Before a much-needed bye week, the Oakland Raiders (2-3) travel to Kansas City to take on the undefeated Chiefs (5-0). Luckily, the Raiders have had recent success in Arrowhead Stadium, with six consecutive wins dating back to 2006. They aim to keep this streak going against a team that has greatly improved since going 2-14 just a year ago. The matchup is much more appealing this time around, as Terrelle Pryor faces perhaps the best defense in the NFL and the Raiders’ defense looks to build on a turnover-heavy performance against the Chargers. Let’s look more in-depth at this exciting AFC West matchup.
Raiders Defense vs. Chiefs Offense
The main appeal of this game will be the opposite side of the ball, but this is perhaps the most important aspect of the game if the Raiders can pull out a win. After shutting out San Diego in the first half, the defense decided to adopt a “bend but don’t break” mentality. Although Rivers passed the ball almost at will in the second half, the defense was able to force three second-half turnovers and protect the lead built by the offense. It will be important to continue the turnovers against an offense built to protect leads. Alex Smith hasn’t pushed the ball down the field much, averaging just 6.5 yards per pass attempt (26th in the league). He only has three interceptions on the season, meaning he has been careful with the ball, but his low yards per attempt would suggest that he hasn’t had to do much more than check it down.. The Chiefs were able to get a game-winning drive when they needed it last week as well, suggesting that Smith is still capable of game-winning drives.
To counter this, the Raiders defense needs to keep up its current pace. Rivers was under extreme duress for the first half and the secondary kept everything in front of them, leaving the Raiders with a 17-0 home shutout in the first half. The Raiders’ coverage broke down in the second half as the Chargers clawed their way back into the game, but two late-game interceptions and a fumble return for a touchdown helped secure the win. The much-maligned pass rush has been effective through the first five weeks as the Raiders have managed 13 sacks, in a tie for 14th-place, along with pass rushing teams like Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and Cincinnati. They forced their first three interceptions last week and scored a TD off of their fifth recovered fumble.
When the Raiders can’t force turnovers or sacks, however, they have proven to be vulnerable this season. Tarver’s scheme seems to have loose coverage of receivers, resulting in below-average ratings in yards per game (20th), yards per attempt (24th), and passer rating (27th). The run defense, the Achilles’ heel of the Raiders’ defense for the past few seasons, has actually been much better than expected. The Raiders have yet to allow a run longer than 19 yards (third-best in the NFL) and are allowing just 3.7 yards per attempt (10th), which is welcome news for a team whose main threat is Jamaal Charles. He has been banged up and missing practice all week, but he is expected to play. If any team had Charles’ number, however, it would be the Raiders. In two games last season, Charles had 14 yards on 14 carries with a longest run of 5 yards. While the Chiefs have much more offensive firepower this season, it is encouraging that Dennis Allen and the Raiders have a gameplan in place that can shut down a runningback like Charles.
Pryor vs. the Chiefs Defense
This will undoubtedly be the highlight of this game. Pryor has been exceptional both inside the pocket and on the run, and the Chiefs defense in general has been great in all aspects. In every week, it seems like fans have been treated to one new way in which Pryor can lead the franchise, but he has yet to showcase his talents against a very good defense. Encouraging for fans: Pryor should be able to move the ball fairly well. The Chiefs have a stellar secondary, allowing just 5.9 yards per attempt (2nd in the NFL) and just under 200 passing yards a game (4th), so it will be interesting to see if Pryor can continue his success through the air. If he can get any kind of success, he should be able to exploit a weaker-than-expected run defense. They have allowed 5.3 yards per carry (30th) and 115 yards per game (21st) despite only 21.8 rush attempts per game (7th-least in the NFL). Although McFadden’s status will garner most of the headlines, I expect Pryor to exploit this weakness more than McFadden would, even in perfect health.
It will be very interesting to see how the Raiders are able to compensate for their greatest weakness, the interior of the line, and the Kansas City strength, their pass rush. The Chiefs are the best team in the NFL at rushing the passer with 21 sacks, led by star LBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and emerging second-year DT Dontari Poe. Houston has been playing at an MVP level, notching almost half of those sacks by himself, and Poe has earned his first-round status from last year to earn plenty of double teams. The added interior pressure should be a concern for Oakland, whose interior line is about as patchwork as patchwork comes. At full health, the interior of the line is still the weakest link of the Raiders, and the Raiders are far from full health. I expect to see a lot of rollout passes and plays designed to alleviate some of this rush up the middle and moving the pocket for him. Pryor has shown incredible accuracy while on the run this season, so I expect a lot of read-option and play-action to keep the pass rush at bay long enough to take advantage of the gaps.
The Raiders haven’t faced a team that can rush the passer as well as the Chiefs, but they had better get used to it. After the bye, the Raiders face the Texans (11th), Cowboys (11th), Titans (5th), and Jets (5th), as well as teams that have historically rushed the passer well in the Steelers and Giants, before ending the season with three straight AFC West matchups. The offensive line should b recovering in health soon, with Veldheer eligible to return after week eight. For now, the Raiders should look at this as an opportunity for their offensive line depth to gain valuable experience against a great set of pass rushers and hope that they are able to keep Pryor upright.
Is Marquette King officially the
best-kept secret in Special Teams?
The AFC West is home to some of the best special teams play in the league and has been for a few years now. The Raiders’ duo of Lechler and Janikowski ended this season after Lechler returned home to Houston, but his replacement seems to be coming into his own. After another excellent game and finally getting the hang of holding, Marquette King is a very underrated special teams weapon on a team that knows a thing or two about special teams. He has a booming leg (his 66-yarder is the 4th-longest this season) and has been using it to flip field position incredibly well. His 45.0 net yards per punt is second in the NFL, and his long hang time off of his
kicks has allowed the coverage unit to regularly get downfield and limit any kind of returns. The coverage has allowed a few big returns, but that can’t take away much from King. He has looked great so far this season, and it’s about time he got his due. About the only phase King needs to improve on is pinning his punts inside the 20, as he has as many punts inside the 20 (5, 27th in the NFL) as touchbacks (5, t-2nd most), but this will improve with time and experience. Credit Reggie for stashing King last season and pitting him in a competition to hone his skills, as King is looking like a great investment for the team.
The Raiders will need the best King and the special teams can offer, as the Chiefs have one of the best return units in the league. They average 13.6 yards per punt return (4th) and 25.6 yards per kick return (10th), and their 89-yard return for a TD is the longest in the
league this year. It’s critical that the Raiders continue to show stiff special teams defense, as AFC West matchups are often won off of one game-changing play. They need to be sure to not allow a significant return to keep the fans as out of the game as possible.
In any event, this is arguably the toughest challenge that the Raiders have faced this season. Many are favoring the undefeated Chiefs to continue their streak at home, so it will be up to the Raiders to steal momentum early and keep up an explosive offense and
opportunistic defense. If they can do this, they will enter their bye week at .500 and will look forward to regaining health and potentially even sneaking into the playoffs.