OAKLAND – The Raiders defensive line was woefully thin entering Thursday's game against the Chargers. The rotation was down to seven with Arden Key recently placed on injured reserve and Josh Mauro out with a groin injury. The edge rushers were so depleted the Raiders had linebacker Kyle Wilber rushing in some cases.
Most of the work fell to rookies Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, and veteran Benson Mayowa.
Those three got after Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throughout the Raiders' 26-24 victory at Oakland Coliseum.
They brought pressure all game long, from opening snap to a final and failed comeback attempt by the Chargers. While complete pressure numbers won’t come until Friday morning, we do know Raiders sacked Rivers five times and hit him 10 times in total.
“We started getting pressure on him right from the start of the game, and that was it,” Ferrell said. “We knew they were going to be passing the ball and they weren’t going to have much time, so we pinned our ears back and went after it.”
That was a marked difference from most weeks, where the Raiders pass rush showed improvement over last year’s 13-sack disaster but generally lacked production creating havoc in the pocket.
Crosby and Mayowa have been relatively steady but Ferrell had a breakout game. The No. 4 overall draft pick was awesome, totaling eight tackles, 2.5 sacks, two other tackles for loss, three total quarterback hits and a pass defensed.
“He’s a tough, gritty football player who works really hard,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “Tonight, he was rewarded.”
So was the entire defense. Rivers is prone to making aggressive mistakes, throwing into tight windows or taking deep shots even while under pressure. Those throws can turn into picks.
That happened several times on Thursday night, with pressure involved in the three interceptions that counted and two others negated by penalties away from the play. Mayowa also forced a fumble, though the Chargers got it back.
“He’s a great quarterback,” Crosby said. “The thing with him is that you have to be in his face all game and try to get him flustered. I thought we did a good job of that. We kept coming all game, until the final whistle blew. It was huge.”
The edge rushers worked over a pair of backup Chargers tackles – starting left tackle Russell Okung got hurt and didn’t return – but that shouldn’t negate an excellent all-around defensive performance. Pressure mostly came from the outside, but interior contributions shouldn’t be ignored. Maurice Hurst had two quarterback hits and Johnathan Hankins had another.
“Any time you face a good quarterback like Rivers or Matt Stafford (on Sunday) and you let them stand there, you’re in trouble,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “I thought we had a good rush and great energy.”
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That part was impressive considering this was the second game in five days and the Raiders were down two defensive ends.
“It was a lot of heart,” Crosby said. “It was hard, especially with the quick turnaround, but we just had to keep going and keep coming after him. Their offensive line was out there a ton, too, but we feel like we’re in better shape. We just kept bringing it until the game was over.”