Oakland Raiders vs. Chargers: Key Matchups

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Neiron Ball vs. Antonio Gates

October 11, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) runs with the ball against Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Neiron Ball (58) during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Note: Antonio Gates has missed three straight practices and is questionable for Sunday’s game.

Gates is dealing with a knee injury, but if he plays, he still poses a major matchup problem for the defense.

All of Raider Nation was thrilled when Neiron Ball took over coverage duties from Curtis Lofton, who allowed a 100% completion rate through four weeks.

Ball played exceptionally well when called upon, holding Owen Daniels to zero receptions, the first time Daniels registered a goose egg since 2009. Ball graded (per PFF) as the 3rd best linebacker in coverage that week.

Owen Daniels is certainly no Antonio Gates, so Sunday is going to be a huge test for Neiron.

If he has a quality game on Sunday and is able to limit production from Gates, that’s going to go pay huge dividends for the defense. They’ll be able to focus more on trying to limit Keenan Allen, who also is poised for a big day against D.J. Hayden.

But I chose the Ball vs. Gates matchup as the one to watch out for since it seems pretty likely that Hayden is going to get burned all day on Sunday. But with Neiron and Gates, I’m very curious to see how the rookie performs against the future Hall of Famer.

Next: Raiders Must Pound The Rock vs. Chargers