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Chiefs vs. Raiders: Five Things to Watch

Posted Dec 10, 2017

Here are some storylines to keep in mind as the Chiefs host the Raiders on Sunday

The Kansas City Chiefs (6-6) and Oakland Raiders (6-6) meet Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium with plenty of playoff ramifications on the line.

The Raiders have won three of their last four games, while the Chiefs have dropped six of seven after beginning the season with a perfect 5-0 record.

But as is the case with all games entering the fourth quarter of every season, it doesn’t matter how either of them got to this point. The bottom line is the Chiefs have an opportunity to defend their AFC West title and they don’t need any outside help in order to accomplish that feat.

In fact, the Chiefs have never successfully defended a division title in franchise history. A win on Sunday would go a long way in helping accomplish that goal.

And for a team that’s shown glimpses on both sides of the ball over the past few weeks of the group that raced out such a fast start this season—the opportunity is there on Sunday to finally put together a complete game.

The facts are that the margin of error and the time available to try and put together a solid all-around game is shrinking by the day.

Simply put: the time is now.

Here are five things to watch during Chiefs-Raiders on Sunday:

1. Can the Chiefs’ offense pick up where they left off last week?

The Chiefs’ offense averaged more than 10 yards per play last week against the New York Jets.

They were explosive. They put up points quickly and in the majority of cases, that would be enough to win a game. But it wasn’t, and now they’re tasked with trying to maintain that level of success against a Raiders’ defense that’s been better as of late—allowing just 31 points over the last two weeks.

One of the players coming into the game with a hot-hand is receiver Tyreek Hill, who had six receptions for 185 yards and a couple of touchdowns last week against the Jets.

“The biggest challenge for [Hill] is understanding that he’s a marked-man every game,” Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who was in charge of play-calling last week and will be again this week, explained. “So, he’s coming into these games and they’re game-planning when they go into it. He’s adjusted well to it and he reaped some of the benefits last week.”

Hill’s relationship with quarterback Alex Smith, who was named the FedEx Air Player of the Week after his performance against the Jets, has progressed to the point that he can’t be considered just a player with exceptional speed anymore. He’s become an exceptional all-around receiver.

In his last two games against the Raiders, Hill has combined for 12 receptions for 191 yards and two touchdowns. That’s good for an average of 15.9 yards per reception.

2.  How do the Raiders attack this Chiefs’ defense?

One of the bigger storylines for the Chiefs’ defense coming into the game is how they handle the absence of cornerback Marcus Peters, who was suspended by coach Andy Reid for this week’s game.

“It doesn’t change dramatically,’ Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said this week. “You guys have asked me a thousand times about why doesn’t he shadow, why doesn’t Marcus do this, and it is because our system is set up so, certainly Marcus is a really good football player and we will miss him, but it is just part of football.

“We can’t really change this late and really do much different than what we would do. Guys stepping up and got to play their tails off.”

The Chiefs may catch a little break in that Raiders’ receiver Amari Cooper might not play because of an ankle injury. His status is in question. In their last meeting back in Week 7, Cooper finished with 11 receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was a problem.

Another thing that would help (as always) is if the Chiefs can get pressure on Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr, whose quarterback rating goes from 103.7 when there’s no pressure, to 47.2 when there is pressure.

It’s a stark difference.

Carr has thrown 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions without pressure, but hasn’t thrown a touchdown and has five picks when he’s under pressure. Those numbers are substantial enough that pressure from the guys up front—the defensive line, along with the guys on the outside—Justin Houston, Frank Zombo, Tamba Hali and Tanoh Kpassagnon—is as important as ever.

3. Can the Chiefs keep themselves from beating themselves?

Reid has often spoke about the small margin of error between winning and losing in the NFL, and during this recent stretch of games, the Chiefs have seemingly made mistakes that winning teams don’t normally make.

A lot of times it’s been costly penalties late in the game, which includes the first matchup with the Raiders in Week 7—when the Chiefs had multiple fouls on the Raiders’ final drive that extended the game, and in a game on Sunday that’s most-likely going to come down to the wire again, the focus turns to being a disciplined team that doesn’t beat themselves when it matters most.

“I would tell you that these are young men, they’re searching,” Reid said of his team’s mindset after last week’s loss to the Jets. “They want to do well. They don’t want to sit here and be on a losing streak like we’re on. They get where we sit. I talk to them about all of that. They understand that. We all have to collectively pick up our game or it doesn’t change. So, to make change sometimes there’s got to be an uncomfortable feeling.

“You’ve got to be willing to feel that to get yourself better. That’s where we sit. Those are things that I address as a head coach. But again, until you do it it’s just talk and we’ve got to make sure we get things done and change it around.”

There’s no better team for the Chiefs to face to get things turned around than their oldest rival.

4. Does the running game get going?

Rookie running back Kareem Hunt is just 70 yards shy of becoming the second Chiefs’ player ever to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his first NFL season. He has 930 yards on 193 carries (4.8 ypc) with four touchdowns.

The majority of Hunt’s production came early in the year, when he became the first player in NFL history to have at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the first seven games of his career.

Against the Raiders a few weeks ago, Hunt finished with 18 carries for 87 yards and four receptions for 30 yards.

“He’s a special running back and we understand that, so in a perfect world would you like him to get more carries? Yeah. We had 44 (total) plays, so that’s part of it,” Nagy explained of Hunt’s nine carries last week against the Jets. “Now we do different things in the run game and we’ve done it all year. So, it just happened to be one of those games, but you can’t be one dimensional. Whether that’s running the ball all the time or passing the ball you have to be able to be balanced.

“In this game, it just so happened to be that he didn’t get quite as many carries, but it’s not like we’re not trying to get him the ball.”

The Raiders come into this game ranked 11th in the league against the run, allowing 104.9 yards rushing per game.

5. Who makes the game-changing play?

Again, in a game that will most-likely come down to the final few minutes, the question becomes who’s going to step up and make the play that makes the difference?

In these cases, you obviously want to look in the direction of your leaders.

“These are hard-fought games,” Smith said of what he’s expecting Sunday. “They are close and they come down to the smallest of things. You scratch and you fight for all those little things. You anticipate it probably being a similar situation, coming down to the end of the game and who can make the play.”

Offensively, the focus for the Chiefs would be on Smith, Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, but oftentimes, the player who steps up and makes the play is the one who is open, or the one who is getting the 1-on-1 situation.

Don’t be surprised if that guy is Albert Wilson, who has a knack of making key plays in big games, and with all the recent success and production of Hill and Kelce, who added four catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns last week, Wilson may be in position to make plays this week.

Defensively, the focus would be on Houston, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks this season.

But the under-the-radar guy to watch out for is safety Daniel Sorensen, who was a turnover machine last year and could find himself making an impact on Sunday against the Raiders.

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