As the regular season winds down, both of these teams find themselves in familiar positions. San Diego remains mathematically alive for a playoff spot, but they need to win both games, and have both Miami and Baltimore lose each of their last two games. Not the most likely of scenarios, but the Chargers could definitely pose a threat in the Wild Card round if everything did go just right.
The Raiders, as has been the case in recent years, are firmly out of the playoff hunt, and looking to squash any hope for their division rival. Over the course of the season, some major bright spots have emerged, particularly on the offensive side. By the same token, glaring weaknesses continue to plague this organization, especially the lack of a franchise quarterback. Will the Raiders improve on their 4-10 record, or will they improve their draft positioning for next season? Let’s look at some matchups that will help determine this game’s outcome.
Keenan Allen vs. Oakland’s Cornerbacks
Throughout the draft process, Keenan Allen garnered comparisons to Anquan Boldin for his physicality and precise route running. He may not be a burner, but he already has great chemistry with Philip Rivers, and the combination has become one of the better QB-WR tandems in the league this season. In his last 10 games, Allen has posted 55 receptions for 821 yards and seven touchdowns. Extrapolated over a 16 game season, that’s a pace for 88 catches, 1312 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He also has caught 63-of-86 targets from Rivers on the season, and his catch rate of 73.3% is higher than any NFL receiver with 70 or more targets. Allen has only been the intended receiver on eight passes over the last two games, but somehow he’s turned those into four touchdowns, all of which looked pretty impressive.
For Oakland, Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, and Phillip Adams all have decidedly negative coverage grades. A big reason for the poor grades has been all the missed tackles. Between the three, they’ve missed 20 tackles in the passing game, leading to plenty of extra yards after catch by opposing receivers. Keenan Allen can be difficult to corral once he gets the ball in his hands, so Oakland will need defenders to fly to the football and help limit those extra yards.
Rashad Jennings vs. Chargers Run Defense
After Darren McFadden’s horrendous start to the season, the Raiders needed a spark in the run game. In five of his last six games, Rashad Jennings has provided that spark. Since his Week 9 breakout performance, Jennings has put up 539 rushing yards on 110 carries with six touchdowns. That’s 4.9 yards per carry compared to McFadden’s 3.5 average for the season. Jennings has also averaged the sixth most Yards After Contact per Carry at 2.90.
The Chargers may have the 14th-ranked run defense in terms of total yards, but they’ve given up the third most yards per carry in the NFL at 4.7. The defense has 13 different players who currently grade in the red in run defense, with the lowest grades going to Donald Butler, Kendall Reyes, and Manti Te’o. The Chargers have an extremely vulnerable pass defense as well, but given the Raiders QB struggles and recent running success, expect them to lean on Jennings in this one and pound the ball early and often.
King Dunlap vs. Lamarr Houston
This matchup may not sound all that exciting, but King Dunlap actually is tied for the highest run blocking grade of any tackle at +14.3, and Lamarr Houston has the sixth-highest run defense grade of 4-3 DEs at +11.1, and he also leads his position in stops with 47. Dunlap has accumulated his grade despite missing five games, and San Diego loves to run behind him. On running plays that have gone to the ‘B’ and ‘C’ gaps on the left side (where Dunlap has the biggest influence) the Chargers have gained 4.65 yards per carry, compared to 3.72 on all other carries. Additionally, they’ve averaged 2.20 yards before contact when running off left tackle, compared to 1.84 yards before contact in other directions. After missing time, Dunlap’s last two games have been two of his best all year, as he also allowed just three hurries and no additional pressure in his last 58 pass blocking snaps.
Houston has had an interesting season. He posted positive overall grades in each of his first seven games, but since then he’s been very up-and-down. He’s played the fifth most snaps of any defensive end in the league (4-3 or 3-4) so perhaps he’s begun to wear down a bit. Still, his 35 run stops lead all 4-3 DEs for the season, and his 57 total pressures tie him for seventh. If Oakland is going to steal this one away, they’ll need a big impact from arguably their best defender.
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