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Chiefs vs. Raiders: Five Things to Watch

Posted Oct 19, 2017

Here are some storylines to keep in mind as the Chiefs face the Raiders on Thursday night

The Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders will meet at the Oakland Coliseum Thursday night for the next chapter in this storied rivalry, which dates back more than five decades.

Among the many obvious reasons a win would benefit both teams right now, the Chiefs could actually guarantee themselves an all-time winning record at the historic venue of their historic rival with a victory Thursday night.

The Chiefs currently carry a 19-18-1 record against the Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum, and with the Raiders reportedly leaving for Las Vegas after next season, there are conceivably only two more opportunities for these teams to meet there.

While this record has nothing to do with the players and coaches fighting for the AFC West division right now, the longstanding rivalry and what it all means in the bigger picture shouldn’t be lost either.

It does mean something.

This current Raiders’ team has dropped four straight and are coming off a last-second loss on a game-winning field goal by the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday, while the Chiefs are looking to bounce back after their first loss of the season, a 19-13 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Chiefs haven’t lost back-to-back games since October of 2015, and they’ve won five straight over the Raiders and 12 straight over the AFC West overall, not to mention they have the chance at a franchise-record 10th-straight road victory.

Furthermore, this Raiders’ team came into the season with high expectations, and on Thursday, the Chiefs have a chance to further distance themselves in the standings with a victory.

So, there’s plenty on the line for both teams.

Here are five things to watch Thursday night:

1.     How do the Chiefs respond after their first loss of the season?

The Chiefs have to do a couple of things this week that they haven’t yet experienced this season. They’re preparing for a game coming off a loss, and they’re preparing on a short week.

On Tuesday afternoon, Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith spoke about the challenge of preparing on a shortened schedule.

“You are cramming mentally,” Smith said. “Coaches, players included, getting the game plan in and getting it down. Walking the fine line of new stuff in a short week. You have to, in a loud place and noisy environment, be able to master all that stuff when things are really going fast.

“But as soon as the whistle blows, you go. You are playing ball. At that point, it is a football game, and you are going, and you don’t think any different. Really, it is just the week of preparation leading up to it that is different. It has to be.

“You are cramming a week’s worth of preparation and healing into a couple of days.”

Most of the players and coaches spoke about how there really isn’t time to dwell too much on the loss to the Steelers last Sunday. Everyone is too busy preparing for the Raiders.

The Chiefs are 7-1 against the Raiders over the past five years under coach Andy Reid, but as he said once again this week, he knows the challenge the Raiders present.

“On the offensive side, they’ve got good speed, good offensive line. They’ve got a runner there (in Marshawn Lynch) who brings a certain toughness to that group and still runs hard, and a quarterback (in Derek Carr) who’s a pro bowl player,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid explained. “You’ve got to make sure you’re ready to go both in the run game and pass game against them.

“And then defensively, again, they’ve got good team speed, they play hard, they have a good scheme, so you have to make sure to take care of business there and play well.”

The Chiefs are too caught up in their preparation process to let one loss affect the next game, and the fact that they spend time during OTA and training camp practices going over their divisional opponents’ schemes, it’s not a bad thing that they’re facing a familiar opponent on a shortened week.

2.     Can the Chiefs continue their success against Derek Carr?

Carr has struggled in his career against defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and the Chiefs, winning just once in six tries with numbers well-below his career averages.

In six career games, Carr has completed just 55 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, five interceptions, and paltry 4.92 yards per attempt average. That’s a player who has completed 63.1 percent of his passes with 68 touchdowns and just 23 interceptions over the last two-plus years.

Earlier this week, Carr spoke with the local Kansas City media about facing the Chiefs.

“They’re one of best teams in football, and they’re well-coached from the head coach all the way through,” he explained. “I was able to spend some time around those guys at the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago. I just got to hear them coach, I got to hear them talk, I got to hear them teach, and you can see why they’re one of the best team’s year in and year out.

“They have a great staff and you put great players on a field that you have a great staff, you’re going to produce wins and do really good things.”

Carr is helped by one of the league’s best offensive lines, and particularly, one of the NFL’s best centers in Rodney Hudson, who began his career with the Chiefs. Hudson has yet to give up a single quarterback pressure in more than 200 pass-blocking snaps so far this season.

Despite past success against him, Sutton spoke about the challenge of facing Carr and whether he knows something everyone else doesn’t.

“I wish there were a secret,” Sutton laughed. “I wouldn’t share it with you anyways, but I would just say that we try to play him hard, we understand what we’re trying to do and that’s important.”

