A detailed look at the key players to watch for the Oakland Raiders and the Chiefs’ keys to victory leading up to their Week 14 game at 7:25 p.m. Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium. The game will air on NBC (Ch. 41 in Kansas City).
Coach: Jack Del Rio (85-82) is in his second year on the job and 13th overall as a NFL head coach. Del Rio, 53, is a former NFL linebacker who made his bones as a defensive coach in the league. He was the linebackers coach on arguably the greatest defense of all-time, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and traditionally built strong defenses during his nine-year tenure as Jacksonville’s head coach (sixth in yards allowed and eighth in points allowed). Del Rio wants to have a fiery, physical defense and is one of the league’s most aggressive coaches when it comes to going for it on fourth down.
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Offense: Bill Musgrave, 49, is in his second year as Del Rio’s offensive coordinator in Oakland and ninth year overall as an NFL offensive coordinator. He’s a former NFL quarterback whose units currently rank seventh in rushing (114.6 yards per game) and fourth in passing (277.1 yards per game). The Raiders have passed the ball approximately 58 percent of the time. They enjoy throwing short passes (like screens and crosses) out of the gun while also mixing in some no-huddle. Musgrave will also call on some six O-lineman sets to help establish the run.
Defense: Ken Norton Jr., 50, is in his second year as Del Rio’s defensive coordinator. He’s a former NFL inside linebacker who built his reputation working under Pete Carroll as a linebackers coach during Seattle’s recent run of playing excellent defense. His unit ranks 29th in rushing defense (124.8 yards per game) and 24th in passing defense (264.8 yards per game). The Raiders also rank 26th in the NFL with 21 sacks and seventh in turnovers forced (21). The Raiders generally utilize a 4-3 but they are multiple and will mix in some 3-4 looks.
Special teams: Brad Seely, 60, is in his second year as Del Rio’s special-teams coach and 28th overall as an NFL special-teams coach. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski has converted only 79 percent of his field goals, though all but one of his six misses have come from 50 yards plus. Punter Marquette King has dropped 27 punts inside the 20, the fourth-most in the league.
Four keys to a Chiefs victory
1. Use presnap motions and shifts (again)
The Chiefs used a ton of presnap motions and shifts to pound the Raiders on the ground in their 26-10 win on Oct. 16. The Chiefs racked up season-highs in rushing yards (183) and carries (40) due to the Raiders’ inability to consistently communicate and remain disciplined vs. the run. Del Rio didn’t like that — afterward he said the Chiefs do some “gimmicky” things — but the Chiefs could at least see if they’ve improved in that area. If they haven’t, it could help them exploit one of the league’s worst run defenses, one that has given up some chunk plays on the ground and is coming off a miserable performance against Buffalo in which they won 38-24 but allowed 212 yards in 30 carries, an absurd 7.1 yards per carry. According to Pro Football Focus, 139 of those yards came before contact. So yes. Run. The. Ball.
2. Dial up some play action
The Raiders don’t get home much; they are struggling to pick up sacks (26th in the league). They’re also prone to surrendering big plays. They’ve given up the seventh-most plays of 20 yards or more (eight). So if the Chiefs can’t run the ball, they should still dial up some play action. No team has proven to be more susceptible to that than Oakland — the Raiders are allowing 10.9 yards per play-action play, the most in football according to Football Outsiders. The Chiefs rank 11th in yards per play-action play (8.6) so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Chiefs test the Raiders early and often.
3. Get the Raiders in third-and-long
The Raiders are outstanding at protecting the quarterback. They’ve yielded a league-low 12 sacks and only 94 pressures (the second-fewest in the NFL, per PFF) and they also rank eighth in passing plays over 20 yards (44) thanks to pair of stud receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. So the Chiefs need to make star quarterback Derek Carr — who has a dislocated pinky finger on this throwing hand — throw it on third-and-long, which can only be done if they stop the run effectively on first and second downs. Their rushing attack is strong — they’ve broken off 13 runs of 20 yards or more, the third-highest total in the league — and they aren’t very tricky or gimmicky, though they will use six offensive linemen a lot. So, the Chiefs’ front seven better buckle it up this week and be physical — both at the point and when tackling — and disciplined. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long night against the team that has forced the fifth-most missed tackles in football. “If we can’t stop it, they’ll keep running it,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
4. Stay disciplined
The Chiefs racked up a season highs in penalties (13) and yards (128) against the Falcons on Sunday. They still won, but discipline will again matter against the league’s most-penalized team. Oakland has been penalized 112 times for 932 yards (compared to 83 times for 651 yards for the Chiefs) and while they’ve still mounted an impressive 10-2 record, this could be one of those games where every yard counts. One thing to keep in mind: the lead referee for tonight’s game is Terry McAulay, and the last time he worked an Oakland game (Oct. 30), the Raiders were flagged an absurd 23 times for 200 yards. They still won, but if the Raiders don’t knock it off, they could beat themselves with this crew.
