The unrelenting pressure generated by the Raiders’ much-maligned four-man pass rush was certainly a big key in their 26-24 victory over the Chargers on Thursday night.
Not only did the Raiders have a season-high five sacks and another five quarterback hits, but they never allowed Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers to get comfortable. His passer rating of 57.5 was his lowest since last December when he posted a 51.7 in a 22-10 loss to the Ravens.
His uneasiness especially showed on the final drive when the Raiders didn’t allow a completion on seven pass attempts as Rivers was constantly rushed inside the pocket.
Clelin Ferrell, the fourth overall pick, will get the biggest headlines for his 2½ sacks. But it’s another rookie, fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby, who was the most impressive rusher despite being credited with just a half sack.
1. Why was Maxx Crosby’s performance more impressive than that of Clelin Ferrell?
For one thing, Ferrell got a huge break when Chargers starting left tackle Russell Okung left early with a groin injury and did not return. He was replaced by third-round pick Trey Pipkins, who had only played nine snaps before replacing Okung. As a raw player out of Division II University of Sioux Falls, Pipkins was a future bet by the Chargers and was not supposed to play at all this season.
Crosby had a good matchup as well. Trent Scott made his first career start at right tackle in place of the injured Sam Tevi. But at least Scott is in his second professional season.
And while Ferrell got the sacks, Crosby had the most pressure. He generated 10 quarterback pressures — the most by any Raiders player in a game since 2016, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Two of Crosby’s pressures forced two of the Chargers’ three interceptions.
Ferrell had five total pressures, including his 2½ sacks.
2. Why was Gruden lucky his decision to call timeout with 1:06 remaing ended up working out?
When Carr hit Jalen Richard on a 9-yard pass down to the Chargers 18, Oakland was facing third and 1 and a rolling clock. Despite both teams having all their timeouts left, Gruden quickly called a timeout. On the next play Josh Jacobs scored from 18 yards out. When Daniel Carlson missed the extra point, Oakland’s possible lead went from three to two.
If the Chargers went on to kick the game-winning field goal, everyone would have gone back to Gruden’s decision to call a timeout. Yes, you have to worry about scoring a touchdown first if you’re the Raiders, but you also need to manage the end of the game as well. Gruden punted on that.
A lot of teams, after Richard’s reception, would have run quickly to the line and used a running play or even a QB sneak to pick up the first down — especially a team like the Raiders with an excellent offensive line. If you don’t get it, then you take a timeout with under a minute left. If you make the first down, then it’s likely the Chargers have to start using their timeouts to preserve a chance to tie or win the game.
So if Gruden doesn’t take that timeout, then they stand a good chance of leaving the Chargers very little time and — at least — zero timeouts to win or tie the game.
Gruden took the timeout, and it ended up working because the Chargers were a dumpster fire on the final drive.
3. Why should right tackle Trent Brown get a game ball?
For a few different reasons. No. 1, the mammoth right tackle joined center Rodney Hudson in starting despite being questionable heading into the contest — and Brown was playing on just three days rest after leaving the Lions game with an injury. That’s unbelievable toughness, and answering the bell for his teammates is huge.
But more importantly, No. 2, Brown basically erased Chargers end Joey Bosa — being mentioned as an NFL Defensive Player of the Year contender — almost completely. Bosa was largely a non-factor as he finished with two tackles (one for a loss) and two quarterback hits.
Bosa entered the game averaging one sack, five total quarterback pressures and five tackles. It’s game like this why the Raiders gave Brown a four-year, $66-million contract in the offseason.
4. Why was Jon Gruden probably most excited about Alec Ingold’s touchdown right before halftime?
The score, which gave the Raiders a 17-14 lead, just so happened to be one of Gruden’s favorite plays: Spider 2 Y Banana. The play, which launched a thousand memes and jokes during Gruden’s QB Camp on ESPN, calls for the line to block down to the left, the inline tight end (the Y player) to run a post to the back pylon, the fullback to release into the right flat and the tailback to block the left defensive end. The Raiders ran the play to perfection as Ingold beat Chargers linebacker Kyzir White to the flat, caught the pass from Derek Carr and dove into the end zone for a huge touchdown after the Raiders had allowed 14 straight points.
5. Why was it unfair for some of the Raiders’ defenders to point fingers at Trayvon Mullen on the Chargers’ first touchdown pass?
After Hunter Henry’s touchdown at the 8:24 mark of the second quarter, linebacker Nicholas Morrow could be seen pointing a finger at Mullen for not covering the tight end. But you have to give credit to the Chargers for putting Mullen in a bind. Receiver Mike Williams ran toward the front pylon, and Henry went toward the back pylon. No one covered Williams – that could have been the responsibility of Morrow or Karl Joseph — so Mullen rushed toward Williams, leaving Henry wide open.
With no help, Mullen was left in no-man’s land. That’s not his fault. It was mostly just a good call and execution by the Chargers.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.