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Lighting Up Sin City: The Keys to Thursday Night Football’s AFC West Battle

By: Greg Gifford

The Las Vegas Raiders were thinking big at 6-3 heading into Week 11, but now they find themselves outside of a playoff spot with three losses in their last four games.

They’ve been a tough team to figure out, playing the Kansas City Chiefs as tough as anyone (W 40-32, L 35-31) but getting blown out by the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 and struggling to keep pace with the Indianapolis Colts last weekend.

Keenan Allen has been tough on the Raiders, but he’s believed to be a game-time decision. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

The Raiders hope to get back on track on Thursday Night Football against a 4-9 Los Angeles Chargers team they trailed at halftime before managing to pull away for a 31-26 road victory on Nov. 8.

Las Vegas will try to rattle Justin Herbert after he threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in that Week 9 contest. Keenan Allen, who added nine catches for 103 yards and a score, has been a tough matchup for the Raiders with 45 receptions for 522 yards and three TDs in the last six meetings.

Allen, however, is likely to be limited by a hamstring issue if he’s able to suit up and fellow wideout Mike Williams is expected to miss the contest due to a back injury.

Let’s take a closer look at that and some of the other keys to tonight’s AFC West clash: 

WHEN LOS ANGELES HAS THE BALL

Under the helm of their impressive rookie Herbert, the Chargers run a fairly balanced run/pass offense. They are primarily a zone-blocking run team, using inside and outside zone on almost half of their run plays. Neither option has been above average in yards per play (YPP), but the Raiders are allowing a whopping 5.6 yards per carry against outside zone so the Chargers would be wise to employ the scheme throughout the night.

Austin Ekeler has been a key target for Justin Herbert out of the backfield. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

They also like to run duo (a double team-focused run scheme with no pulling linemen) around 18% of the time with good success, and that is another scheme the Raiders struggle to contain. Kalen Ballage was able to find some holes in Week 9, rushing for 69 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. But he’s had a lesser role in the backfield with Austin Ekeler piling up 24 receptions for 184 yards in his three games back from a hamstring injury.

Expect a heavy dose of quick concepts in the passing game, centered on the previously mentioned elite slot-man Allen (if he’s able to go). Herbert’s 70.6 completion percentage in these concepts is actually slightly below league average, but his 85.6 Well Thrown% is fourth in the league and will force the Raiders to cover well when they press.

The Raiders use a wide variety of different defensive shells, with no one coverage type coming over 20% of the time. Their three most used schemes: Cover 1-robber (19%), Tampa 2 (14%) and a variation of Cover 6, with one safety covering half the field and two deep players splitting the other half (12.6%).

WHEN LAS VEGAS HAS THE BALL

It might be a little surprising, but the Raiders actually run a little more than average based on their situational expectancies. Their favored scheme is by far inside zone, using it almost 40% of the time. That number might be even higher tonight, given the Chargers are allowing over 5.0 yards per carry against inside zone.

Darren Waller has had back-to-back big games for the Raiders. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

The Raiders rushed for 160 yards on a season-best 6.2 per carry in the first meeting. That was in the middle of a three-game winning streak in which they totaled 572 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Since then, however, they’ve managed just 280 rushing yards and three scores in four games.

Unlike the Chargers, Vegas prefers more of a drop-back passing game with 5- and 7-step drops that give time for routes to develop. This generally means more downfield passes, but Derek Carr actually checks down more than any other QB in the NFL, so the offense still has a lot of shorter throws.

The Chargers will look to defend those drop-backs with a Cover 3 scheme that they run almost half the time. They’ll vary between traditional Cover 3 with three players in deep coverage, and Cover 3-Mable, where one of those deep-third players plays man coverage. You’ll still see a fair amount of middle of the field open coverages too though, with quarters and quarter-quarter-half coverages coming on one of every five pass plays.

They’ll certainly have to keep an eye on Darren Waller, who scored in the first meeting and has totaled 20 catches for 275 yards and two TDs in his last two games.

 

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