We've officially transitioned into Week 6, and this Sunday the Oakland Raiders will host the Los Angeles Chargers at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for an AFC West bout. In Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens, quarterback EJ Manuel was asked to step in and lead the team while Derek Carr continued his recovery from a transverse process fracture. The matchup between Manuel and a difficult Ravens defense was one of the keys to the game, as No. 3 mustered everything he could to bring down linebacker Terrell Suggs and Co., but was unfortunately unable to lead the Raiders to victory.
With Week 5 in the dust, it's time to refocus, and look ahead to some important matchups that will take place this weekend; here's three I'll have my eye on.
Raiders Offensive Line vs. Chargers Pass Rush
When the division rivals collide Sunday, the battle in the trenches will be one of the deciding factors. After allowing the least amount of sacks in 2016 (18), the Silver and Black currently rank 15th in sacks allowed with 12. While the Raiders have endured a bit of a lull offensively, the line is not entirely at fault. Keep in mind this is a group with three Pro Bowlers in left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele, and center Rodney Hudson – right guard Gabe Jackson has the talent and potential to be a Pro Bowler as well.
In Week 6, it'll be on the shoulders of these men to hold off a stout pass rush in the Chargers defense led by linebacker Melvin Ingram and defensive end Joey Bosa. Through five weeks of gameplay, Ingram is the league's second-leading sacker with a total of 7.5, and his cohort Bosa isn't far behind, as he trails by three with a total of 4.5 sacks. Whether it's Derek Carr under center, or EJ Manuel, the offensive line will have to keep their quarterback clean, and will face a tough test Sunday.
Safety Karl Joseph vs. Tight Ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry
Many anticipated former West Virginia Mountaineer Karl Joseph would make a leap from Year One to Year Two, and so far he's done just that. According to Pro Football Focus, No. 42 is the third overall rated safety in the NFL with a rating of 89.2, which is just .8 points away from being grouped into PFF's "elite" category. Among all defensive backs Joseph is tied for fifth with 36 tackles, and will be tasked with limiting a pair of talented pass-catching tight ends this weekend.
Gates – now in his 15th NFL season – is a proven player in this league, and with the help of quarterback Philip Rivers, has appeared in eight consecutive Pro Bowls, and was named a First-Team All-Pro three times. The veteran tight end has only started once this season, and totaled 99 yards with one touchdown, but that's mainly because of the emergence of second-year tight end Hunter Henry.
In Henry's first game against the Raiders last season, the former Arkansas Razorback caught three passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, the Little Rock, Ark., native will keep Joseph busy a majority of the game.
Defensive End Khalil Mack vs. Running Back Melvin Gordon
Melvin Gordon failed to record a touchdown in his first season with the Chargers, leading many people to believe the former University of Wisconsin-Madison standout could be a bust; boy, were they wrong. In a bounce-back-season, Gordon put up impressive numbers in 2016, tallying 1,416 total scrimmage yards, and 12 touchdowns. While the Pro Bowler found success a season ago, he's never ran for more than 69 yards against the Raiders, and my theory is that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year has something to do with that.
Mack has been consistent this season, and, to no surprise, he's produced at a high level. Per PFF, No. 52 not only leads all edge defenders with a grade of 90.7, he also leads all edge defenders and interior defenders with a run defense rating of 96.2 – the man is a brick wall.
The former University of Buffalo Bull is the NFL's leading tackler among all defensive lineman with 31 total tackles, and has the most solo tackles with 24. Much gets made about Mack's ability to attack the quarterback, but he does it all, and is a force to be reckoned with against the run. In order to find success rushing, the Bolts will need to concoct a plan that's capable of stopping one of the best defenders in the league.