Two wins and three straight losses to open 2017 is not how anyone expected the Oakland Raiders season to go.
Things could always get worse of course, but the Raiders need to start getting some wins quickly, lest they fall behind in a crowded AFC playoff race. That path begins Sunday when they host the 1-4 Los Angeles Chargers in a divisional showdown (hopefully in Oakland, though complications from the Northern California wildfires could force a venue change).
Thankfully, the Raiders will have Derek Carr back at the helm. The quarterback had to bow out of last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a back injury. Backup EJ Manuel wasn’t terrible, but the team clearly missed Carr’s leadership abilities.
However, Carr’s performances in the previous two games weren’t exactly up to his usual standards either. The defenses for the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos were both dominant, which is par for the course when it comes to those two squads.
The Chargers defense, on the other hand, is more mixed. They’re ninth in the NFL when it comes to pass defense but dead last in stopping the run. That’s a weakness that the Raiders have to take advantage of. Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard played relatively well last week, so they should be leaned on heavily. The Chargers have a fierce pass rushing duo in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, however.
Their secondary is talented as well, with shutdown corner Casey Hayward leading the way. They’re a bit thin in terms of depth though, which leaves Carr and his receivers enough wiggle room to be effective. The team is still waiting on Amari Cooper to emerge from his funk.
On offense, the Chargers are much of the same as their defense, deadly through the air and limited on the ground. Philip Rivers is still a productive passer at the age of 35, and he has an underrated group of wideouts to work with. Keenan Allen has played quietly well since his return from an ACL tear last season.
The Raiders pass defense has been shaky thus far in 2017; only Karl Joseph and T.J. Carrie have performed consistently, and with injuries to David Amerson, Gareon Conley and Antonio Hamilton, the group is extremely thin as well. The trio of Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards Jr. have to provide a constant pass rush.
They can’t underestimate the Chargers running game either. Part of their lackluster numbers has stemmed from the team being down in most of their games, eschewing that aspect of their offense in favor of throwing the ball. Melvin Gordon was among the best running backs in the league during 2016. In addition to that, injuries to Cory James and Marquel Lee will affect the Raiders stopping unit.
On the injury front, Conley, Lee, Hamilton and fullback Jamize Olawale have all been ruled out for the Raiders. Amerson, James and running back DeAndre Washington are all questionable. The Chargers have four players listed as questionable: running back Branden Oliver, wide receiver Mike Williams, tackle Joe Barksdale and linebacker Jatavis Brown.
There’s a lot stacked against the Raiders heading into this game. Even at 1-4, the Chargers have enough firepower to take them down, especially considering the effects of the wildfires and the number of injuries the Raiders are dealing with. If the Silver and Black want to recover this season, they’re going to have to fight through the adversity and find a way to win.