The Chargers lost to the Raiders, 27-20, on Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas.
They fall to 6-6 on the season and are in ninth place in the AFC playoff race.
Justin Herbert almost pulled off another miraculous double-digit fourth-quarter comeback at Allegiant Stadium, but his heroics were not enough. Herbert connected with Keenan Allen on a 35-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-12 to pull the Chargers within a score with 8:34 remaining. Herbert then got the ball back with 5:12 remaining after a defensive stop, and he moved the offense into Raiders territory. But DeAndre Carter could not come down with a beautiful throw down the right sideline on another fourth-and-long.
Here are my takeaways.
Poor protection sinks offense
The Raiders entered this game with the worst pass defense in the league, according to both Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric and TruMedia’s expected points added per dropback. But Herbert and the Chargers offense could not take advantage of the Raiders’ leaky secondary because their pass protection was an utter disaster.
Herbert was under pressure all game long. Starting center Corey Linsley (concussion) and starting right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee) were both inactive for this game. Will Clapp started in place of Linsley, and Foster Sarell started in place of Pipkins. With those two players out, the Chargers started three backups on their offensive line, including rookie Jamaree Salyer, who has been filling in for the injured Rashawn Slater at right tackle. Starting right guard Zion Johnson also suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter, according to coach Brandon Staley. Johnson battled through the injury to play 65 of 73 offensive snaps, but he was in and out of the game in the first half. At times, the Chargers had four backups up front: Salyer, Clapp, Brenden Jaimes at right guard in place of Johnson, and Sarell.
The offensive line was simply overmatched. The Chargers had no answer for the pass-rushing duo of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. Early in the game, the Chargers were targeting a lot of their help to Sarell on the right side against Crosby. But that created several one-on-one matchups for Jones, an 11-year veteran, against Salyer, a rookie. And Jones generated a ton of pressure. He had three sacks, all in the first half. Jones entered the game with just half a sack on the season, and he had been one of the least efficient edge rushers in the league.
Herbert was sacked five times and hit 14 times overall. Crosby also stripped Herbert on a rush off the right edge on the Chargers’ first offensive play of the game. Herbert recovered the fumble and ran it for a 2-yard gain, so it did not go in the final stats as a sack. Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery — who the Chargers cut last month before he was claimed on waivers by the Raiders — was in the backfield consistently in the first half. The breakdowns happened all along the line, disrupting Herbert, and the Chargers offense was limited as a result.
“The heat was on him, for sure,” Staley said.
The Chargers did not score an offensive touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter, when Herbert went into hero mode on that fourth-and-12. The touchdown had nothing to do with the design of the play, though. Herbert escaped pressure, and Allen broke toward the end zone in an off-script situation to give his quarterback an option. Herbert delivered a perfect pass, and Allen adjusted well to haul in the throw over Raiders corner Amik Robertson.
Chargers running backs ran for 65 yards on 17 carries, and the Raiders defense did not have to respect that facet of the offense. No defense really has at any point this season. The Chargers went 5-for-16 on third down, including 2-for-9 with 5 or more yards to gain. They could not give Herbert enough time to find his receivers. And the Raiders defensive backs knew it. They were sitting on shorter developing routes, fully aware that the Chargers protection was not going to hold up long enough for Herbert to push the ball downfield.
Allen caught just six of his 14 targets.
“It was a tough day for us,” Herbert said.
The Chargers offense had opportunities to build a lead in the first half. The punt unit successfully executed a fake on the opening offensive drive that went for a first down. Linebacker Nick Niemann took the direct snap and handed off to running back Joshua Kelley. That moved the Chargers to their own 44-yard line.
Tillery got pressure on two of the next three plays, including a big hit on Herbert on third down. The Chargers punted.
The defense forced a fumble on the ensuing drive, giving Herbert and the offense great field position at the Raiders’ 25-yard line. After a 4-yard Austin Ekeler run on first down, Herbert was pressured on the next three plays. On fourth-and-2 from the Las Vegas 17-yard line, Staley opted to go for it. Defensive lineman Bilal Nichols won easily against left guard Matt Feiler. Herbert tried to escape up the middle, but Jones tripped him up short of the first down marker.
Chandler Jones causes a turnover on downs!
?: #LACvsLV on CBS⁰?: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/5fID6CMIjK pic.twitter.com/R98eEWQINx
— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2022
The Chargers did have slightly more success moving the ball in the second half. Herbert completed 17 of his 27 pass attempts for 214 yards. But they still allowed pressure at crucial moments. Herbert was really willing the offense through the constant pressure. A Crosby pressure on third-and-5 stalled the Chargers’ second drive of the half in Raiders territory before kicker Cameron Dicker missed a 52-yard field goal — the first miss of his NFL career. The pocket collapsed on a first down on the next offensive drive, leading to a Matthew Butler sack. The Chargers punted two plays later. They have not scored a third-quarter offensive touchdown since Week 5.
“We were trying to make good adjustments based on some of the looks, making sure that he was protected, making sure we were giving enough help to our tackles, and then do enough to get our guys open,” Staley said. “We made some good adjustments, but just didn’t do well enough today.”
