Fret not, Chiefs Kingdom, for I have returned!
After a brief hiatus due to personal reasons, I am back and ready for this Week 11 revenge game in Las Vegas. Of course, I’m sure all of you are, too, as the image of the Raiders team bus taking a victory lap around Arrowhead Stadium is most likely still fresh in the minds of Chiefs fans everywhere.
It’s going to be a bruiser, that’s for certain. Jon Gruden always makes the games close against the Chiefs, and has shown he and Derek Carr have the ability to go blow-for-blow with the Chiefs offense.
One of the biggest factors in this game will be how the Raiders respond to many of their defensive starters not being able to practice due to the NFL’s intensive COVID-19 protocols for close-contacts. DT Johnathan Hankins, S Johnathan Abram, CB Isaiah Johnson, and DE Arden Key are the most prominent names, but we all know how the game played out earlier this year. Defense wasn’t exactly the name of the game.
Gruden and Co. will be sure to bring the heat yet again out on their home turf in the desert, and it’ll be up to the Chiefs to keep pace. (That was an incredibly weird sentence to write.) The Raiders present a tough matchup for the Chiefs, and with Las Vegas being the Chiefs’ only current loss on the season, we’re going to do this article a tad differently. With that, let’s dive in.
How the Raiders Won in Week 5
Kansas City has been fueled by their offensive firepower and stout pass rush the entire season, which has hid deficiencies in the secondary. While yes, the Chiefs currently sit with a top-10 pass defense, the stats don’t tell the full story — but the Raiders-Chiefs Week 5 matchup does.
Jon Gruden fields one of the most impressive offensive lines in the league, headlined by C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, and RT Trent Brown. All three, along with starting LT Kolton Miller, played in the Raiders’ win over the Chiefs and were instrumental in allowing Derek Carr time in the pocket to pick apart the Chiefs secondary, which is lacking in the speed department. Deep completions to WRs Henry Ruggs and Nelson Agholor (of all people) were the norm, and Kansas City struggled to adjust to the horizontal passing game of the Raiders, who made them pay when Spagnuolo stretched the defense too thin.
Another factor was the running of RB Josh Jacobs, one of the best power backs in the league. Gruden looked to exploit the Chiefs’ weak linebacking corps, and spread the defense out to open up roles in the run game. With the Chiefs having consistent troubles filling gaps opened up by their front-four, the Raiders ran to the tune of 144 yards and two TDs on the day.
The biggest takeaway is that the Chiefs secondary is not nearly as good as it looks on paper. The pass rush has largely hid major lapses in coverage, and that was exposed against a good O-line. Jon Gruden will undoubtedly look to replicate that, but he’ll have struggles with new injuries aplenty.
What’s Different This Time?
The largest difference is the absence of RT Trent Brown, who is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for the Raiders. Las Vegas also has some key defensive starters missing practice time while they are in the NFL’s intensive protocol for close-contacts, which will undoubtedly affect their performance on Sunday.
However, the losses on the Raiders side of the ball are not the only reasons why the Chiefs are in a better position.
RB Le’Veon Bell has since joined the team via trade, and has shined when given touches alongside Clyde Edwards-Helaire. With the Raiders missing defensive cohesion, it’ll be up to the Chiefs to take advantage. Andy Reid can’t cook up a 40-burger each week, and he needs to exploit every matchup he can. WR Sammy Watkins is also expected to make his return after missing the past several weeks, giving the Chiefs a true ‘X’-receiver on the outside to compliment Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman.
With the addition of new talent along with the return of proven commodities, the Chiefs should look to put up a much better fight simply when looking at the matchups. However, personnel isn’t what wins games; coaching is.
So, What’s the Game Plan?
Kansas City needs to attack the middle of the Raiders defense with the run game and make them pay over the top with their speed. With a legitimate rushing attack in hand, Andy Reid has the potential to deal some real damage and not tip his hand when it comes to play calling. But the Chiefs have always had an explosive offense, that’s nothing new. What will really decide this game is whether or not Steve Spagnuolo’s crew can adjust to the Raider’s offensive scheme.
Las Vegas likes to use their speed to spread the defense horizontally in order to open up holes in the run game and the occasional deep shot downfield. Kansas City failed to adjust to this properly in the Week 5 matchup, and will need ensure they do so in the second go-around to secure a victory.
The first step is to let Juan Thornhill prowl the backend as a single-high safety and keep Tyrann Mathieu on TE Darren Waller as frequently as possible. As a converted WR, Waller has the speed most TEs lack while also having the physicality to win at the catch point. Mathieu, while being a smaller DB, has the versatility to follow Waller wherever he lines up and the technical skills to match up with a larger receiver. Shutting down Waller in the middle of the field will be key to stifling the Raiders’ passing attack.
Second is to take advantage of a banged-up O-line. LG Richie Incognito is expected to miss the game with an Achilles injury, and RT Trent Brown is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. While DT Chris Jones will most likely have his hands full with C Rodney Hudson and RG Gabe Jackson, DT Mike Pennel, DE Frank Clark, and DE Alex Okafor should see one-on-one matchups against backup linemen, which they need to take advantage of. Making sure Derek Carr doesn’t have time to connect on deep shots to Henry Ruggs and Nelson Agholor will resign the Raiders to trying to stretch the field horizontally and allow the Chiefs to sit in zone coverage.
The third and final step is less of a game plan and more of a technique fix, but the Chiefs linebackers need to wrap up in the middle of the field. Better pursuit angles, finishing hits, and bringing down ball carriers seems like a fairly simple concept, but Kansas City’s linebacking corps has been the worst unit on the team. With the speed of Waller and Ruggs, along with the power behind RB Josh Jacobs’ running style, the Chiefs cannot afford to consistently miss tackles. Even the best game plans will fall apart if they aren’t executed properly.
I think this is another close game. The Raiders always make the games incredibly competitive, and this underrated rivalry game will add yet another to their storied history. However, it won’t end with a Las Vegas victory. Get the team bus warmed up for the victory lap around the Strip.
Final Score: 34-31, Chiefs
(Featured Image Credit: Chiefs.com)