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'Monday Night Football' preview: What to watch for in Raiders-Chargers

Las Vegas Raiders
2021 · 3-1-0
Los Angeles Chargers
2021 · 3-1-0

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | SoFI Stadium

It's not often that you hear about a road team having a home advantage, but apparently that's the Raiders' reality, according to Derek Carr. It's no secret that Raider Nation travels well but, as the NFL's passing yards leader put it, past meetings against the Chargers were "always looked at as another home game." Harsh. The red-hot quarterback's perhaps not-so-hot take effectively sets the stage for what should be another white-hot matchup between these division rivals. Last season, Round 1 went to Las Vegas in a five-point road win. Justin Herbert and the visiting Bolts took Round 2 in an overtime thriller that Carr exited early due to injury. Monday Night Football, which marks the return of fans to this rivalry, is the perfect backdrop for the rubber match.

Here are four things to watch for Monday night when the Chargers host the Raiders:

1) Exciting times at Allegiant Stadium. The Raiders have had more thrills in three weeks than some teams have in a season. Aside from the club starting 3-0 for the first time since 2002, Carr has seemingly been unleashed. Gone are the days of "Captain Checkdown" where he played it safe; Carr's 2021 form has embraced the deep ball and his team has been better off for it. Carr entered Week 4 among the NFL's most efficient deep passers, tied for fifth in passer rating (125.0) and ranked eighth in completion percentage (45.0). In Weeks 1 and 3, he deployed a few clutch bombs to Henry Ruggs IIIBryan Edwards and Zay Jones to lift his team to wins; it's worth mentioning both of those were OT victories. Ruggs and Edwards, along with Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow, represent the league's only foursome of 200-plus yard receivers; no other team has more than two. The Chargers secondary isn't porous by any means but you better believe the new and improved Carr is going to keep mashing the gas in prime time.

2) Herbert, the young star. You can't have a potential shoot-out without a fully loaded offense to match wits with. Say hello to Herbert's weapons. Roll call! Mike Williams, the team's leading receiver. Keenan Allen, the perennial Pro Bowler. Austin Ekeler, the dual-threat dynamo. Jared Cook, the savvy vet. Not bad, right? It's been nice to see Herbert and Allen's chemistry carry over from last year, but it's been even nicer to see Williams looking Michael Thomas-esque in coordinator Joe Lombardi's offense. In fact, it was Williams -- and not Allen, the usual top option -- who snagged the late-game scores that netted L.A. its wins. In Allen and Williams, who are the NFL's second highest receiving duo (553 combined rec. yds), Herbert has a pair of reliable targets he can grow with. Expect him to look to both often once again as he looks to earn a win in his third career prime-time matchup.

3) Under Pressure. What's better than having one player ranked top-five in QB pressures? Two. Edge rushers Maxx Crosby, who continues to flourish in Year 3, and Yannick Ngakoue have gotten off to a hot start as the leaders of a respectable pass rush. Veterans Carl Nassib and Solomon Thomas are also making their presence felt with a combined seven pressures and four sacks. As a unit, the Raiders rank second in the NFL with a QB pressure rate of 38.9, according to Next Gen Stats. The secondary, which has allowed just two pass TDs, has complemented the front four well with its stingy play, a clear sign that Las Vegas is steadily improving under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. The former Chargers DC will need to mix up his looks and bring different pressures in hopes of containing Herbert, who’s been one of the game’s best under duress. In 18 career games, Herbert has tossed 12 TD passes while averaging 7.5 yards per attempt when pressured.

4) From stale to Staley: Bolts D showing progress. Some may call it the "Brandon Staley Effect." Others might say it's the byproduct of having key players healthy and together again (Joey BosaDerwin James). Honestly, though, it doesn't matter exactly what it is; it only matters that the Chargers keep it up. Entering Week 4, L.A. ranked seventh in passing yards allowed (201.7) and tied for seventh in points allowed (20.0). They’ve also amassed six takeaways (three INTs, three forced fumbles); it took them eight weeks to reach that mark last season. James, Michael Davis and rookie Asante Samuel Jr. (two INTs) have stood out in the secondary and will be crucial against Las Vegas' high-stakes offense. As for Bosa and the rest of the defensive front, run defense will be a point of emphasis on top of making Carr uncomfortable. The Chargers rank dead last in rush YPG (170) and have allowed four runners to compile 70-plus yards. The Raiders’ backfield boasts two runners -- three if you include the potential return of Josh Jacobs (ankle) -- capable of making a difference in Peyton Barber and Kenyan Drake. The trenches will definitely be an area to watch, though this matchup should feature a heavy dose of aerial offense.

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