The Chiefs head to Oakland this week for their first divisional game against the Raiders and hope to leave with a huge road division win. They have dominated the Raiders the last 6 seasons, so how will they continue that trend this Sunday?
Here is how the defense could defend the Raiders’ offense to walk out of Oakland with another win.
There has only been one game played so far, so take these stats with a grain of salt, but the Raiders had 357 total yards with 259 yards coming from the passing game. The Raiders ran the ball a lot, having 28 carries for 98 total yards. That’s only 3.5 yards per carry. Oakland dominated in two areas last week: time of possession and third down efficiency. They controlled the ball for 33 minutes, and went 10-14 on third down. The Chiefs can’t allow them to dominate in those areas this week.
The Raiders significantly over-hauled their personnel this offseason and got way more talented on offense. Even after cutting Antonio Brown, they signed Trent Brown, Tyrell Williams, and drafted Josh Jacobs. All 3 of those players already have made significant impacts for the Raiders early.
Their quarterback is still Derek Carr, so that should make you feel good. Carr has always struggled against the Chiefs since coming into the league in 2014.
In 10 matchups against the Chiefs Carr is 2-8, with all his stats dropping below their normal average. To be fair, he is 2-3 in Oakland against the Chiefs, but there’s no doubt that ever since Andy Reid (and Bob Sutton) have been around, Carr hasn’t been able to get past the Chiefs.
Moving on, let’s discuss how to stop the Raiders running attack.
How to Defend the Raiders Run Game
During the draft, the Raiders took Josh Jacobs with the 24th pick. While some questioned the move to take a running back so early, he does have a ton of talent; his best assets being his patience and downhill explosiveness.
Plays like this 24 power are where Jacobs excels. He stays patient, chopping his feet before lowers his head and shoulder. He plays with exceptional contact balance and always keeps his feet moving, a very underrated trait for running backs. To be able to keep your feet moving throughout the play makes you better as a running back, and he flashed that ability the entire game.
Even though he’s more of a power runner, once he finds the hole he is fast in the open field. The Raiders run a simple HB lead play with the guard pulling, and Jacobs makes something out of nothing. Once the original hole is closed, he cuts to the left, and shows great explosion to get past the linebackers. Once he gets there, he breaks multiple tackles by keeping those feet churning and gains 11 yards on a crucial 3rd-and-2.
The Chiefs must stay disciplined in their run gaps this week. They can’t be lazy in their fits, or else Jacobs will make them pay. His vision, contact balance, and explosion are all top-tier for a running back. Luckily, the Chiefs were excellent last week at staying in their gaps, so I feel confident they will have much more success than Denver did on Monday.
If I’m Steve Spagnuolo, this is how I would attack Josh Jacobs. He’s not good at getting wide to the sideline. If you can set a great edge and take away the interior cutback lane, he’s pretty ineffective. Denver did a really good job on this play, with Von Miller setting a solid edge, their 1 technique and MIKE closing the B gap, and forcing Jacobs wide. At that point, Chris Harris fills the E-gap, and Jacobs slips on Oakland’s terrible field.
He’s similar to Leonard Fournette, so the Chiefs’ game plan should be to work inside-out against Jacobs, and force him wide. His lateral agility is poor, so if we can stop the interior run, Jacobs isn’t a good running back. This happened 3-4 times on film, so if I see it, Steve Spagnuolo definitely saw it as well.
How to Defend the Raiders Passing Game
Much like they did last year, the Raiders still want to have short, quick passes to start their football games. In order to set up their vertical crossing routes, they need to get the defense to drop their safeties, then throw over the top of the defense. This is one of their most common route concepts, where they have twin receivers on the field side running slants and using their two tight ends in a tight split running out routes.
The Chiefs should attack this by pressing against their wide receivers, then playing zone on the two tight ends. Kendall Fuller and Charvarius Ward should re-route these receivers, not letting them have free releases on the slants. Against the tight ends, Bashaud Breeland should stick to the boundary with a linebacker and safety crashing on the second out route. This way, they can rob all the routes available, and force Carr to hold the ball.
This week, unlike last, I’m focusing more on matchups than overall concepts. This is the one terrifies me the most, which is how we defend Darren Waller. Waller is a pretty unknown player, but he was a matchup nightmare for Denver this week. Oakland loved putting him out as a wide receiver, alone against a cornerback. He runs very pristine routes, with solid quickness, and he catches a great back-shoulder throw. Once he gets the catch, he’s really difficult to bring down.
If I’m Steve Spagnuolo, I’m tasking Tyrann Mathieu to try and deal with Waller. Mathieu’s instincts, skills, and fluid hips should help minimize the impact Waller can make. I’m concerned if Mathieu can deal with Waller’s size, but to start the game, I’m letting those two go at it and see if Mathieu can succeed.
The other matchup problem is Tyrell Williams. I wondered how effective he would be without Antonio Brown on the football field, but he still looks really good without him.
On third and short Oakland runs a play action against this Cover 0 call by Denver, and Williams makes them pay. He has an excellent release, and sells a go route to the sideline, but has a beautiful cut back inside, and he has enough speed to beat the cornerback. Williams has great speed and is a really good route runner. The Chiefs need to keep a safety over the top of him every snap, or he’ll make them pay. Hopefully Juan Thornhill can make Carr pay for one deep throw to Williams this week, instead.
This week’s X-factor is Frank Clark. Last week he didn’t have a horrible performance as a pass rusher, but he definitely wasn’t good. He did get double and triple-teamed a lot, but still didn’t show much juice, even in his single blocks. He needs to prove himself this week and have a performance like he did last year against Raiders’ left tackle, Kolton Miller.
Last year, Clark absolutely mauled Miller for 60 minutes, pretty much winning the game single-handed. He had 2.5 sacks, forced 2 fumbles, and 2.5 tackles for loss. He needs to have a similar performance this week. Miller looked better on tape in this game, but not significantly better. I think Clark gets 1.5 sacks.
This matchup looked tougher on September 7. I didn’t know how the Chiefs would deal with Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Trent Brown, and Josh Jacobs this year, but with AB84 out of the picture (maybe for good), this matchup looks much simpler. If I’m Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll rely on pressing all the Raiders receivers while bracketing Tyrell Williams with a safety to prevent him from using his elite speed to get downfield. Then I’m letting this pass rush pin their ears back and get after Carr.
The defense is going to be forced to rely on individual matchups rather than scheme to win this week. This game falls on Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, and Juan Thornhill, and I feel very confident in all them. I think the Raiders do offer some challenges the Chiefs, but with a way better pass rush this week, I’m picking the Chiefs to win, 38-24.