The Chargers, after another catastrophic blown lead, are now in crisis mode. Only four weeks into the season the Bolts (1-3) go up to play the Oakland Raiders (3-1), in a game that already feels like a must win.
To make things worse, the Chargers thought they had finally gone a week without losing a major contributor. They were wrong. Arguably the best defensive player and only pro-bowler the Chargers have, Jason Verrett, has now been lost for the season with a partially torn ACL.
Even if the Chargers were undefeated through this point, with the number of injuries they have sustained, they would still be in trouble.
This week they play an Oakland offense that has been one of the best in the league so far, ranking in the top ten in yards and points per game. Third-year quarterback Derek Carr has had a great year so far throwing nine touchdowns compared to only one interception and has led multiple game winning drives. Carr has been helped out by having an offensive line that has only allowed him to be sacked twice through four games, which is best in the NFL. The Raiders also rely heavily on their big play wideouts Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Crabtree had his best game of the year so far last week when he absolutely torched former Charger Shareece Wright and the Baltimore secondary for three touchdowns. Cooper finished third in the Rookie of the Year race in 2015 and showed what he is capable in week one when he had six catches for 137 yards. Starting running back Latavius Murray has been ruled out for this game, so Oakland will more than likely start rookie running back DeAndre Washington.
On offense for the Chargers, the one guy that they need to get going again is Melvin Gordon. Even with him leading the league in rushing touchdowns, he has struggled the last two games to find room to run averaging only 2.1 yards, and with the offense down so many key receiving options they must figure out a way to stay balanced. The biggest reason for this lack of production has been the absence of starting left tackle King Dunlap. With Dunlap in the lineup Gordon has averaged 4.2 yards per rush, so if he can continue to progress and play in this game it would tremendously help the running and passing game. The Chargers must lean on lesser known players to step up and have success, last week it was Dontrelle Inman who had the best game of his career with seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. This week look for Travis Benjamin to get more heavily involved, the Raiders have given up 18 plays of 20+ yards already this season and Benjamin is the Bolts best big play threat, and will be looking to make amends for his late game fumble last week.
The Raiders defense this season has been one of the worst in the league giving up a league high 460 yards per game, while also allowing an average of 26.5 points. After bringing in many big-name free-agents, this defense has struggled to put it all together, but so far have been bailed out by the offense. The player that the Chargers need to keep their eyes on at all times is Khalil Mack, who was named All-Pro at defensive end and at outside linebacker in 2015. He has had a relatively quiet season with only one sack, but he is a nightmare for offensive lines and is sure to break out soon, hopefully, it waits till next week.
After the offense took most of the injury damage the first two games of the season, it has caught up to the defense the last two. After losing two of their most well-known players on the defense for the season, the Bolts will have to rely on younger less experienced players to fill in for them like rookies Jatavis Brown and Dexter McCoil. They have shown to be solid, especially for rookies, but they will have to play like veterans week in and week out if this defense wants to make up for what it has lost. One player I would like to see step up is Dwight Lowery. In the last two games Lowery has only 3 tackles, and for the season has zero interceptions and only two pass break-ups. The defensive line might look different this week because their first-round pick Joey Bosa looks as if he is healthy enough to make his pro debut this week, and if he does, he can only improve a defensive line that has only two sacks this season, and neither of those coming from a defensive end.
The Chargers are going to face off with two divisional opponents over a span of five days with their season on the line, and they understand if it doesn’t happen now, it’s not going to. In this game, they should have no problem putting up points, as they have done in every game, but they have not shown they can close out games, so as much as it hurts, Oakland wins 28-24.