Four Raiders to watch
No. 4, QB Derek Carr, 25 years old, 6-3, 214, third season
Ranked No. 100 on the NFL’s Top 100 for 2016, he has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate. He’s completed 65.5 percent of his passes and is on pace to throw for 4,500 yards, 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Is playing with a dislocated pinky finger but still completed 19 of 35 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo on Sunday. Is very good about taking what the defense gives him and generally makes good decisions with the football. Has been encouraged to be more aggressive and has been given more freedom at the line. Spreads it around well and doesn’t get hit much, but like most quarterbacks, he will make a questionable throw or two under duress. Throws short routes with touch; will occasionally drop to a sidearm delivery. Has terrific touch on fade balls, especially in the end zone; can put it on a dime with a flick of the wrist. Has good arm strength and can really hum it in there. His deep-ball accuracy has improved; he’s completed 58 percent of those throws (third-best in the NFL, according to PFF) for for 744 yards and eight touchdowns. Positive, upbeat and enthusiastic leader who loves to celebrate with his receivers following touchdown passes. Good athlete who can escape the pocket.
No. 28, RB Latavius Murray, 26 years old, 6-3, 230, fourth season
Third-year pro who made his first Pro Bowl in January after rushing for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns in 2015. Former sixth-round pick who is on pace to rush for 737 yards in 187 carries — an average of 4.0 yards — and 15 touchdowns in 10 games this season. Has been playing through an ankle injury but is coming off a 20-carry, 82-yard, two-touchdown performance against Buffalo. Long-strider with good physical traits; ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his pro day in 2014. Doesn’t quite play to timed speed — is a bit of a one-speed guy — but can still run away from a defense and flashes some power along with some lateral agility. Sees the hole fine. Derrick Johnson said Murray reminds him of a young Adrian Peterson. “Runs hard, can run you over or run past you,” Johnson said. “They run him a lot.” Functional receiver who has caught 29 passes for 228 yards this season. Capable blocker.
No. 52, DE Khalil Mack, 25 years old, 6-3, 252, third season
Ranked No. 13 on the NFL’s Top 100 for 2016. Has been crushing it, of late. Had a sack, interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery and a touchdown against Carolina two weeks ago and another sack and fumble recovery against Buffalo last week, in addition to seven hurries. Currently has 58 tackles, 10 sacks (third in the NFL) and 21 quarterback hurries (fourth). Plays with his hand in the dirt outside the tackle but will occasionally reduce to a three-tech. Possesses outstanding combination of burst, strength and effort off the edge and is one of the game’s elite edge rushers. Possesses a nice spin move and long-arm pass rush. Is a true two-way player who excels against the run; is disciplined and stout. “He plays with great leverage — he’s strong to hold the point in the run game,” Chiefs co-offensive coordinator Brad Childress said.
No. 51, SLB Bruce Irvin, 29 years old, 6-3, 260, fifth season
Former first-round pick by Seattle who signed a four-year, $37 million contract in March with the promise he’d be allowed to rush the passer more than he did in Seattle, where he averaged six sacks per year from 2014 to 2015. Irvin currently has five sacks this year, but that doesn’t fully reflect his pass-rush impact so far; he also has 17 quarterback hurries , which is tied for 13th in the NFL. Wins with power and speed as a rusher and enjoys rushing the passer but doesn’t have have a huge repertoire of moves. Generally has good instincts and has shown a knack for creating plays; has already forced four fumbles this season (tied for the second-most in the NFL) after forcing only one in each of his first four seasons. Currently has 42 combined tackles; plays with adequate strength and awareness as a run defender and does a nice job finding the ball and playing sideline-to-sideline. Possesses good overall cover skills for a linebacker. Good, complete football player.
