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Steve Marcus

Players warm up before a game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

Updated 4 minutes ago

The Raiders acknowledged their injury situation would be bad for tonight’s home game against the Chargers. Turns out, it’s even worse than expected.

Cornerback Nevin Lawson was a surprise inclusion on the just-released inactives, next to fellow defensive backs Damon Arnette and Jonathan Abram, linebacker Nicholas Morrow and defensive end Clelin Ferrell. Coach Jon Gruden announced the latter four would miss  the must-win Week 15 game Friday, but the plan was for Lawson to fill in and start in Arnette’s place. 

That now won’t be happening, with Isaiah Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner likely now picking up  the snaps.  

Johnson was the savior in the first game against the Chargers, and now the Raiders may need a similar performance out of him again. Lawson missed practice the last two days with an illness, and presumably isn’t feeling well enough to play tonight. 

Kickoff is set for 5:20 p.m. Stick around for live coverage all night and read the preview from the Las Vegas Sun print edition below.

• Who: Chargers (4-9) at Raiders (7-6)

• When: 5:20 p.m.

• Where: Allegiant Stadium

• TV: Fox 5 Las Vegas, NFL Network

• Radio: Raider Nation Radio 920 AM, KOMP 92.3

• Betting line: Raiders -3, over/under 53.5

The Raiders have lost three of their last four games to make a wild-card playoff spot they sat in a month ago look like a long shot. To make the postseason, Las Vegas will need, in all likelihood, to win its final three games, starting tonight, and hope either the Baltimore Ravens lose one or the Cleveland Browns lose two. Any season-salvaging must start by improving what’s arguably been the NFL’s worst defense. The Raiders took the first step toward that end in the hours after their 44-27 loss to the Colts on Sunday, as coach Jon Gruden fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli will step in as interim defensive coordinator. He may tweak some coverages and blitz packages, but it’s doubtful he can implement sweeping changes with only three days between games.

Favorable matchup: Josh Jacobs vs. Chargers’ rush defense

The Chargers rank second-to-last in the NFL in stopping the run by Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings. Las Vegas took advantage in the teams’ first meeting, a 31-26 Raiders win on Nov. 8 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The Raiders rushed for more than 6 yards per carry despite dealing with extensive offensive line injuries and Jacobs, their lead back, playing at less than 100%. They’re much better positioned for success now. Right tackle Trent Brown returned from a lengthy coronavirus absence against the Colts to make the offensive line as healthy as it’s been all season. Jacobs also came back from an ankle injury that saw him miss one game with no ill effects reported after the game. He’s practiced going into the Chargers’ game, meaning his ankle has presumably improved and inched him closer to full strength.

Problematic matchup: Austin Ekeler vs. Raiders’ rush defense

The Raiders rank dead-last in the NFL in stopping the run by Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings. It’s been their biggest issue in the last two weeks as the Colts and Jets have combined to average nearly 6.5 yards per carry against the Raiders. Las Vegas caught a break in its trip to Los Angeles this season as it came in the middle of an injured-reserve stint for Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who returned from a hyperextended knee three weeks ago. Ekeler has sparked Los Angeles’ offense since he came back, averaging 114 yards from scrimmage per game. He actually has more receiving yards than rushing yards in the last three games, which should come as no surprise considering the passing game is where the former undrafted free agent has long shined.

• “I think it’ll help Paul in the long run probably, getting away from me. Certainly, we thank him for everything he has done but we needed a new voice right now. I think we need a new energy.” -Coach Jon Gruden on the defensive coordinator switch from Paul Guenther to Rod Marinelli

• “People bring this age thing up, like I’ll tell you what now — I want to see them step in my shoes and have my juice,OK?” -Interim defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli on whether being 71 years old has affected his energy on the sidelines

• “As I’m getting older, as I’m in my seventh year, the patience I have, I guess I have a short fuse for certain things…I guess it’s the sense of urgency. I spend so much time here (at Raiders’ headquarters). I spend so much time doing everything I can for this organization to help us win. I just want more than anything for our fans to see us in the playoffs.” -Quarterback Derek Carr on his demeanor at practice this week

• “Trust me, that was a tough loss when you’ve won the game and then you get a call that you’ve lost a game.” -Chargers coach Anthony Lynn on where the loss to the Raiders earlier in the season ranks among the teams’ many endgame defeats this year

Gamebreaker: Kicker Daniel Carlson

If you forget about the records and the narratives surrounding both teams and instead focus on the numbers and season-long efficiency levels, then this looks like an incredibly close matchup. It certainly was evenly matched the first time these two teams played, as it took an overturned touchdown on the final play of the game for the Raiders to escape with a victory. Every point may matter in another potentially tight game. Las Vegas should therefore find some solace in having Carlson, who’s been one of the NFL’s best kickers this season in making 26 of 28 field-goal attempts and 38 of 39 extra points. Los Angeles’s Michael Badgley has been much less reliable, converting 19 of 26 field-goal attempts and 28 of 31 extra points. The gap is similar on special teams as a whole as Las Vegas’ have been solid across the board all year while Los Angeles rates last in the category by DVOA.

Big Number: 114

Las Vegas leads the NFL with 114 missed tackles on the year, showing that its problems stretch beyond schematics. The Raiders have also been fundamentally poor on defense. The biggest offender has been its highest-paid defensive player as linebacker Cory Littleton sits at 15 missed tackles, second in the NFL despite the fact that he missed two games with COVID-19. Las Vegas’ last line of defense hasn’t been much better as free safety Erik Harris (12 missed tackles) and strong safety Jonathan Abram (9) are also in the NFL’s top 60. Pro Football Focus not surprisingly grades the Raiders as the worst tackling team in the NFL. Marinelli is stressing increased discipline and physicality, so seeing if that results in surer tackling against the Chargers will be something to watch.

Best Bet: Hunter Renfrow over 39.5 receiving yards

Quarterback Carr says Renfrow wants to “prove a point” after a fourth-quarter fumble deep in the Raiders’ own territory helped seal their loss to the Colts. The slot receiver should have ample chance to prove it against the Chargers considering they’ve struggled to defend the middle of the field in the passing game all season. That’s where Renfrow is best. He had two catches for 60 yards against the Chargers earlier this season and had a career game against them last year with nine catches for 107 yards. He’s usually surehanded too, as the fumble against the Colts was only the second of his career and the first one recovered by the opposing team. The giveaway won’t deter Carr from looking for Renfrow. “I love the guy,” Carr said. “I trust him with everything in me.”

Article written by #LasVegasSun