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Versus: Raiders defense must continue performing at a high level as primetime approaches

The Las Vegas Raiders are preparing to their second matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, this time in primetime fashion.

The divisional showdown, to be aired on Amazon Prime Video, will be the Raiders' second home game within a five-day span – coming off a brutal 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The last time the Silver and Black and the Chargers met was Week 4 at SoFi Stadium, where the Bolts won 24-17.

"We're on to the Chargers," Antonio Pierce said Monday following the Week 14 loss. "Divisional game at home, Thursday Night Football. We're excited about it."

Let's take a look at a few key matchups that could come into play against the AFC West rival.

Raiders defensive line vs. Easton Stick

This isn't the matchup the Raiders necessarily planned for, but it's one they'll be looking to exploit.

Chargers starting quarterback Justin Herbert fractured his index finger on his throwing hand against the Denver Broncos and will be out for the remainder of the season. Entering stage left is Easton Stick, who will be starting in his first NFL game. The 2019 fifth-round pick from North Dakota State was a four-time FCS national champion in college. The 6-foot-1 quarterback completed 60 percent of his passes for 380 yards in the preseason, and threw for 179 yards in relief for Herbert on Sunday.

The strength of Stick's skill set seems to be his arm strength, showcasing the ability to complete some deep passes with an uninterrupted pocket. However, when you're going against Maxx Crosby, it's rare to have time to throw. Crosby feasted on the Vikings offense in Week 14 with two sacks, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and seven solo tackles. His 13.5 sacks in 2023 are a new single-season high for the edge rusher.

Despite his recent success, The Condor has missed Monday and Tuesday's walkthrough practices due to a knee injury that has plagued him for the past few weeks. If he can't suit up against the Chargers, the Raiders defense will have to rely on his complementary pieces which include Malcolm Koonce, Janarius Robinson and rookie Tyree Wilson. The trio of Koonce, Robinson and Wilson combined for two sacks, four quarterback hits and seven solo tackles against the Vikings.

"I thought the defense – it was a winning performance," Pierce said of last Sunday's game. "Whenever you get the numbers getting after the quarterback, you saw Tyree Wilson, Robert Spillane, Maxx [Crosby], they're all flying. J-Rob [Janarius Robinson], these guys – they let it loose last night when we thought we could take advantage of their offensive line in the pass game."


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Patrick Graham vs. Kellen Moore

It's clear both of these coordinators have been going all in this season.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has rejuvenated the Raiders unit over the two-year span he's been in Las Vegas. Even with four games left in the season, this Silver and Black defense has seen an increase in several categories including sacks, interceptions and overall turnovers. After finishing 28th in fewest yards allowed in 2022, they currently stand 12 slots higher in 2023.

This can be attributed to Maxx Crosby having a career year off the edge, plus the interior defensive line rotation of Bilal Nichols, John Jenkins, Adam Butler and 2023 first-round pick Tyree Wilson. Not to mention the veteran presence and leadership linebacker Robert Spillane and Marcus Epps have brought to the Raiders after signing with the team this past offseason.

They'll face a young offensive mastermind who can survive and adapt in Kellen Moore. The former Cowboys quarterback assumed the role of offensive coordinator for Dallas in 2019 and helped produce a top five ranked offense in 2022. His innovate play-calling led him to the Los Angeles Chargers, where his new unit has been averaging nearly 22 points a game.

While he won't reinvent the wheel against the Raiders on a short week, it's fair to assume he'll switch some things up to cater to Stick's style of play. Herbert may possess a higher ability to throw on the run than Stick, but the Chargers QB2 has throw power that matches. It will be interesting to see how Moore will capitalize on that against Graham's stout defense that allowed a season-low three points to the Vikings.

"[A]re they going to throw the whole playbook at him? No," Pierce said of game-planning against Stick and Moore. "What did he do in that second half? What did he do in the preseason? We'll go back and look at all his film, but more importantly the scheme. Kellen Moore is going to stick to what they do well."

Amik Robertson vs. Chargers receiving core

The Chargers have a few wide receivers who know how to get open and make plays.

For starters, Keenan Allen has been a handful for the Raiders throughout his career. The five-time Pro Bowler has over 100 catches and nearly 1,200 receiving yards in his career against the Silver and Black. However, while he's consistently provided a spark to the Chargers offense, his status is up in the air due to a heel injury that made him miss Tuesday's walkthrough.

If Allen doesn't play, receivers Joshua Palmer and Quentin Johnston will shoulder the load in the passing game. Palmer is poised to return to the lineup after missing their last six contests with a knee injury. Johnston, the Chargers' 2023 first-round pick, has been coming along late in the season with 143 receiving yards and eight catches in his last two outings.

It will be intriguing to see how many snaps Amik Robertson will see at outside cornerback considering his recent success. He finished Sunday's game with a team-high 87.8 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus with four solo tackles and a pass deflection.

Standing at 5-foot-9, size hasn't mattered for Robertson in a career season. He's totaled two interceptions, four pass deflections, 26 solo tackles and a sack in 2023.

View director of photography Michael Clemens' top picks of black and white photos from the Raiders' Week 14 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium.

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