Currently seeded as the second-place team in the AFC West with a record of 4-3, the Las Vegas Raiders are set to travel to Los Angeles to face the fourth-place Chargers, but their record doesn't reflect the talent on their team.
First-round pick Justin Herbert has taken the league by storm since earning the starting job and is now in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year — Josh Jacobs should've won in 2019. His ability to extend plays has brought life and energy to an offense that looked sluggish and out of sorts back in Week 1. After holding a talented Cleveland Browns offense to six points in Week 8, the Raiders will need to stand strong once again against an underrated Bolts squad.
With that said, let's review six things to keep an eye on this Sunday.
1. Can the Raiders secondary limit Keenan Allen?
Look, Keenan Allen is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL — it's a fact. It seems like he's overlooked whenever people discuss the top five players at the position, but he deserves to be included because of his elite route running, separation, and hands. When the Raiders arrive at SoFi Stadium, they better have a plan to stop him because he's someone that needs to be accounted for at all times.
Coming off three consecutive Pro Bowls, Allen is on pace to make it four, considering he's top 10 this season in receptions and well on pace to finish in the top 10 in receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's secondary will need to be on its A-game without question this week. Forcing interceptions has been challenging for the unit this year, but second-year cornerback Trayvon Mullen has seven passes defensed and is still playing the part of the Raiders' lockdown corner. It's going to take a stellar performance and some team effort to stop the Chargers' best playmaker.
2. Can the defensive line contain Justin Herbert?
Last year, the Raiders distanced themselves from questions about the pass rush, but it feels like 2018 all over again with the way they've started through the first half of 2020. Through seven games this season, the Raiders' defensive line has seven sacks with Maxx Crosby accounting for four of them — that simply won't do. Sacking the quarterback isn' the end-all-be-all, but it's a vital part of the game and the pressure has been lacking.
Against Herbert, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli will obviously want to see his group sack the former Oregon Duck, but containing him is crucial. Herbert is among the new line of prototypical quarterbacks who can extend plays outside the pocket with their feet. As a rookie, the Raiders have to keep him in the pocket to make rookie mistakes. Herbert is at his best on the fun, playing backyard football, which is why if you can pressure him in the pocket and contain him, he's bound to make a mental error.
3. Fend off Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa
Much like the Raiders, the Chargers sack totals haven't been where the team would like them to be, considering one of their best pass rushers in Melvin Ingram has zero sacks through four games. The three-time Pro Bowler has battled injuries for most of the year and at 31 years old it begs the question of whether he's starting to decline. Regardless, he's still a dominant playmaker along the defensive line and needs to be accounted for by the Raiders' offensive line.
Without Trent Brown and Richie Incognito, offensive line coach Tom Cable's unit needs to be prepared for different looks. The Chargers have been known to rush Ingram and Bosa on opposite sides, inside, and on the same side, each presenting a unique challenge. Fortunately, center Rodney Hudson has seen just about every rush technique in the book and blitz package, so he can identify what's coming and communicate it to his fellow linemen. Keeping Derek Carr upright is always a priority, but the challenge gets a little harder against the Chargers.
4. Will Josh Jacobs finish with over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks?
In an old school cold-weather slugfest, Head Coach Jon Gruden rode his workhorse, Josh Jacobs, to the finish line. The talented running back rushed 31 times for 129 yards against the Cleveland Browns last week and allowed the Raiders to control the clock all game. Jacobs is the identity of the offense and while Sunday's game with the Chargers could turn into a shootout, it'll be up to Jacobs to keep the ball out of Justin Herbert's hands. The Chargers are allowing 4.7 yards per carry, which ranks outside of the top 20 defenses in the league against the run. This is an opportunity for Jacobs to post his second 100-yard game of the season and build momentum for the second half of the season.
5. Raider Nation will be missed
Whenever the Raiders and Chargers matched up — whether it was in San Diego or Los Angeles — Raider Nation showed up in masses. For the Raiders, it usually feels like a home game even though they're on the road, but with COVID-19 causing fans to be unable to attend games, this plays to the favor of the Chargers. Without Raider Nation to badger them in their own stadium, this is finally a neutral play site.
6. Get Henry Ruggs III more involved
Last week, the conditions weren't ideal for an aerial attack, but against the Chargers I'd like to see Derek Carr and Gruden get first-round pick Henry Ruggs III more involved. Ruggs hasn't seen more than five targets in a game and while Darren Waller understandably commands a lot of targets, Ruggs is electric with the ball in his hands. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, Ruggs caught two passes for 118 yards and one touchdown — insane. He has the ceiling to go off if given the targets and opportunity. Without Derwin James (injury) and Desmond King (traded to the Titans), Ruggs can take advantage of the Chargers secondary.