3.     Will we see improvement from the Chiefs’ run defense?

The Chiefs allowed Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell to rush for 179 yards on 32 carries last Sunday. It was the most rushing yards allowed by a Chiefs’ defense to a single player in almost a decade.

“There’s nothing that was earth-shattering…need better footwork, need better hand placement, and we needed to get off blocks better,” Sutton explained of what he saw on tape after the game. “Then, when we get a chance, need to tackle better. They were more fundamental things, and like I said, this is not to take anything away from Pittsburgh, they did a great job of blocking, a great job of running, and so we got to get that part improved here.”

Sutton also spoke about the challenge this week of facing Marshawn Lynch, who joined the Raiders this offseason after a year of retirement.

Lynch, who averaged a ridiculous-3.6 yards after contact last week against the Chargers, has carried the ball 70 times for 257 yards and two touchdowns this year.

“He’s the same guy,” Sutton explained of what he’s seen from Lynch—the five-time Pro Bowl running back. “He runs hard, he loves contact, and he’s going to seek you out on some degree here. He’s underrated as far as his ability to do those inline cuts and what happens is he gets what we call the soft shoulders, and you end up overrunning him. You end up on the outside and you’re reaching back in, and with his size and strength, this isn’t a guy you can tackle like that.

“So, you’ve got to stay inside-out, and you’ve got to get good contact on him and get feet moving on contact.”

The Chiefs ability to stop the run and subsequently get in situations in which they can get after Carr will be a key to this game. It’s part of the reason they’ve had success against him in the past, and it’s obviously going to be important again this week.

4.     Can Alex Smith continue his successful ways against the Raiders?

Including his time with the San Francisco 49ers, Smith carries a 9-1 overall record against the Raiders.

In those games, Smith has completed 63.1 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions. That’s more touchdowns than he’s thrown against any other team.

In fact, to take it a step further, since joining the Chiefs, Smith has played in 67 games, and in seven of them, he finished with better than a 9.89 yards per attempt average.

Four of those seven games had come against the Raiders, including both matchups last year, when he finished with a 10.15 and 10.18 yards per attempt average, respectively.

“These are all big games within our division,” Smith said earlier this week. “Every rivalry is unique and certainly the Raider one is a special one. You have to embrace that challenge. Here we are going into a hostile environment. It’s also what makes this such a unique rivalry. Going in there and going and trying to come away with a win.

“Certainly, you’re not unaware of that; you are not naive to that. You know what it is.”

Smith currently leads the league in completion percentage (72.9), yards per attempt (8.53), and quarterback rating (119.2).

For Smith to have some success, the offensive line is going to have to deal with one of the league’s best pass rushers in Khalil Mack, who currently ranks fifth in the league with 23 quarterback pressures.

Since coming into the NFL as the No. 5 overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft out of the University of Buffalo, Mack ranks third in the NFL with 61 tackles for loss, and his 34 sacks rank seventh.

In his last four games against the Chiefs, Mack has 28 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble.

5.     How will the new faces continue to get acclimated to the offense?

With multiple injuries right now to a few skill position players, most notably receivers Chris Conley (Achilles) and Albert Wilson (knee), along with running back Charcandrick West (concussion), some new faces are getting some run with the first-team offense.

And their ability to step in and make plays could be the difference between a win or loss on Thursday night.

At receiver, one of the young guys getting some work is second-year receiver Demarcus Robinson, who finished the Steelers’ game with one catch for 15 yards.

“Demarcus did a good job,” Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said earlier this week. “He had some opportunities there and when we went back, he was getting lined up in the right spots, making the correct route adjustments with the different presses and techniques they give you coverage-wise, but he did everything we asked him to do and we’re going to need that to continue here.”

Along with Robinson at receiver, the Chiefs could also see an extended look at running backs Akeem Hunt, who joined the team two days before the season opener against the Patriots, or C.J. Spiller, who just signed again this week after spending the whole offseason with the team.

Reid was non-committal about either of their roles for the game Thursday, but with West missing practice again on Tuesday as he’s still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, the job and snaps behind rookie Kareem Hunt could be something to watch.

Hunt still currently leads the league in rushing. He has carried the ball 106 times for 630 yards and four touchdowns this year.

Last week against the Steelers, Hunt became the first player in NFL history to begin their career with six-straight games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. He had just nine carries for 21 yards but provided a spark for the offense with his five receptions for a team-high 89 yards.

The Raiders have allowed three opposing running backs to gain at least 100 yards from scrimmage this season. The Chargers’ Melvin Gordon had 150 yards and two touchdowns, while the Broncos’ C.J. Anderson had 115 yards, and the Redskins’ Chris Thompson had 188 yards with a touchdown as well.

The Raiders lost each of those games.

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