Rising Chargers face sliding Raiders
One of the hottest teams in the NFL faces one of the most disappointing squads in the league on Sunday when the ascending Los Angeles Chargers travel to Oakland to face the descending Oakland Raiders.
After starting 1-2, the Chargers (6-2) have won five in a row. Two of the wins have come on the road, including last week's 25-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
"I wouldn't define what we have done yet as success," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We've had some weekly success each Sunday that we won but I don't know that anyone in the locker room feels like, 'Hey, we're a successful group.' We know we got a long way to go. It's a long season and it truly is one week at a time."
The Chargers find themselves just one game behind Kansas City in the loss column in the AFC West, and with their only losses coming to the Chiefs and Rams, the Chargers have put themselves in position for success.
Rivers is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league. He ranks third in the league in passer rating and has thrown 19 touchdown passes with just three interceptions for the season. Although he completed only 50 percent of his passes against Seattle, he had two touchdown passes without a pick.
Rivers' passing is complemented by the running of Melvin Gordon, who is sixth in the league in rushing and had 113 rushing yards while averaging 7.1 yards per carry in the win over the Seahawks.
That has helped the Chargers rank eighth in the NFL in total offense.
About the only shortcoming on offense was the kicking game, and the Chargers may have solved that. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was released one day after he missed two extra points and a field goal. The Chargers brought Michael Badgley back from the practice squad to do the kicking this week.
Los Angeles should have success moving the ball against Oakland, which ranks 27th in the league in total defense.
The Raiders have lost four in a row and are tied with the New York Giants for the worst record in the NFL at 1-7.
The Chargers beat Oakland 26-10 on Oct. 7, but this game will be on the Raiders' home field.
"We know Oakland is a tough place to play and it's going to be a four-quarter football game," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said.
He emphasized that the season is only half over.
"We feel like things are moving in the right direction but we got a lot of games left," Lynn said. "I like what we are doing right now but we have to find ways to get better, each and every week."
The Raiders are not getting better. They are coming off their most embarrassing game of the season -- a 34-3 loss to a 49ers team that was 1-7 at the time and was starting a quarterback (Nick Mullens) who began the season on the practice squad and was making his NFL debut against Oakland.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 16 of 21 passes for 171 yards in that game, but he was sacked seven times.
Oakland's young, injury-plagued offensive line has made things difficult for Carr, who has been sacked 24 times this season. Luckily for Carr and the Raiders, Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is still sidelined with a knee injury.
"You get an offensive line that's healthy and playing great, it makes everybody's job a lot easier," Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. "I'm not going to make any excuses. I think Derek is doing some good things. It does make things difficult when you have the amount of injuries that we have had. I just got a nice call from my brother (Redskins head coach Jay Gruden), he lost all his linemen the other day, too. Got eight games left, we have to continue to coach hard and find a way to improve."
Carr understands the situation.
"We're having an unprecedented amount of young players having to play," he said. "That, obviously, makes it a struggle, makes it tougher."
Carr is completing 72.3 percent of his passes this season, but it hasn't translated into much offense. The Raiders rank 28th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per game.
To make things worse for the Raiders, running back Marshawn Lynch is on injured reserve and his backup, Doug Martin, is coming off a hip injury.
Martin rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries against the 49ers, but he was limited in practice on Wednesday, and it's unclear how effective he will be on Sunday.
Updated November 8, 2018