The Oakland Raiders need a win, and they’ll try to get just that this weekend when they square off against Philip Rivers and the now-Los Angeles Chargers.
A win for the Silver and Black would not only snap their current three-game skid, but would also get them back to the .500 mark headed into a critical Thursday Night Football matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
I digress though.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, so here are six things you need to be watching for when the Raiders hit the field this Sunday against the Bolts.
1. Is it time to start the Carr?
Look, I don’t know what more you could have asked for out of EJ Manuel last weekend against the Baltimore Ravens. Stepping in for an injured Derek Carr, the veteran quarterback successfully moved the offense up and down the field, and even made a few plays with his feet when he got the opportunity.
That being said, EJ Manuel isn’t Derek Carr, and that’s no shot at No. 3.
Carr is not only the unquestioned leader of the Silver and Black, but he’s the key to nearly everything the group does offensively, so if he is indeed able to return to action this week, like we anticipate, it would be a huge boost for the team as a whole.
We haven’t seen Carr under center since he suffered a transverse process fracture Oct. 1 against the Broncos, but hopefully we see his return to action Sunday afternoon.
2. Defensively, can the Raiders force some turnovers?
The Raiders defense last season certainly wasn’t a perfect unit, but one thing that Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.’s group did do very effectively was force turnovers.
For context, at the end of 2016, the group had tallied 16 interceptions and 14 fumbles, totaling 30 takeaways, good for second in the NFL.
This year though, through five games, the Raiders defense has forced just four fumbles, and has yet to secure its first interception of the season.
I talked to linebacker Tyrell Adams earlier this week who echoed his defensive coordinator, and said that turnovers typically come in bunches, so hopefully the Raiders can get that ball rolling this weekend at the OACC.
Philip Rivers has already thrown five interceptions this year, so hopefully the Raiders defensive backs can bait him into some throws that will come back and bite him.
3. Speaking of defensive backs…
The Raiders were noticeably without the services of David Amerson and Gareon Conley last weekend, and if all goes to plan, hopefully the Silver and Black can get at least one of them back to work against the Los Angeles Chargers.
While Conley was ruled out of Sunday’s game following Friday’s practice, Amerson was healthy enough to practice in the Raiders three sessions this week, casting a ray of positivity on his availability this weekend.
As we all know, Philip Rivers likes to air the ball out, and regardless of what his surrounding cast looks like, he’s going to give his receivers a chance to make plays.
The Bolts currently rank No. 6 in the league in passing offense (266.8 YPG) so a healthy stable of defensive backs would go a long way.
4. Will the run game have another strong outing?
While the Raiders did eventually lose to the Baltimore Ravens last weekend, one positive from the game was the play of Marshawn Lynch and the team’s running backs.
At game’s end, the Silver and Black had tallied 108 yards on the ground; a welcome sight after their output the previous two weeks.
Now, Bernie Parmalee’s group will try to build on that effort, and take advantage of a Chargers defense that ranks dead last in the NFL against the run, surrendering 161.2 yards per game.
Balance is the name of the game as far as the Raiders offense is concerned, so keep an eye on the running backs corps, especially if there’s a healthy DeAndré Washington in the mix.
5. Does the offensive line welcome back a friendly face?
Since he was drafted in 2014, Gabe Jackson has been a mainstay on the Raiders offensive line, making 48 starts in his three-plus seasons in Silver and Black.
However, the physical guard wasn’t able to go against the Ravens, but there’s hope that he could return to action Sunday afternoon against the Chargers.
In his stead, Jon Feliciano stepped in at right guard, and actually put together a really nice outing, but I’m sure Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice would like to have the full complement of his guys against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
6. Can Amari Cooper break out?
Look, we all know that Amari Cooper hasn’t had the type of start to 2017 that he wanted, but the fact of the matter is that Cooper is just too talented, and too dynamic of a player, to not produce in a big way at some point.
The University of Alabama-product has had back-to-back 1,000-yard season for a reason, and I really think that it’s just a matter of time until his numbers come.
Cooper doesn’t seem too concerned about his start, so if No. 89 isn’t losing any sleep over it, neither should we.
The Chargers actually boast a pretty stout pass defense, but make sure you’re locked in on Cooper Sunday afternoon, and see if he can make his presence felt.