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There’s just one game left in Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season, and it pits AFC West rivals against each other. 

The Las Vegas Raiders are off to a 3-0 start, and this week they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers. Derek Carr and Justin Herbert have each been electric in the early days of the season, and they’ll have an opportunity to put on a fireworks show on Monday night. 

Can the Raiders remain unbeaten, or will the Chargers hand them their first loss of the season? Let’s break down the matchup, but first, here’s a look at how you can watch the game. 

How to watch

Date: Monday, Oct. 4 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, California)
TV: 
ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Chargers -3, O/U 51.5

When the Raiders have the ball

Derek Carr is currently playing at the highest level of his career. Through three weeks, he’s 88 of 136 (64.7 percent) for 1,203 yards (8.85 per attempt), six touchdowns, and two interceptions. Crucially, he’s throwing the ball downfield more often than ever before, with 18.4 percent of his pass attempts traveling at least 20 yards in the air, per TruMedia tracking. It’s worth noting that the Vegas offensive line has held up better than could have been expected heading into the season, as Carr has been pressured on a below-average share of his dropbacks. 

It’ll be interesting to watch how he operates against this Chargers defense, which prioritizes taking away the deep pass above all else, and which has Joey Bosa to make things difficult up front. Chargers coach Brandon Staley believes in building the scheme from back to front, and the Chargers play with two high safeties and six or fewer players in the box more often than almost any team in the league. They are perfectly happy to invite opponents to run the ball or repeatedly take checkdown throws, betting that they won’t be patient enough to move up and down the field in small increments without making a mistake. 

That used to be how Carr operated all the time. He was all too willing to take the checkdown throw, and usually to tight end Darren Waller. Waller had a monster night against the Ravens back in Week 1 (10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown on 19 targets) but has been less involved in the passing game in the two games since (10 catches for 119 yards on 14 targets). There should be opportunities for him to work the short middle of the field throughout this game, but it’s also possible that the Chargers assign stud defensive back Derwin James to follow him all over the field. 

It’s worth noting that they didn’t do that last week against Travis Kelce and the Chiefs, preferring instead to bracket Tyreek Hill to take away Patrick Mahomes; deep shots down the field. Would they do the same against the Raiders and prioritize taking away Henry Ruggs, who is not as dangerous a threat as Hill, but provides a similar element of speed and ability to take the top off the defense? We’ll obviously find out later tonight. 

The Raiders do like to run the ball, which could come back to bite a team against an opponent like the Chargers, who are fine with giving up 3- or 4-yard runs if that’s what you want to do. Peyton Barber ran extremely well last week against Miami (23 carries for 111 yards and a score) but was far less effective against Pittsburgh in Week 2 (13 carries for 32 scoreless yards). Josh Jacobs is listed as questionable after coming into the season banged up and hobbling through Week 1, then missing the last two games. If he’s not full strength, he seems somewhat unlikely to run all over the Chargers. 

But if the line can get enough push, each of the Chargers’ opponents have shown that chunk yards can be found against their intentionally soft run defense. Barber and Kenyan Drake aren’t Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, but if they’re deep into the second level before they get touched, they don’t have to be.

When the Chargers have the ball

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Herbert’s terrific rookie season was that he was able to excel despite often not being put in position to succeed. Herbert had a subpar offensive line in front of him, which allowed him to be pressured on 36.7 percent of his dropbacks — a rate that was among the 10 highest in the league, per TruMedia. 

Rather than crumbling, Herbert was among the most effective passers in the league when the rush was bearing down on him. His 99.4 passer rating in those situations actually was the best in the NFL, while his 13 touchdown passes were second to only Russell Wilson. 

So far this season, the situation has been quite a bit different for Herbert. The Chargers brought in center Corey Linsley, guard Zach Feiler, and left tackle Rashawn Slater to fortify the group in front of him, and it’s worked wonders. Herbert has been pressured at the NFL’s fourth-lowest rate, with the rush getting to him on only 25.2 percent of his dropbacks — about 8 percentage points south of the league average. Having played a couple teams that are not exactly known for their ferocious pass rush (Cowboys and Chiefs) obviously plays a role in that low number, but so does Herbert getting the ball out quicker and the line holding up better on plays where he has to wait for routes to develop.

Having to face off against Maxx Crosby, who has generated pressure on 17.9 percent of his pass-rush snaps so far this season (ninth-best in the NFL among 246 players who have rushed the passer at least 25 times) will be the toughest test they have faced since Week 1. Yannick Ngakoue is no slouch, either, and both Solomon Thomas and Carl Nassib have done strong work as rotational pass rushers.

If Herbert has time to throw, he should be able to find advantages at all three levels of the field. Mike Williams is playing out of his mind through the first few weeks of the season, with at least seven catches, 82 yards, and a touchdown in all three games. His emergence as more of a weapon in the short and intermediate areas of the field has taken pressure off of Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler to do all of that work, and in turn freed them up to make big plays of their own. Ekeler wasn’t targeted in Week 1 as he worked his way back from a hamstring injury, but he caught all 15 balls thrown his way in Weeks 2 and 3, totaling 113 yards and a score. 

Allen seems likely to see a lot of Nate Hobbs in the slot, and that’s a matchup he should be able to win. The fifth-round rookie is off to a very good start to the season, but has not had to deal with anyone remotely like Allen so far. (The Raiders have played the Ravens, Steelers, and Dolphins.) Allen’s been in the slot for two-thirds of his routes this season, and he’s caught 12 of 15 targets for 137 yards and eight first downs. 

Los Angeles largely prefers to let Herbert control the game through the air, turning to Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and/or Larry Rountree on the ground only when the situation is favorable. Ekeler has been effective when given opportunities in short yardage and the red zone, but it’s not likely to be a big priority for the Chargers in this game except in close down-and-distance, and when the Raiders play light boxes. 

Latest Odds:

Los Angeles Chargers
-3

Prediction: Chargers 31, Raiders 27



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