The Las Vegas Raiders enter Week 9 after picking up a victory over the Cleveland Browns, improving to 4-3 on the season. With a divisional matchup of Raiders vs. Chargers on the horizon, Las Vegas will have their hands full against Offensive Rookie of the Year front-runner, Justin Herbert.
The Las Vegas Raiders have played the toughest schedule in the NFL after two months of play, yet they’ve escaped their toughest stretch with more wins than losses. Some would say the “Murderer’s Row” of opponents has been put behind them, but this is the NFL and anything can happen on any given Sunday. Add that this weekend’s Raiders vs. Chargers matchup is a divisional contest, anything can happen.
The Chargers come in with a 2-5 record, but the standings don’t truly represent how well they’ve played at certain times this season. Their fatal flaw in 2020 is how ineffective they’ve been in closing out games. The Chargers have played extraordinary well at times — they just can’t seem to piece it together in the fourth quarter. In games against the Chiefs, Buccaneers and Saints, the Chargers led in the fourth quarter by 16 or more points each time but, resulting in four losses.
The Raiders won both games against their AFC West rival last year, but can they pickup part one of their two-part contests in 2020?
Here are three matchups that favor Las Vegas in the Raiders vs. Chargers game at So-Fi Stadium:
Running Backs vs. LB Kenneth Murray
The Raiders group of running backs, which includes Josh Jacobs, Devonte Booker, Jalen Richard and Alec Ingold all bring a different dynamic to the offense. Whether they’re running in between the tackles, bouncing it out along the edge, or running routes as a pass-catcher, the Raiders have a guy for each concept.
When being utilized as a receiver coming out of the backfield, the Raiders will likely see Chargers’ linebacker Kenneth Murray in coverage on Sunday. The former first round pick has had an up-and-down season to start his NFL career, and last week didn’t treat him very well either.
Murray was in large part a huge reason why the Chargers saw struggles defensively in the team’s 30-31 loss to the Denver Broncos. In coverage, Murray allowed a completion in each of the six times he was targeted, being responsible for 58 yards, while allowing a 106.9 passer rating.
Throughout the entirety of Murray’s rookie season, he’s allowed a completion percentage of 78.8% on 33 targets, tallying 247 yards given up in coverage.
The Raiders weren’t able to orchestrate a whole lot of passing yards last week in Cleveland due to the tortuous weather conditions. But this week in a dome stadium that won’t be an issue. Quarterback Derek Carr should be more than capable to target Jacobs and Richard over the middle of the field where Murray is often used in coverage.
Josh Jacobs vs. Chargers’ Run Defense
Last week, Jacobs rushed for over 100 yards for the first time this season. Gruden’s offensive play-calling has a track record of establishing the run early and implementing passing designs off of his run game. Las Vegas did just that against the Browns, and carrying that same style of play over into Week 9 is a matchup that favors the Raiders.
The Chargers have allowed 112 rushing yards per game this season, showing they can be expendable against the run. Just last week the Chargers saw Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsey combine for over 100 yards on 14 carries.
“We was running the ball very physical,” Jacobs said after his 138-yard rushing performance on Sunday. “I feel like that’s our style of play. I know that’s my style of play. I know that’s our mentality as a running back room and as an offensive line. Just to be able to showcase that this week, it’s huge. We’ll try to come out next week and duplicate it and improve a little bit.”
The Raiders identity on offense starts with getting Jacobs involved on the ground. This season, that hasn’t always been the case as they’ve dealt with a revolving door of injuries along their offensive line, forcing the offense to pivot toward the passing game more frequently.
If right tackle Trent Brown can make his return back to the field in Week 9, the Raiders will be with four of their five starting offensive lineman, making a good case that Jacobs could be due for a big day.
Nick Kwiatkoski vs. Running Backs & Tight Ends
The Raiders spent a surplus of cap space this offseason to fix the defense, but none have been as impactful as linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. Prior to last week, he was the 10th ranked linebacker in the NFL and the highest-graded defensive player on the Raiders. And yet, he uplifted his stock to greater heights last week.
Kwiatkoski forced a fumble and led the Raiders in tackles against the Browns. Not only has he been stout against the run, but Kwiatkoski has exceeded all expectations in pass coverage.
The Chargers have been without starting running back Austin Ekeler so they’ve turned to Justin Jackson and Josh Kelley to carry the load. Neither of the two are nearly as shifty in space as Ekeler, and seeing looks against Kwiatkoski should give the Raiders the upper hand.
Additionally, Kwiatkoski could also see looks against Chargers’ tight end, Hunter Henry, in coverage. Henry posses a bigger task than the two running backs for the Raiders vs. Chargers matchup, but his role on offense hasn’t quite lived up to what it once was a few years ago when he broke out on the scene with eight touchdowns during his rookie campaign.
The Raiders are coming off a game in which they’ve only allowed six points to their opposition, and look to carry that same momentum with them as they see the Chargers for the first time this season.
The Raiders match up well, but will need to play as they did in Cleveland defensively to stop Herbert and the Los Angeles offense.