Raiders' next challenge: Contain high-powered Chiefs
One needn't be well versed in football analytics to realize the Raiders may be in a heap of trouble in Kansas City on Sunday.
All you need to know is no NFL team has given up more big passing plays than the Raiders defense (55 plays of 20 yards or more) and no team has delivered more huge plays in the passing game than the Chiefs.
If the Raiders couldn't stop the offensively-challenged Jets from matching their season high in points and explosive pass plays in a humiliating 34-3 loss on Sunday, it stands to reason they'll struggle against the NFL's most dynamic aerial attack.
It's a thought that's already consumed Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
“We just gotta keep the ball in front of us; we can't give up the vertical bombs. We just can't do it,” Gruden told reporters Monday. “We gotta work hard this week on preventing that.”
Will it be easier said than done? Well, consider the Chiefs not only have arguably the league's best quarterback in strong-armed Patrick Mahomes, but he should have game-breaking speedster Tyreek Hill back from a hamstring injury to join mercurial Mecole Hardman on Sunday against Oakland's 28th-rated pass defense.
We haven't heard such a recipe for disaster during Thanksgiving week since the time grandma announced she'd be bringing Ambrosia and Jell-O salads to dinner.
For those whose appetites are still intact, here's a closer look at Oakland's game Sunday:
Three reasons for Raiders' optimism:
Keeping things grounded: The Raiders ran the ball well while jumping out to a 10-0 lead over the Chiefs on Sept. 15, but Oakland finished with a modest 129 yards on just 19 carries (6.8 average) because Mahomes and Co. erupted to put the game away. The best way to prevent another KC uprising would be to chew up yardage and time with rookie running back Josh Jacobs. The opportunity is certainly there, since the Chiefs have the third-worst rush defense in the NFL, allowing 143.1 yards per game. Jacobs, with 957 yards, is poised to join Latavius Murray as the only Raider to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in the last decade.
It's not all rosy in KC: Yes, the potent Chiefs can essentially put the AFC West division title question to rest with a win Sunday, but aside from flashes here and there, they haven't exactly been world-beaters the past few weeks. Kansas City found a way to reverse a troubling trend while toppling the mistake-prone Chargers in Mexico. But the Chiefs had lost four of their last six games to create a path to first place for the Raiders. While Mahomes delivered a victory, he wasn't at the height of his powers. He had a pedestrian passer rating of 72.7 while throwing for a mere 182 yards.
Exploiting the line: If we're looking for potential edges for the Raiders' defense, Kansas City's offensive line just might offer a glimmer of hope. The Chiefs linemen have allowed eight quarterback sacks in the last three games. Before getting to Jets quarterback Sam Darnold just once on Sunday, Oakland had 10 quarterback sacks in the previous two games. Overall, Kansas City's offensive line is ranked just 22nd in the league, which is also potentially good news for the Raiders.
Three reasons for Raiders' pessimism:
Big-money star has arrived: Although Frank Clark has been with the Chiefs all season, the Pro Bowl edge rusher finally showed two weeks ago why Kansas City gave up first- and second-round draft picks and a $104 million contract for him. The Chiefs also shipped Dee Ford to the 49ers to make room for him. A neck injury was partially to blame for his lackluster season - he had 32 sacks over the past three seasons in Seattle. Philip Rivers and the Chargers felt Clark's presence as the ex-Seahawk had his best game of the year with five tackles, a sack, three quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a pass defensed. If Clark can duplicate that Sunday, Derek Carr may be in for a rough afternoon.
More Carr trouble? It's worrisome enough for the Raiders quarterback that Clark is hitting his stride, but now he'll look down the Chiefs' line and see more trouble brewing in the form of Chris Jones. The resurgent defensive lineman, who had missed three games with a groin injury earlier this year, has been dominant since returning in Week 9. Since then, Jones has 11 tackles, five quarterbacks hits, three sacks, two tackles for a loss, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
A heavy dose of speed: The Chiefs, according to NextGen Stats, have three of the NFL's Top 15 fastest players this season - and all of them are track stars disguised as wide receivers. Check out the eye-popping 40-yard dash times for Hill (4.25), Hardman (4.33) and Sammy Watkins (4.34). But it's more than speed that kills this threesome's opponents. Hill had 1,478 receiving yards and 12 TD catches last year. The rookie Hardman has been targeted 32 times, which has produced the NFL's best passer rating (153.6). For good measure, Hardman's yards-after-catch average is more than two yards better than any other receiver. Of course, Mahomes also has another fairly decent option in the passing game in All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce.