Week 7: Top 10 Raiders, Chargers to watch
AFC West Showdown
The Raiders are healthy coming off a bye, heading into a big AFC West clash against the host San Diego Chargers. The Silver and Black let their last two games slip in the waning moments, and believe that they could and probably should be better than their 2-3 record suggests. The Chargers feel the same way. They’re banged up, fresh off back-to-back heartbreaking losses, trying to get right against Jack Del Rio’s new-look Raiders. This game will come down to matchups and execution, with several key players to keep an eye on.
10) CB Brandon Flowers, Chargers
The Chargers paid big money to retain Flowers’ services this season, and his performance has not matched his paycheck. Quarterbacks have a 136 passer rating throwing his way. He has allowed five touchdowns and a whopping 134 yards after the catch. Flowers has been a shut-down corner in the recent past, but now he is a cornerback quarterback Derek Carr could pick on. It’s possible that cornerback Jason Verrett could shadow Amari Cooper, leaving Michael Crabtree to exploit this perceived Chargers weakness.
9) LB Neiron Ball, Raiders
The rookie fifth-round pick saw his snaps go up significantly in Week 5, and did an excellent job shutting Denver tight end Owen Daniels down. That was a real bright spot, considering tight ends exploited the Raiders defense in previous contests. Ball should play on passing downs and will be integral in pass coverage, but he’ll have his hands full Sunday. Chargers star Antonio Gates has been great since returning from a PED suspension, though a knee injury makes his status uncertain. Ladarius Green is a handful from the tight end spot as well.
8) RB Melvin Gordon, Chargers
The Chargers’ first-round pick has struggled with production and ball security, issues that got him benched in a second-half at Green Bay. He fumbled twice that day, and has lost possession four times in six games. He’s a talented player who has struggled and could be vulnerable to getting stripped again. If Gordon gets right and the Chargers have a balanced attack, it could be a long day for the Raiders defense. Stopping Gordon is the first step in competing with this potent San Diego attack.
7) DE Mario Edwards Jr., Raiders
The second-round pick will take over for Justin Tuck, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week with a torn right pectoral muscle. Edwards Jr. is tailor-made to play 3-4 defensive end, a role that plays to his strengths. He’s strong against the run and can be bullish rushing the passer. He’ll also be an interior pass rusher in the nickel package, and could play most serious snaps if Denico Autry remains sidelined with a concussion.
6) WR Keenan Allen, Chargers
The California-Berkeley alum has been extremely productive thus far, with 603 yards and five touchdowns from 53 catches. He is battling a hip injury that could hamper acceleration vital to his game, but NFL Network reported earlier this week that he should be able to play. A weakened Allen is still a threat, and could be a handful for Raiders cornerbacks, including childhood friend David Amerson. Allen is heavily targeted, and must be restrained to keep the Chargers passing game from reaching top gear.
5) WR Amari Cooper, Raiders
Much has been made of the first-round pick’s first-half production and second-half struggles. The explosive playmaker has the ability to cause havoc in a game, regardless of coverage attempts. He has dealt with physicality and bracket coverage well. He has been shadowed by a top cornerback in most weeks, and could again on Sunday against San Diego’s Jason Verrett. That should be a matchup to watch, with two talented players going at it. The Raiders need some big plays to turn the game, especially on the road. Cooper is certainly capable of such efforts, even against a top corner.
4) DE Khalil Mack, Raiders
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers gets rid of the football fast. That shouldn’t negate Mack’s efforts getting after the quarterback. The Raiders will try to put Mack in favorable matchups, and he has the strength and power to reach the backfield without flashy moves. The direct approach works best against immobile quarterbacks like Rivers, and Mack can wreck a game if given the opportunity. The Raiders need him to do so and make game-changing plays expected of a top talent.
3) QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
Rivers is on pace to set NFL records for passing yards and attempts this season. He’s that hot, and has shown an ability to produce against quality opposition despite injuries along the offensive line. Rivers will get a few key blockers back and, if he has time to throw, could pick apart a porous Raiders pass defense. Rivers’ presence means you can’t count the Chargers out, even with a late deficit.
2) S Charles Woodson, Raiders
The bye week did this 18-year veteran some good. Woodson has been dealing with a dislocated right shoulder all season, and the pain has become tough to take. It hasn’t taken Woodson off his game, proven by an NFL-best four interceptions through five games. He has been the secondary’s savior, and another big play could help the Raiders. Rivers throws into tight windows, especially under pressure, creating turnover possibilities for the bold and savvy. Woodson certainly fits that bill.
1) RB Latavius Murray, Raiders
The Raiders are at their best when running well. They have a several accent pieces, but Murray is their one true feature back. He was banged up and limited the last few weeks, but is relatively healthy again and poised for a big game against San Diego’s No. 29-ranked run defense. The Raiders worked on the run game during their bye, and efficiency should lead to increased touch volume for Murray. That opens up the entire offense for the Raiders, who can score quick and score often when things are going well.