Kicker Nick Novak Helps Chargers Win Again
Chargers 17 - Oakland 16
October 12, 2017
Back in early January of this year Nick Novak kicked a 50-yard field goal to give the Houston Texans an early 3-0 lead over the Oakland Raiders, a lead that the Texans would never relinquish on the way to a 27-14 playoff win over the Raiders.
The loss eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs. On Sunday Novak's 32-yard field goal with no time on the clock gave the Los Angeles Chargers a 17-16 win over the Raiders in Oakland.
This loss did not eliminate the Raiders. They are 2-4, as are the Chargers. But the Chargers have won two straight and look to be ascending and the Raiders have lost four straight and just look, well, not very good.
Novak, who was recently signed by the Chargers after they cut their struggling rookie kicker Younghoe Kim, is in his third stint with the Chargers. Novak is seventh on the all-time Charger scoring list and this was not his first game winning field goal, but first since re-joining the Chargers.
Novak was enjoying the moment shortly after the game. "It's one of the most amazing feelings when you win a game in the NFL," he said, mere minutes after his clutch kick. "It's hard to do. When you do your job well and help contribute to a win that's what you dream (about)."
There is a lot of confidence from teammates and coaches in Novak, starting with Charger Head Coach Anthony Lynn: "Very confident. He made the kicks in practice. He made them pregame. Absolutely (confident)... Nick doesn't miss the ones when the game's on the line.
"I did the research on him!" Charger quarterback Philip Rivers, a teammate of Novak's from 2011-2015, added: "It was fun to have him out there kicking a game winner."
For the second straight week Melvin Gordon had an outstanding game, both running and receiving. Last week, Gordon was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the New York Giants. In the game against the Raiders Gordon rushed for 83 yards on 25 carries and one touchdown. Gordon and the Charger offensive line were able to get important first downs on the winning drive late in the game by just being more physical than the Raiders. But it was Gordon's receiving that really made the difference. Gordon caught nine passes for 67 yards and one touchdown.
In a game where both quarterbacks were in a hurry to get the ball out of their hands because of the opposing team's pass rush, throwing passes to the running back was a critical part of the offensive attack for both the Raiders and the Chargers. The difference in the Chargers and the Raiders on Sunday was a difference between starting running backs.
Gordon caught 9/12 targets, four receptions for first downs and one for a touchdown. Marshawn Lynch, the Raider starter at running back, did not catch a pass on two targets. Lynch dropped one pass from Raider quarterback Derek Carr and batted the other pass up in the air for an interception, a critical turnover in the red zone that cost the Raiders points and contributed to their loss to the Chargers.
For the season through six games, Gordon has 28 receptions for 222 yards and four touchdown catches. He has caught 28/39 targets from Rivers. As a comparison, Lynch has caught four passes for 38 yards and zero touchdown catches through six games. Lynch has caught 4/10 targets. Rivers has made Gordon an integral part of the Charger passing attack.
The Raiders are getting virtually nothing from Lynch in the passing game. This is making it more difficult for the Raider offense, which is ranked 30th in total offense in the NFL and 27th in passing yardage per game. The Raiders as a team seem to be suffering from a malaise coming off their 12-4 season of last year.
Another big contribution in the Raider game came from Charger tight end Hunter Henry. The second-year receiver caught five passes for 90 yards, including a critical 34-yard reception on the winning drive leading up to Novak's game winning kick. The Chargers were at their own eight-yard line when Rivers connected with Henry for 34 yards and a first down at the Charger 42-yard line. Henry, a second-round draft pick last year from Arkansas, looks to be the heir apparent at tight end to Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates.
The Chargers also introduced rookie wide receiver Mike Williams to the NFL on Sunday. Williams, who missed the preseason and five regular season games due to a back injury, caught one pass on Sunday for 15 yards and a first down.
"He came through when we needed him," said Gordon. "With a big catch, he made one that helped move us into a position to win."
"That is what it is all about. I think once he gets fully comfortable out there, once he gets in stride, he is just so big out there and can be a great possession receiver." Adding Williams, the Chargers first round pick from the 2017 draft, is going to make the Chargers a very difficult matchup in the passing game.
Players like Gordon and Henry are beginning to assert themselves on offense and with the addition of Williams, the Chargers have started to show improvement and hope for the future. The Chargers are beginning to improve their Time of Possession and third down conversion efficiency rate. Both were keys to helping the defense stay off the field in the last two games.
The Chargers have improved in time of possession the past two weeks by about 6-7 minutes per game. The Chargers converted 30% of their 3rd down opportunities over the first three games. Over the last three games they have converted 45% of their third down opportunities.
The Chargers will need to continue improving on offense this Sunday when they take on the Denver Broncos at the Stub Hub Center in Carson. Game time is set for 1:25 PM. The Broncos bring a tough defense, the #1 ranked defense in total yardage in the NFL at 261.8 yards per game. They are well balanced, #2 against the run and #6 against the pass.
This is one of those games where the defense and special teams need to help the offense out a bit. The special teams need to make a few plays and the defense needs to force a few turnovers.