3TFO: Raiders @ Chargers, Week 17
When the NFL changed its schedules to ensure that the final weeks of the season were filled with divisional games, it was to try and ensure that Week 17 didn’t feel simply like the final week of the pre-season, full of meaningless games that nobody really cared about.
Unfortunately it seems as if those good intentions have been largely in vain as the Chargers and Raiders face off in a game that would struggle to have less meaning to it. At six wins, the Chargers are two better off than the Raiders, but sit with half the total of the division leading Broncos, and are well out of the AFC Wild Card race.
At this point all that is left to play for is pride, but this is the final regular season game of 2012, and it’s a long off-season until these teams will get to play real football again, so make the most of it while you can! Here are three areas to focus on that will go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game.
Battle of the Problem Passers
There are few falls from grace like the one Philip Rivers is in the midst of at the moment. Once right at the brink of truly elite play alongside the game’s best, Rivers is now floundering at quarterback for the Chargers, and is currently our 30th ranked QB on the season, below players like Blaine Gabbert and Matt Cassel, both of whom were actually benched by their teams.
Rivers can’t trust his protection long enough to get comfortable and make sound reads, and that led him to throw picks he would never have before. In recent weeks it seems like the Chargers’ answer to that has been to instruct him that ‘when in doubt, throw it away’, causing him to start throwing the ball away at a truly staggering rate. He has already amassed 42 throw-aways, 12 more than any other passer this season despite 117 fewer attempts than Drew Brees in second place. At least if he’s tossing the ball out of bounds he can’t be throwing it to a defender.
The Raiders are going to be forced to start Matt Leinart in place of injured Carson Palmer, and that means that their offense is going to consist almost exclusively of short passes and dump-offs, because Leinart doesn’t have the arm to go deep or the visision to attack tight holes down field across the middle. In college his arm was limited but at least he was accurate. Now that accuracy seems to have abandoned him and he doesn’t have the kind of big receivers he did at USC to go and get the ball for him, so he is essentially a rich version of me playing quarterback for the Raiders. The team will doubtless work in Terrelle Pryor for some snaps and gimmick plays but it speaks (damning) volumes that they view Leinart as a better option to win the game than him at this stage.
Jared Veldheer vs. San Diego OLBs
It may get lost in the mess of the Oakland season but LT Jared Veldheer has actually played pretty well. Despite a couple of hiccups along the way, he is currently our 13th ranked OT, having allowed a total of just 33 pressures all season long. He also has a positive run blocking grade, which should make the platoon of San Diego OLBs an interesting contest. Jarrett Johnson has had a down year in a new home but is still a tough assignment in the run game, while Melvin Ingram brings a change of pace as a sub-package rusher, with 32 pressures to his name, second only to Shaun Phillips amongst the position group for the Chargers. Veldheer will likely face three completely different stlyes of players in the Chargers platoon this week, how will he fare against them all?
Containing Marcel Reece
Oakland have one of the league’s most versatile offensive weapons in FB Marcel Reece. Before this season we already knew he could block and catch the ball, but he showed when McFadden went down again this year that he could also be relied upon as a pure ball carrier, and better than McFadden can be. On any given play Reece can run the ball, lay impressive lead blocks from the full back position, or even split out wide and do a pretty good impression of a wide receiver running down field. That is Percy Harvin levels of versatility, if only the Raiders were more prepared to make better use of it.
Unless they decide to revamp the offense just for this game we are unlikely to see Reece made a major feature of it, but it is worth watching him anyway for the few plays each game where he shows how effective he can be. The entire San Diego defense is likely to be tasked with dealing with him at some point in the day.
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