The missing pieces were glaring up front. At the same time, Joe Lombardi and his offensive staff clearly did not put together a good enough protection plan for this game. The Raiders entered Sunday ranked 26th in pressure rate, according to TruMedia. The Chargers should have been able to protect Herbert better than they did.
Defensively, the Chargers allowed the Raiders’ two best offensive players to beat them.
Receiver Davante Adams caught eight passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Josh Jacobs rushed for 144 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown.
The focus should have been on taking away at least one of these players.
The Chargers — because of the plan or the execution, or both — did not take away either.
Adams had six catches of 15 yards or more, including touchdowns of 31 and 45 yards on back-to-back possessions to open the second half. The first came on a go-ball against Asante Samuel Jr., who actually had decent coverage on the play. It appeared as though Samuel got a hand on the pass, but Adams still made the catch. The Raiders took over in Chargers territory on that drive after Ekeler fumbled on a screen.
The second came on a successful flea flicker. Bryce Callahan, who played through a groin injury, was in coverage on Adams. Staley said after the game that Callahan re-injured the groin on the play, and that was why he was unable to stay step-for-step with Adams on the deep route. Callahan left the game after this play and did not return.
Back-to-back drives with a @tae15adams TD ?
?: #LACvsLV on CBS⁰?: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/5fID6CMIjK pic.twitter.com/KxaultGrQA
— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2022
Samuel, Callahan and Michael Davis all took turns covering Adams. The Raiders All-Pro wide receiver won against all three. He has 318 yards receiving and three touchdowns against the Chargers in two games this season.
The Chargers entered halftime with a 13-10 lead. After the two Adams touchdowns, they trailed 24-13.
“The third quarter was where the game was decided today,” Staley said. “That was the story, those two big passes, and give credit to them.”
The Chargers defense did get off to a good start. The Raiders punted on their opening drive. Linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. forced a fumble on the second drive. And Callahan returned an interception for a touchdown on the third drive to open up a 7-0 Chargers lead. Samuel made a great break on a pass from Derek Carr intended for Mack Hollins and tipped the ball. Callahan picked it off.
The Chargers then forced another punt on the Raiders’ fourth possession. Jacobs was limited to 26 rushing yards in the first quarter.
But then Staley’s unit unraveled. Carr and Adams found a rhythm on the first drive of the second quarter, and Jacobs capped off the possession with a 20-yard touchdown run. On second-and-1, the Chargers came out in a package designed to stop the run. They had six defenders on the line of scrimmage — three interior defensive linemen, two edge rushers, and Murray on the right edge outside of Chris Rumph II.
Rumph was unblocked and overran the play. Jacobs followed his fullback, Jakob Johnson, who blocked linebacker Drue Tranquill. Hollins sealed off safety Nasir Adderley. Samuel was the unblocked defender on the second level, but he took a poor angle and could not prevent Jacobs from reaching the open field.
Jacobs got to the end zone untouched. And it sparked his afternoon. He had 118 rushing yards on 20 carries over the final three quarters, including 83 in the second half. The Chargers’ tackling deteriorated. Jacobs averaged 5 yards after contact per rush in the second half, according to TruMedia.
“We missed some tackles in the second half, which led to most of his yards,” Staley said. “I thought that we were in good run structures, but missed some tackles, which he does. He forces people to miss.”
Missed call on final drive?
Despite all the Chargers’ issues on both sides of the ball, they had a chance to tie this game late in the fourth quarter.
Carr connected with Adams, again, on a third-and-4 back shoulder throw near midfield. Adams made a ridiculous one-handed catch. It was ruled a reception on the field, but Staley challenged, and the call was overturned. The Raiders punted, and the Chargers took over at their own nine.
Herbert went to work. He hit tight end Gerald Everett in the flat off play action for an 18-yard gain. This was a really nice design from Lombardi. Herbert then completed to Joshua Palmer on a comeback route. Palmer made a great catch on this ball. He had seven catches for 60 yards.
On the ensuing second-and-3, Herbert stepped up through a blitz and found Everett on a crossing route to move the Chargers into Raiders’ territory.
Ekeler was stuffed on a shotgun run on first-and-10. On second down, the Raiders sniffed out an Ekeler screen to set up a third-and-9.
Herbert took the shotgun snap. The Raiders showed an all-out blitz at the line but only brought four rushers. Herbert was sped up and threw high over the middle looking for Allen.
Allen ran a slant, and just before the ball passed over his head, Robertson grabbed the Chargers receiver by his waist and knocked him to the turf.
The throw could have been deemed uncatchable because it was too high, ruling out a pass interference penalty. But the referees, by rule, could have called holding. They did not.
“I got tackled, not held,” Allen told reporters in the locker room.
Herbert’s fourth-down throw to Carter fell incomplete on the next play.
This looked like a blown call by the officials. But here is the reality: The Chargers had plenty of chances to score earlier in this game and pull away. They did not. The biggest culprit is the pass protection, not the referees.
News and notes
• Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter. “We’ll know a lot more tomorrow,” Staley said.
• While Herbert was running for his life on offense, the Chargers defense struggled to muster any sort of sustained pressure on Carr. The Chargers hit Carr just twice all game.
(Top photo of Justin Herbert being sacked by Chandler Jones: Steve Marcus/Getty Images)