Rivers has time to throw, they should be able to build upon last week's 27 points.

In addition to already being one of the league's worst units, the Raiders defense is also very banged up. Their best corner, David Amerson, appears 50/50 to play with a shoulder injury and will be a game-time call. Also a game-time call is starting linebacker Cory James who's dealing with a knee injury. At best, they will both be playing hobbled and they should be players to exploit if they give it a go. Another starting linebacker, Marquel Lee, will miss the game with a sprained ankle. Their first round pick, cornerback Gareon Conley, will miss his third consecutive game. He's been one of their best defenders when on the field.

Given all these injuries, the Chargers should be in for another big day on offense. They're shaky against the run, but their real weakness is their secondary, so hopefully Lynn doesn't get too run happy. Hopefully they feature Hunter Henry, as he should be able to get open for chunk gains across the middle of the field. Overall it's another near perfect spot for this Chargers offense, and up to them to take advantage.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

It's expected to be a high scoring game, with the highest over/under of any game this weekend. It'll come down to whichever offense is able to better take advantage of the opponents weaknesses on defense. The Chargers are the healthier team, and on paper the more talented team. Throw in the fact that the fires have forced the Raiders to reduce their practice time and possibly will reduce crowd size, and the Chargers have a great opportunity to pick up their second straight road win and first division win.


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