Las Vegas employs man-to-man pass coverage at a rate that ranks as the ninth-most in the NFL.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen was asked Thursday what, specifically, that will mean to him.
“Barbecued chicken,” he said. “No doubt.”
Allen then was asked what, specifically, he meant by “barbecued chicken.”
“That means they’re dead,” he said, smiling. “You’re gonna get to see ‘Slayer.’ ”
“Slayer” is Allen’s nickname, one he hopes to earn again with emphasis Sunday when the Chargers visit the Raiders for an AFC West game with significant postseason implications.
Allen and the Chargers need to win to keep their chances as alive as possible, and their offense is about to face a secondary that has struggled. Las Vegas is giving up 253 passing yards per game, which ranks 26th in the league.
One potential obstacle, though: Justin Herbert has been sacked nine times and hit 14 other occasions over the last two games.
“Protecting Herbert and giving us opps against the back end,” Allen said when asked for the key to winning this game. “I think that’s where they lack at — the back end, the defensive backs. So we gotta take advantage of our shots.”
In his 10th year, Allen has played an entire season’s worth of games against the Raiders. He has 97 catches for 1,058 yards and five touchdowns in 16 career games opposite them.
But Allen hasn’t topped 100 yards or scored a touchdown against the Raiders since Week 9 of 2020. And that’s a game the Chargers lost at SoFi Stadium 31-26.
The 2022 season has been a bit lacking for Allen. He suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter of the season opener — also against Las Vegas — and missed the next five games.
Allen came back in Week 7 versus Seattle but caught just two passes for 11 yards before leaving after two quarters because he felt he lacked the explosiveness to be effective.
After a setback during his rehabilitation, Allen missed four more weeks before returning again on Nov. 20 against Kansas City. He had five receptions for 94 yards, looking more like the player who has made five Pro Bowls in a row.
Last week, Allen finally scored his first touchdown of 2022, finishing with five catches for 49 yards and helping the Chargers to a 25-24 victory at Arizona.
“It felt great,” Allen said of reaching the end zone for the first time in nearly 11 months. “Just another day at the office.”
Herbert has had his top two wide receivers, Allen and Mike Williams, together for less than one full game this season. Williams has been dealing with an ankle injury that is expected to keep him out again Sunday.
Because of numerous injuries — including Herbert’s fractured rib cartilage — the quarterback has had to rely more on a shorter, quicker passing scheme. Still, the Chargers rank sixth in the NFL, averaging 262.2 yards per game through the air.
With an offense that has had difficulty sustaining a rushing attack, the Chargers no doubt will turn to Herbert again in Las Vegas, where he threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 18 loss last season.
Calling Allen “one of the premier receivers in the league,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Allen’s health has improved noticeably over the last couple of weeks.
“I think we’re confident that he is full-go now,” Lombardi said. “Having the player is a big deal, and just having the personality and the confidence in the huddle — the veteran presence — it’s big on a lot of levels.”
During their first two seasons together, Herbert targeted Allen 296 times in 29 games. Without Allen for much of this season, the still-young quarterback has had to look elsewhere, leading to some inconsistency.
In 2021, 66 of Allen’s 106 receptions went for first downs. During Herbert’s rookie year in 2020, he hit Allen 28 times to convert on third down.
Speaking of Allen, Lombardi said, “There’s a lot of production that he brings to this offense that, when he is missing, you feel it.”
Having felt Allen’s absence, the Chargers hope the Raiders feel his presence Sunday. And, as Allen suggested, he hopes to feast.
Along with Williams, center Corey Linsley (concussion) and right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee) also did not practice Thursday, an indication they are unlikely to be ready for Sunday. … Safety Derwin James Jr. (hip) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (groin) returned after sitting out Wednesday. Safety Nasir Adderley (thumb) was limited for the second consecutive day.