ALAMEDA — The preferred method of beating Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers would be on onslaught which would leave the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage under a pile of defenders.
But even with Khalil Mack coming off the edge, that hasn’t been the Raiders style in 2016.
The Raiders have bothered quarterbacks more than they’ve pummeled them, ranking 30th in the NFL with 22 sacks — half of them from Mack. That ties the Raiders with the New York Jets. Only the winless Cleveland Browns have fewer sacks with 21.
It’s only one of several defensive statistical indictors which don’t often correlate to a 10-3 record.
The Raiders are giving up an NFL-high 6.2 yards per play (more than the Colts, Browns and 49ers), 7.8 yards per pass attempt (the same as the Browns and New Orleans) and the only teams giving up more than the 4.7 yards per carry surrendered by the Raiders are the Dolphins and 49ers.
On the other hand, the Raiders are 11th in third down defense at 38 percent and their plus-15 turnover margin leads the NFL.
The Raiders defense has often played its best late in games and gotten off the field when it was important. Sometimes with a Mack strip-sack, others by simply pressuring the opposing quarterback into an incompletion.
“It’s a mindset,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said. “You’ve got to get the quarterback off the spot and make sure he’s not comfortable.”
The Raiders have had at least one sack in every game this season, although six times it was just one. Only once have the Raiders had more than two sacks in a game, getting four in a 38-24 win over Buffalo on December 4.
“I think we’ve been really good in key moments,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’ve been able to close games. We’ve been able to get off on third down. We’ve been able to do things like that, but it’s not all that we’d like it to be.”
After Mack’s 11 sacks, outside linebacker Bruce Irvin is next with five, defensive tackle Stacy McGee has 2.5, defensive end Denico Autry 1.5, outside linebacker James Cowser has one and defensive tackle Dan Williams and linebacker Shilique Calhoun have a half-sack each.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. would like the sack numbers to improve, but resists the notion that the pass rush has been a one-man show.
“Everyone just talks about the one guy, but they all have to work together,” Norton said. “The run games, they work off each other. When one gets a sack, they all celebrate — so the group is doing as well as Khalil is.”
It hasn’t helped that McGee, who had a pair of sacks in the earlier win over San Diego, has missed four of the last five games with an ankle injury. Rookie second-round pick Jihad Ward, who opened the season as a defensive end, has started at tackle the past two games.
“I think our edge press is pretty good,” Del Rio said. “I think as our interior pressure gets a little better and our coverage is a little tighter, I think those numbers will jump up. Hopefully that can start this weekend.”
The Chargers’ Rivers has been sacked 33 times this season. Only five quarterbacks have been sacked more often.
The Raiders had hoped to get second-year defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. off injured reserve for an extra push up front, but Del Rio said his return will likely be on Christmas Eve in the Raiders regular-season home game against Indianapolis.
“The reality is he’s had a good week and I’d like him to get another good week,” Del Rio said. “He’s getting close.”
Conspicuous by his absence on the sack list is Ward, who is still awaiting the first of his career.
Del Rio compared Ward with Malik Jackson, a rookie in Denver in 2012 who developed into one of the NFL’s top 3-4 defensive ends.
“(Jihad) plays hard, plays with great energy,” Del Rio said. “He’s similar to Malik in his first year in Denver. Close on a lot of things. Doesn’t make a lot of plays in his first year — or hasn’t thus far — but gives great energy.”
— Safety Karl Joseph, McGee and linebacker Shilique Calhoun did not participate in practice and were ruled out of the Chargers game. Wide receiver Amari Cooper (shoulder), wide receiver Michael Crabtree (finger), defensive tackle Darius Latham (ankle), guard Kelechi Osemele (knee), linebacker Perry Riley Jr. (hamstring) and linebacker Malcolm Smith (hamstring) are all questionable but expected to play.