When Chargers have the ball: When these teams met in October, the Chargers’ offense scored 28 points but produced only one play that gained more than 22 yards. That came on a short pass tight end Stephen Anderson turned into a 34-yard gain. And that’s how teams can succeed against a Las Vegas defense that attempts to limit big plays and force offenses to be patient. Justin Herbert finished 25 for 38 for 222 yards. The mark of 5.8 yards per attempt is his third-lowest for a game this season. Of Herbert’s six worst yards-per-attempt efforts, the Chargers have lost five, the 28-14 victory over the Raiders being the exception. “When you go against a team like this, it doesn’t mean you won’t have big, explosive plays,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “But if you chase them too hard, you can get behind the sticks. So, you know, don’t be afraid to check the ball down.” That could mean extensive work for running back Austin Ekeler, who scored twice against Las Vegas in the first meeting. Keenan Allen also was on the receiving end of a bunch of short Herbert passes, catching seven balls but totaling only 36 yards. Expect more of the same.
When Raiders have the ball: Derek Carr has one fewer completion and 13 fewer yards passing this season than Herbert, who was named the AFC starter for the Pro Bowl. Both have thrown 14 interceptions, the big difference coming in touchdown passes — Herbert has 35 compared with Carr’s 21. “Derek has been a model of consistency,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I think he’s been a real rock for that football team.” Carr’s favorite target is wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who has 99 catches for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns. “We got to know where Renfrow is,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “He’s a guy that’s getting open.” The Chargers will counter with a secondary that remains intact for a second straight week after a season beset by injuries and COVID-19 absences. With all the pieces in place, the Chargers are able to move James throughout the defense and lean on his versatility while searching for mismatches to exploit. “It gives you options,” defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
When they kick: Dustin Hopkins has made 17 of 18 field-goal attempts in 10 games with the Chargers since they signed him following his release by Washington. That’s the highest successful percentage (94.4%) in a season in franchise history. The Chargers’ other in-season special-teams addition — Andre Roberts — returned a kickoff last weekend 101 yards for a touchdown. “Both of these guys,” Staley said, “have just been a breath of fresh air.” Las Vegas has a weapon in Daniel Carlson, who is 35 for 38 on field-goal tries, including five for six from 50 yards and beyond.
Jeff Miller’s prediction: This will be the NFL’s most consequential game of the regular season. The Chargers need to win or tie to move on to the playoffs. As fun as it would be to predict a 24-24 final, let’s try to deal with the real world. After some wildly inconsistent times in 2021, the Chargers open 2022 by moving on.
CHARGERS 27, RAIDERS 20