3FTO: Chargers @ Raiders, Week 5
This divisional matchup in the surging AFC West finds the San Diego Chargers going on the road to take on the Oakland Raiders. The twist is this contest has become a prime-time game for NFL Network, set to air after NBC’s usual Sunday Night game — this is due to an MLB playoff game.
These two squads opened 2012 against each other and ended 2012 the same way, with the Chargers sweeping the Raiders by a combined score of 46-35. This is a new year, but a resurgent Philip Rivers (under new head coach Mike McCoy) gives an advantage, at least on paper, to San Diego. The Raiders, despite only one win so far, have surprised many who thought they would be the worst team in the NFL this year, largely thanks to QB Terrelle Pryor, who stole the starting job from journeyman backup Matt Flynn prior to Week 1.
Here are three key matchups to look for Sunday night.
Raiders O-Line vs. Chargers Pass Rush
With starter Terrelle Pryor back in the lineup after a concussion in Week 3, the Raiders have to protect their young QB — especially if they want to keep Matt Flynn (-3.3 passing grade last week against a porous Redskin secondary) off the field. Through the first three games, the Raiders’ offensive line was responsible for their signal-caller hitting the turf only five times (four sacks and one QB hit). In the home loss to Washington last week they allowed that same figure — four sacks and a QB knockdown; only ex-Cowboy Andre Gurode at LG graded positively in pass protection last week, and just barely.
Fortunately for the Raiders, their San Diego rivals haven’t had much success rushing the passer. Veteran Dwight Freeney had been their best pass rusher but has been lost for the season due to a quad injury. The next most productive pass rusher for the Chargers has been ex-Packer and Titan Jarius Wynn, a defensive end who’s only played 76 out of 270 snaps. Among those who will need to step up in Freeney’s absence are ex-Raven Jarret Johnson (two sacks, one hit, six hurries), and former first-round picks Corey Liuget (one sack, four hurries) and Larry English (one sack, one hit, seven hurries).
Philip Rivers vs. Raiders Secondary
After struggling heavily last season, Philip Rivers currently has our second-best passing grade (+13.1) behind only Peyton Manning. That grade through four games is a massive improvement over the first quarter of his last two seasons — +2.8 in 2012 and -1.2 in 2011. It should be noted that the Chargers’ longest tenured WR, Malcolm Floyd, played in less than a game and a half before a nasty injury (he is still sidelined at this point), while Danario Alexander, who led all their WRs last year with seven TD catches, was put on IR before the season began.
Rivers will be facing a below-average Oakland secondary with aging journeyman DB Charles Woodson playing safety, occupying the highest coverage grade among this unit. The three cornerbacks seeing the most snaps — Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter and rookie D.J. Hayden — have conceded a combined 45 catches on 66 targets for 564 yards and two TD passes, while successfully defending only four passes. Those stats don’t include a defensive holding infraction on Porter (declined), a 6-yard pass interference flag on Jenkins on a third-and-short, and a 24-yard PI flag on Hayden. They’ve also missed a total of nine tackles in coverage (Hayden being the most culpable with six). Can they slow Rivers’ hot 2013 start?
Despite missing a game, former Buckeye Pryor currently has the highest running grade of all signal-callers, with Andrew Luck close behind. Pryor has 26 carries in the first three games for 198 yards, a 7.6 yards-per-carry average, and has forced four missed tackles. However, he was concussed on a running play — will that cause him to be more tentative with his legs?
Pryor’s legs could pose a problem for a Charger defense that has faced some mobile QBs already in this young season. They fared alright against Michael Vick, who only had 23 yards on six carries with his longest run being 11 yards. They did concede a 2-yard TD run by Vick though, and they seemed less prepared the next week for Jake Locker. Locker was able to gash the Chargers for 69 yards, a 39-yard run being the longest, on just five carries, which included a 7-yard TD run up the middle. Last week Tony Romo was able to pick up 15 yards on a 3rd-and-8 late in the game, but that was his only run. Will San Diego be able to contain the elusive Pryor, or let him do what Locker did to this unit?
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