The San Diego Chargers will begin their first battle through the AFC West gauntlet against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Though the Raiders aren’t the cream of the crop in the surprisingly tough AFC West, they still provide us a glimpse of how the Chargers will respond in these bitter divisional battles.
The Chargers defense will need to adjust in their first game without their best pass rusher Dwight Freeney, who tore a quadriceps muscle last week and is out for the season. Defensive coordinator John Pagano will need to get creative with different blitzes and disguised coverages to make up for the loss, but shouldn’t even try to be rush hard from the outside anyways. Against a mobile quarterback like Terrelle Pryor, the Chargers should contain him in the pocket and not allow him to use his running ability against them. This will force Pryor to beat them with his arm and take his scrambling ability out of the equation.
The Raiders too will be making adjustments in their first game without their best playmaker on offense, Darren McFadden, who will sit out due to a hamstring injury. Without him, Rashard Jennings, along with Denarius Moore and Rod Streater, are their top offensive threats.
Simply put, the Raiders don’t have enough playmakers to win in a shootout against red-hot Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense. Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead are being utilized masterfully, Keenan Allen is stepping up in Malcom Floyd’s absence, Eddie Royal is still a threat, and Vincent Brown is helping the team move the chains.
Averaging 27 points per game this season, the Chargers offense should be able to torch the Raiders 28th-ranked pass defense. With no one who’s a real threat to rush the passer, the Raiders shouldn’t be able to get much pressure on Rivers, who went a ridiculous 29 for 30 passing last week while not under pressure.
The Chargers have too many question marks and too many adjustments that need to be made on defense to expect them to pull out the victory in a defensive battle. The Raiders have a chance to win this game if it becomes a sluggish, sloppy defensive battle, but if the Chargers offense is on point, expect this game to be over by about 1:30 am Eastern time, in which case no one over there will be watching anyways.