Derek Carr is coming off arguably his best game in what has been one of his best seasons. He said Tuesday it’s no coincidence his two best seasons have come the two times he has been able to stay in the same system for a second straight year. Philip Rivers is still playing at an elite level, even if it’s not showing up in the Chargers’ record. He’s been hampered by dismal offensive line play.
Rookie Josh Jacobs is a breakout star who continues to break franchise records every time he takes the field. The Chargers have more of a committee approach. Austin Ekeler starred while Melvin Gordon held out. Now the Chargers are finding ways to employ both weapons. Gordon finally looks like he’s starting to find his rhythm again.
Tyrell Williams gave the Chargers a perfect complement to star Keenan Allen, but the Raiders snatched Williams away in free agency. Williams has been good in a lead role, scoring in every game he played until last week. While Zay Jones and Hunter Renfrow are starting to step up, the Raiders still need more out of their other pieces. Allen is still flourishing for the Chargers, with Mike Williams providing a deep threat and red zone option. Both teams have very good tight ends, though Oakland’s Darren Waller has the edge over Hunter Henry.
There was a great deal of excitement entering the season about how well the rebuilt Raiders’ offensive line could perform. They’ve only been on the field together for 10 snaps. It hasn’t mattered. Offensive line coach Tom Cable has worked wonders with the entire group to compensate for injuries and suspensions. This week, there are questions at center and right tackle. Injuries decimated the Chargers’ offensive line early this season, but Russell Okung’s return has helped a bit.
P.J. Hall and Jonathan Hankins continue to do a good job on the interior as the Raiders have become quite stout against the run. They need some help on the ends. Maxx Crosby needs to figure out a way to play with more discipline without harnessing his aggressiveness. The Chargers have Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III.
Both teams have struggled a bit in this area. The Chargers brought in 36-year-old longtime Panthers star Thomas Davis to solidify the position. He has been fine, though he has certainly showed his age at times. The Raiders are still looking for answers after Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the season.
The Raiders’ secondary is actually getting better. Trayvon Mullen has shown plenty of promise since the team traded Gareon Conley to open a starting spot for him. Erik Harris and Karl Joseph have played well together at safety. Daryl Worley recovered from early struggles last week to make an incredible, game-changing interception. It’s tempting to give them the edge here, except for one thing. Casey Hayward Jr. is an elite corner, perhaps the best in the league. He does his job so well it makes the rest of the Chargers’ secondary better.
The Chargers hope they have solved their kicking woes with the return of a healthy Michael Badgley. He converted four field goals in five attempts last week. But the Chargers are still firmly entrenched in the bottom half of the league among special teams units. The Raiders are in the top 10, according to Football Outsiders.
Notice how many advantages the Chargers have in these head-to-head comparisons. They’re still under .500. The Chargers are the better team on paper most weeks, yet it hasn’t always translated to wins. They have shown signs of life with two straight quality wins. Thursday night games are always a crapshoot. But the spot does seem to favor teams that are at home, particularly when they also played at home the previous Sunday like the Raiders did.
Adam Hill Las Vegas Review-Journal