The Raiders face a stiff challenge this week, going on the road against the 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders, coming off a solid win versus another divisional opponent in the San Diego Chargers, are looking to be the first team to beat the Chiefs this season. Doing so would bring the Raiders back up to .500 on the year.
The Chiefs, although unbeaten, do not appear to be as strong as either of the other two unbeaten teams, the Broncos and the Saints. The Chiefs have parlayed an elite defense and solid special teams and an offense that is ultra-conservative and therefore does not turn the ball over into their 5 wins so far.
The Raiders game plan on offense:
1. Get yards on every play, keep moving the chains:
The Chiefs defense is very solid especially the front seven and it all starts up front with the great play of nose tackle Dontari Poe, who has dominated centers the entire year. Poe is joined by an elite corps of linebackers in Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Akeem Jordan. The linebackers are the stars, anyway, in the 3-4 and this corps is very good.
The Raiders, then, must be patient against the Chiefs and work on sustaining drives and getting positive yards almost every play so that they can dictate the down and distance to get matchups they like.
Raiders’ starting QB Terrelle Pryor indicated the same in his press conference Wednesday, saying that this week he may run a bit more than he did against San Diego because of the need for positive yards. Pryor stated, “I definitely feel like that if I don’t have a throw that maybe I can just go two or three yards, and I think that will help our offense overall because you always want to stay on schedule for first or second down – you always want some type of yardage.”
The best way to beat the Chiefs defense is to simply keep chipping away at the yardage, get the defenders frustrated and then catch them out of position when they want to make a play.
Many times, defenders will get anxious and will over-commit to a pass rush. This happened several times last week when the Chiefs played the Titans and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to make the Chiefs’ defense pay for their lack of discipline by running for first downs and more. Pryor is obviously a better athlete than Fitzpatrick and can take even more advantage of the breakdowns in gap coverage.
2. Use lots of play action:
Typically, teams look back at the last three games an opponent has played to see what tendencies the team exhibits. That’s why I’d like Raiders OC Greg Olson to reach into his playbook and pull out some of the game plan read options from week 1 versus Indy.
The read option will be a good look versus the Chiefs because it’s difficult to stop when run correctly. If Olson can use the read option effectively early on, he can open things up in the passing game significantly.
An effective use of the read option will get defenses to think about covering the run, first, and that will open things up in the passing game for the Raiders.
Play action is one of the best tools a QB has because it gives that needed space where he can fit a ball, knowing that a safety can’t make it over in time because the safety had to first diagnose that it was a pass play and not a run play. This is very important because the Raiders will need to make explosive plays against this Chiefs defense.
3. Use misdirection:
Call this a variation on a theme but the Raiders need to confuse the Chiefs defense as much as possible. The likelihood of the Raiders patchwork offensive line being able to win, physically, versus the Chiefs front seven is low if they telegraph what they are going to do.
Instead, the Raiders should focus on creating confusion and causing the Chiefs defenders to make a lot of instant decisions. Like they did in pre-season, at times, it would be great to see the Raiders come out in one formation and then do a large amount of shifting pre-snap. When a team shifts more than two players, the defense frequently has to tip its’ hand the play’s coverage.
Pre-formation shifts also typically cause some hesitation in a defender, who has to try to sort through what happened and what it means for their called defense – what assignment is theirs, for example. Any hesitation the Raiders can bring can only help the offense.
Misdirection doesn’t have to simply be pre-snap, however. Another effective tool is play calls that get the defense flowing in one direction, only to have the ball go in another. Some tools that would help control the Chiefs defense are end arounds and screen plays, which will hopefully draw some of the Chiefs defenders out of position so the Raiders skill players can make some plays.
I'd also like to see the Raiders run a Wildcat play in which McFadden throws it instead of it being a run as they've run it every time from that formation, I believe.
The Raiders game plan on defense:
1. Man coverage, get to Smith:
If the Chiefs defense is elite, their offense is far from it. The Chiefs are quarterbacked by underwhelmingly conservative Alex Smith who, as Pryor put it, does “a lot of check downs, something like 36% or something like that.”
Pryor is right, Smith hardly ever throws downfield and checks down on a great many plays. Even the ones that aren’t check downs aren’t designed to go too deep down the field. Smith looks like he gets rattled when he gets pressured and his accuracy suffers from it.
The Raiders plan on using a lot of man coverage and bringing blitzes, challenging Alex Smith to recognize the coverage and then step up and make the throws to the “hot” receiver. If they can disguise their coverage well enough, they have a very good chance of winning this battle vs. Smith.
Dennis Allen said their plan was to pressure Smith as much as possible in his press conference Thursday, saying, “It’s all predicated on being able to get some pressure on him and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.” He added, “It’s the ability to affect him in the pocket, to be able to do some different things to hopefully make him make a bad decision.”
The Raiders will look to disguise their blitzes and try to get Alex Smith to turn the ball over more this week than he has in other games throughout the year. The Raiders were able to get the teams’ first three interceptions last week against San Diego and they’d like to continue to develop their ball-hawk skills.
The Raiders will likely use a lot of man at the time, trusting in their cornerbacks against the Chiefs underwhelming receiver corps. The Chiefs have struggled to find any consistency in the passing game this season with Dwayne Bowe looking slower than he has in years past. Other starter Donnie Avery has been inconsistent and is nursing a sore shoulder this week, anyway, which will leave him at less than 100% assuming that he plays.
2. Gap integrity
This is vitally important in both the run and pass game against the Chiefs. Kansas City has one of the best running backs in the league in Jamaal Charles and they run zone blocking stretch plays better than the Raiders ever were able to under Greg Knapp.
The Raiders need to make sure they have their gaps protected on both the front side (the direction the running back is headed) and the backside (so the running back cannot simply plant his foot and go into a gap where a defender has over pursued).
In the passing game, QB Smith has shown that he is very willing to pull the ball down and run down the field. He doesn’t typically get the large chunks of yards that Terrelle Pryor can, but he has surprising athleticism and can scramble for a first down and keep the offense alive. The Raiders must respect that running ability and make sure they aren’t going so far downfield for a sack that they leave an unprotected area where Smith can leave the pocket and get downfield.
3. Overload the blind side:
In watching some games of the Chiefs, it became apparent that LT Brandon Albert is an average tackle, at best. He is strong on runs but he doesn’t have the fast feet and punch that teams would like out of the important position.
Albert allows bigger defensive ends (like RDE Lamarr Houston) to get into his body and can be pushed back by solid bull rushes.
He also doesn’t have the foot speed to consistently get his body between a quick defensive end that is coming around the left side, deep.
Lamarr Houston must be able to get pressure on Alex Smith from the blind side early. If he’s able to do that, the Chiefs will have no choice but to roll some coverage that way, which can open up things for the center and left side, later in the day.
I also expect some blitzes from the left side, which will make Albert choose which person to block. Charles Woodson has shown solid blitzing skills on the year and frequently comes up in run support anyway, so the Chiefs will be used to seeing him at or around the line. It seems quite possible to see Woodson blitzing on the L side, trying to get around Albert for a sack of Smith from his blind side.
Overall, I like the Raiders chances in this game. I picked the Raiders to win and extend their dominance at Arrowhead, where they’ve beaten the Chiefs six straight times coming into this week. I won’t be surprised if the Chiefs win – they are 5-0 after all – but I do think the Raiders match up better against the Chiefs than any other team they’ve played to date.
Terrelle Pryor will be the biggest factor on the field on Sunday and if the Chiefs are not able to shut him down, look for him to do some serious damage in the air and on the ground for the Silver & Black.