Projected Chiefs two-deep
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, AP=2015 All-Pro, PB=2015 Pro Bowl, Q=Questionable
No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years
11 Alex Smith, 6-4, 220, 11 | 4 Nick Foles, 6-6, 243, 5
32 Spencer Ware, 5-10, 229, 3 | 35 Charcandrick West, 5-10, 205, 3
42 Anthony Sherman, 5-10, 242, 6
17 Chris Conley, 6-3, 205, 2 | 10 Tyreek Hill, 5-10, 185, R 8
19 Jeremy Maclin, 6-0, 198, 8 | 10 Tyreek Hill, 5-10, 185, R 8
12 Albert Wilson, 5-9, 200, 3 | 10 Tyreek Hill, 5-10, 185, R 8
87 Travis Kelce (PB), 6-5, 260, 4 | 84 Demetrius Harris, 6-7, 230, 3
72 Eric Fisher, 6-7, 315, 4 | 71 Mitchell Schwartz, 6-5, 320, 5
73 Zach Fulton, 6-5, 316, 3 | 75 Jah Reid, 6-7, 325, 6
61 Mitch Morse, 6-6, 305, 2 | 73 Zach Fulton, 6-5, 316, 3
76 Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, 6-5, 321, 3 | 75 Jah Reid, 6-7, 325, 6
71 Mitchell Schwartz, 6-5, 320, 5 | 75 Jah Reid, 6-7, 325, 6
99 Rakeem Nunez-Roches, 6-2, 307, 2 | 98 Kendall Reyes (Q), 6-4, 300, 5
92 Dontari Poe (Q), 6-3, 346, 5 | 77 T.J. Barnes, 6-7, 364, 3
95 Chris Jones, 6-6, 310, R | 94 Jarvis Jenkins, 6-4, 300, 6
50 Justin Houston (AP, PB), 6-3, 258, 6 | 51 Frank Zombo, 6-3, 254, 7
56 Derrick Johnson (AP, PB), 6-3, 242, 12 | 57 D.J. Alexander, 6-2, 233, 2
53 Ramik Wilson, 6-2, 237, 2 | 49 Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 208, 3
55 Dee Ford, 6-2, 252, 3 | 91 Tamba Hali (PB), 6-3, 275, 11
22 Marcus Peters (AP, PB), 6-0, 197, 2 | 39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 3
38 Ron Parker, 6-0, 206, 6 | 21 Eric Murray, 5-11, 199, R
29 Eric Berry (AP, PB), 6-0, 212, 7 | 49 Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 208, 3
39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 3 | 24 D.J. White, 5-11, 193, R
20 Steven Nelson, 5-11, 194, 2 | 39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 3
5 Cairo Santos, 5-8, 160, 3
2 Dustin Colquitt, 6-3, 210, 12
13 De’Anthony Thomas, 5-9, 176, 3
10 Tyreek Hill, 5-10, 185, R
41 James Winchester, 6-3, 240, 2
Projected Raiders two-deep
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, AP=2015 All-Pro, PB=2015 Pro Bowl, Q=Questionable, *=See “additional notes” section below for more info on player
No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years
**4 Derek Carr (C, PB), 6-3, 214, 3** | 14 Matt McGloin, 6-1, 210, 4
**28 Latavius Murray (PB), 6-3, 230, 4** | 30 Jalen Richard, 5-8, 207, R
49 Jamize Olawale, 6-1, 240, 4
*15 Michael Crabtree, 6-1, 214, 8 | *10 Seth Roberts, 6-2, 195, 2
89 Amari Cooper (PB), 6-1, 211, 2 | 18 Andre Holmes, 6-4, 210, 5
88 Clive Walford, 6-4, 258, 2 | 81 Mychal Rivera, 6-3, 245, 4
72 Donald Penn, 6-4, 340, 11 | 79 Denver Kirkland, 6-5, 340, R
70 Kelechi Osemele (Q), 6-5, 330, 5 | 76 Jon Feliciano, 6-4, 323, 2
61 Rodney Hudson (C), 6-2, 300, 6 | 76 Jon Feliciano, 6-4, 323, 2
66 Gabe Jackson, 6-3, 336, 3 | *74 Vadal Alexander, 6-5, 326, R
*77 Austin Howard 6-7, 330, 7 | 71 Menelik Watson, 6-5, 315, 4
*95 Jihad Ward, 6-5, 296, R | 98 Branden Jackson, 6-4, 268, R
96 Denico Autry, 6-5, 273, 3 | 75 Darius Latham (Q), 6-4, 306, R
90 Dan Williams, 6-3, 315, 7 | 78 Justin “Jelly” Ellis, 6-2, 334
**52 Khalil Mack (C, AP, PB), 6-3, 252, 3** | 95 Jihad Ward, 6-5, 296, R
**51 Bruce Irvin, 6-3, 260, 5** | 47 James Cowser, 6-3, 244, R
*54 Perry Riley, Jr., 6-0, 240, 7 | 57 Cory James (Q), 6-0, 229, R
*53 Malcolm Smith, 6-0, 226, 6 | 56 Daren Bates, 5-11, 225, 4
*29 David Amerson, 6-1, 205, 4 | 23 Dexter McDonald, 6-1, 200, 2
*21 Sean Smith, 6-3, 218, 8 | 38 T.J Carrie, 6-0, 204, 3
*38 T.J Carrie, 6-0, 204, 3
27 Reggie Nelson (C, AP, PB), 5-11, 210, 10 | 41 Brynden Trawick, 6-2, 225, 4
*20 Nate Allen, 6-1, 210, 7 | 39 Keith McGill II, 6-3, 211, 3
11 Sebastian Janikowski, 6-1, 258, 17
7 Marquette King, 6-0, 192, 5
30 Jalen Richard, 5-8, 207, R
30 Jalen Richard, 5-8, 207, R
59 Jon Condo, 6-3, 240, 10
Bonus notes on the Raiders
▪ The Raiders used some pistol last week. With Derek Carr nursing a sore pinky, that might be a substitute for running under center in frigid weather.
