7 Keys to Victory in Oakland Raiders' Week 6 Matchup
At 1-4, the Chargers defense has allowed an average 351 yards per game, but injuries have decimated the Raiders secondary.
Cornerback David Amerson missed the previous outing with a shoulder injury, per NBC Bay Area reporter Scott Bair. In Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens, Antonio Hamilton suffered what's believed to be a torn meniscus, per Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Michael Gehlken.
On Monday, head coach Jack Del Rio told reporters cornerback Gareon Conley still experiences pain, which prevents him from taking action:
"There's a certain amount of pain that's involved that keeps him from doing what he needs to do. And when that is under control and he's able to go, then we look forward to having him, but until that is under control and he's able to do the things he needs to do, then he's going to remain sidelined.
“I would hope that it would be resolved at some time in the near future, but I think this is an issue that we're doing the best we can to manage."
Del Rio didn't say anything about Conley's shin, but one can assume it's the same injury that kept him out of training camp, preseason and the regular-season opener.
For a team that already struggled with covering the deep ball, injuries to the secondary can only make matters worse. In order to win Sunday's contest, the Raiders have to shorten the game with their ground attack or engage in a score-a-thon with pass-happy Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Here, we'll dig further into the aspects of the Raiders' Week 6 game plan.
On Monday, Del Rio admitted quarterback EJ Manuel missed wide receiver Amari Cooper in the open field on multiple reads:
"I saw five wide open, shook his guy, was open in space [plays]. Would've loved to see the ball get delivered to him there. Not every play is designed to go to him, you can't see everybody at one time. Sometimes you start with a read somewhere else and you don't make it back for whatever reason. He was doing his part to create space and opportunity for the quarterback and we just missed him a couple times."
The Raiders head coach expects quarterback Derek Carr to play against the Chargers, so there's no excuse to leave the 23-year-old wideout out of the loop during Sunday's contest.
Cooper leads the league with seven drops, but he can't redeem himself without an opportunity to catch the football. Manuel only targeted the third-year wideout twice against the Ravens.
Over the past two seasons, Cooper has registered two of his best performances against the Chargers with 130-plus receiving yards. However, he's also gone silent in the other two contests.
It's partially Carr's job to ensure Cooper's involvement as a playmaker. Of course, the talented pass-catcher must secure possession before attempting to run upfield.
Split 30-35 Carries Among Ball-Carriers
The Chargers field the worst run defense in the league, allowing an average 161 yards on the ground.
Over the past three weeks, the Raiders have struggled to establish their power run game. Marshawn Lynch averages 3.4 yards per carry, while Jalen Richard doesn't see the workload volume to produce with consistency. And DeAndre Washington has been non-existent as a ball-carrier.
Nonetheless, this week, against a porous defensive front, it's the perfect time to rediscover a potentially dominant ground attack. Expect Lynch to log the official start, but keep an eye on Richard due to his potential to break away with a few jukes to evade defenders.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing should plan for approximately 30-35 carries to sustain drives, move the chains and control the game through four quarters.
Extra Pass Protection Against Melvin Ingram
Pass-rusher Joey Bosa's name generates buzz as the No. 3 overall pick from the 2016 draft, but linebacker Melvin Ingram leads this Chargers team and ranks second in the league with 7.5 sacks.
Just because Del Rio expects Carr to play doesn't mean he's pain-free. The Raiders must protect their starter under center to prevent him from reaggravating his back injury. At 2-3 with the loser falling to last place in the division, Oakland can't afford to play any more games without its starting signal-caller.
Downing can utilize Lynch or Jamize Olawale as an extra layer of pass protection or keep a running back in the flat as a quick-read option to dump off the football before the pass rush reaches the quarterback.
This season, Ingram has recorded a sack in four out of five games, and he notched two with a fumble against the New York Giants in Week 5.
Allow John Pagano More Defensive Input
It goes without saying that defensive assistant John Pagano will provide some insight on his former team. He spent 15 seasons with the Chargers and knows weaknesses and strengths on the opposing sideline.
More than usual, both coordinators should lean on Pagano for suggestions on how to attack the opponent.
The Chargers hired a new coaching staff and the team likely conduct business differently, but it's hard to hide a player's natural weaknesses. Pagano isn't far removed from the only team he's coached during his professional career.
During the week, the former Chargers assistant coach should frequently poke his head in the offensive and defensive meetings.
On game day, he may not have the intel to call out plays before the snap, but his familiarity with the players could pay dividends when it comes to individual tendencies on the field.
Drop Karl Joseph into Coverage
Safety Karl Joseph played closer to the box against the Ravens. He logged six solo tackles and three run stops in Week 5. On Sunday, he should drop into coverage against an offense that utilizes two pass-catching tight ends.
Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates have logged 23 catches for 237 yards and three touchdowns on 38 combined targets. As mentioned, the injuries on the back end could cause the personnel to shuffle, but defensive coaches can't neglect the tight ends on their routes, especially in the red zone.
Joseph has the field awareness and coverage ability to shadow a tight end if necessary. Rivers ranks No. 6 with 194 pass attempts through five weeks. The Chargers' rushing attack continues to move the ball inefficiently at 3.8 yards per carry.
In what could turn into a shootout, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and Pagano cannot allow Rivers to win the game with his arm.
Stop Ignoring Shalom Luani as a Potential Playmaker
For the most part, the Raiders coaching staff has turned a blind eye to a coverage issue at free safety.
Though, on Monday, Del Rio clearly split the blame between defensive backs Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith when asked about Ravens wideout Mike Wallace's 52- and 54-yard receptions:
"Well, the very first play, no one can help him on that one. He's got a buzz player coming underneath him. He's got to stay on top. You just can't start the game that way. The second one, Reggie [Nelson] should intercept that ball. That ball is thrown inside the numbers toward the middle of the field. We got to go make a play on that and give him [Sean Smith] some help there. Either way, he's got to be on top. That's his job to be on top of both those plays. On the second one, he should've had more help."
Ultimately, Del Rio held Smith most accountable for the explosive plays. However, at some point, the safety must take his position on high alert when the coaching staff keeps a cornerback who's continuously beat over the top on the field.
Shalom Luani flashed great awareness in coverage and likely wrapped up his roster spot with an interception against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason finale. It wouldn't hurt to use him in significant capacity on defense.
To prevent the long pass completions, the Raiders should experiment with Joseph and Luani at safety. Both players have the ability to force turnovers on the back end. Pro Football Focus grades Nelson as one of the worst safeties in coverage through five weeks.
Use Cornerback Dexter McDonald on the Outside with or Without David Amerson
In Week 5, Smith allowed three catches for 118 yards in coverage while fellow cornerback Dexter McDonald surrendered two catches for 21 yards in pass defense. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco targeted both players three times.
Due to the injuries in the secondary, it's almost impossible to hide Smith, but it's worth trying something new for different results. Del Rio can't simply leave a cornerback on an assignment that's clearly troubling the defense. Eventually, changes must go into effect.
There's a possibility Amerson will suit up to play against the Chargers. As mentioned, he cleared concussion protocol but didn't have enough power in his shoulder to tackle.
Whether Amerson plays or not, McDonald should see action as a perimeter defender. At the very least, the third-year cornerback would absorb valuable experience that may help push him into the rotation as the year progresses and going forward.
Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
All press conference quotes provided by Raiders.com.