▪ The Raiders have a nice cast of receivers, but Michael Crabtree (67 catches, 785 yards, seven touchdown) and Seth Roberts (31 catches, 332 yards and five touchdowns) have struggled with focus drops (nine apiece, according to Football Outsiders).
▪ Amari Cooper (68 catches, 981 yards, four touchdowns) is a good route runner with plus hands, ball skills and run-after-the-catch ability. He’s already one of the game’s best young wideouts.
▪ The Raiders’ offensive line is one of the best in football. They’re big, they’re strong and they’re nasty. The Chiefs’ young interior D-linemen have to bring it or the Raiders will control the clock.
▪ The right tackle position is the line’s only questionable spot. The Chiefs might be wise to go after Austin Howard in passing situations.
▪ The Raiders will occasionally turn to Vadal Alexander to give them some additional beef up front in six O-lineman sets.
▪ Jihad Ward has, at least statistically speaking, been the Raiders’ most productive defensive lineman from a pass-rushing standpoint. His nine quarterback hurries are six more than the next closest Raider, Denico Autry. But Ward, a rookie from Illinois, has a lot of work to do as a run defender before he can be considered a complete player.
▪ The Raiders miss defensive lineman Stacy McGee, who will miss this game with an injury. He’s their most complete defensive lineman overall.
▪ Perry Riley Jr. has been a pleasant surprise. After being waived by Washington during training camp, Riley signed with the Raiders in early October and has given the Raiders some quality snaps, recording 30 tackles in seven games.
▪ Malcolm Smith is a versatile linebacker, with 72 tackles, but he’ll miss some tackles here and there. He’s missed 14 this year, tied for the fifth-most in the league.
▪ The Raiders boast one of the league’s best cornerback duos in Sean Smith and David Amerson. Both are long, rangy and competitive. Amerson brings ball skills (he’ll miss some tackles here and there, though) while Smith brings passion (though he occasionally struggles against smaler receivers). Smith, a Chief from 2013 to 2015, will be returning to Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since he signed a four-year, $40 million deal with Oakland in March. He’ll be fired up and eager to make a play.
▪ With starting nickel corner D.J. Hayden on injured reserve, T.J. Carrie recently stepped into the role and fared nicely, allowing only two completions for 28 yards on seven targets, per PFF.
▪ With starting safety Karl Joseph out due to a toe injury, Nate Allen will likely get the nod to step in. He recorded an interception off a deflection last week, but the Raiders struggled with eye violations in the secondary earlier in the season when Joseph wasn’t playing.
Prediction: Chiefs 20-17
Get ready for a war. These two teams know each other, and this game will play a huge role in deciding the AFC West champion. With a win, the Chiefs will not only match Oakland’s record at 10-3, they’ll also set themselves up to win the division for the first time since 2010. Not only do they hold a ton of division tiebreakers, they also have looming matchups against San Diego and Denver. Oakland is a rising team, and will be a problem for many years, but the Raiders — who are only in year two of Del Rio’s stewardship — might not be ready to march into Kansas City and win a game like this against a battle-tested Chiefs team that has been building toward this season for four full years. Either way, expect a nasty, competitive contest with the entire nation watching.