Chiefs game plan: Terez Paylor previews Chiefs at Raiders
A detailed look at the key players to watch for the Oakland Raiders, and the Chiefs’ keys to victory leading up to their Week 6 game at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. The game will air on CBS (Ch. 5 in Kansas City).
Coach: Jack Del Rio (75-80) is in his second year on the job and 13th overall, as an 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.
Offense: Bill Musgrave, 48, 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 ninth in rushing and seventh in passing. The Raiders like to pound the rock but they’ll protect quarterback Derek Carr by putting in shotgun and throwing screens, crosses and short routes. Likes his empty-back sets, too, as the Raiders’ backs will sometimes sprint into the flat before or after the snap to give Carr an easy safety valve. Will also mix in no-huddle.
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. Though his units currently rank 27th in rushing defense and dead last in passing defense, the Raiders have been able to get off the field when it matters, as they’re second in third-down defense. 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. The Raiders’ kicking game is solid. Sebastian Janikowski has made the most 50-yard-plus field goals of anybody in NFL history, while punter Marquette King has a very strong leg and rare flair for a punter; he even broke out the Ray Lewis dance against the Ravens in Week 4 after a great punt. “He’s high energy, very athletic and I have a lot of respect for him,” Chiefs special-teams coach Dave Toub said. “He’s punting well right now. Directionally, he punts toward the boundaries and pins guys down there. We’re going to have our hands full with him.” King kicks it far, though, so he’ll surrender the occasional big punt return (Falcons, Week 2). Their top returner, undrafted rookei Jalen Richard (5-8, 207), is dangerous.
Four keys to a Chiefs victory
1. Feed Charles, Ware and Kelce
The Raiders have struggled with speed backs (like Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry against them in Week 2), power backs (like Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry in Week 3) and players in between (like Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray, who averaged an absurd 7.1 yards per carry). That means the Chiefs should look to feed Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West and take advantage of their differing styles. Mixing up the tempo would help too, as the Raiders have struggled vs. the no-huddle. In the passing game, Oakland has tightened up its defense a bit over a rough start to the season where the tape is littered with eye violations and blown coverages, while the insertion of rookie safety Karl Joseph — a ‘16 All-Juice member — has helped, the Raiders still surrender big plays. Tight ends also seem to fare well vs. Oakland, so the Chiefs might try to get Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce involved.
2. Attack Mack
Third-year defensive end Khalil Mack (6-3, 253) is a marvelous player, someone who needs to be accounted for on every play. He only has one sack, but don’t be fooled by that — he’s still tied for 11th in the quarterback pressures with eight and Raiders coach Jack Del Rio thinks he’s being held a lot. “That’s probably the biggest thing that stands out, the number of times the opponent is just pulling him down, restricting him from getting to the quarterback,” Del Rio said. “At some point that’s going to balance out, we’ll start getting some of those calls.” Well ... until they do, the Chiefs might be wise to follow other team’s lead and go after him. Chip him with tight ends, send extra protection that way ... whatever it takes to keep this guy from single-handedly wrecking your offensive game plan. Because he can do it.
3. Keep tabs on Crabtree ... and keep calm
Second-year pro Amari Cooper (6-2, 210) is the first player who often comes to mind when the topic of the Raiders’ receivers comes up, but the truth is, veteran Michael Crabtree (6-1, 215) is the alpha dog of that group right now. Cooper has the deep speed, and he’s the go-ball guy — the Raiders try to get him isolated on an island and take a deep shot with him early in most games — but Crabtree is the more reliable third-down target and the guy Carr turns to when things get heavy. “He’s always been noted for great hands,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He can snatch a ball in the air. His catch radius is pretty doggone good, and obviously, I think Carr is very comfortable with him.” Crabtree is also a talker, and he and cornerback Marcus Peters went at it a little bit last season. Peters is a live wire who thrives on emotion, and you can believe Crabtree is going to trash talk the Oakland native in front of his home crowd in an attempt to bait him and get him off his game.
4. Stop the run first, then dial it up on Carr
The Raiders boast a massive, physical offensive line, which they use to effectively run the football. It’s a bit of a lumbering group, but they’re strong and have done a heck of a job protecting Carr, as the Raiders have allowed the fewest sacks in football (five). Carr has thrived in the Raiders’ quick-delivery offense, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 1,383 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions while continuing his ascent as one of the game’s best young quarterbacks; in fact, he has thrown the second-most touchdowns (53) of any player to start his career, behind Dolphins legend Dan Marino. So if the Chiefs are going to disrupt him Sunday, Sutton is going to have to dial up his best stuff on the rare occasions Carr holds the football, which is why stopping the Raiders’ run game is so important. If Oakland can live on second- and third-and-short, the Chiefs will probably have a difficult time stopping them. “Since he’s been at Oakland, one of the things that he’s done a really, really good job of is getting the ball out of his hands,” Sutton said of Carr. “He’s been exceptional at that since he’s been there — a rookie to right on through.”
Four Raiders to watch
No. 4, QB Derek Carr, 25 years old, 6-3, 214, 3rd season
Ranked No. 100 on the NFL’s Top 100 for 2016. Game has slowed down for him some; is very good about taking what the defense gives him. Generally makes good decisions with the football and spreads it around effectively, so you have to disguise coverages to confuse him. 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, but his deep-ball accuracy is generally inconsistent. Positive, upbeat and enthusiastic leader who loves to celebrate with his receivers following touchdown throws. Has led seven game-winning drives the last two seasons, the most in the NFL; uncorked a grown-man throw on the game-winning go ball to Michael Crabtree in Week 4 over Ravens. Good athlete who can escape the pocket. “He can run as good as anybody in our league,” Sutton said.
No. 15, WR Michael Crabtree, 29 years old, 6-1, 215, 8th season
Has been the Raiders’ top receiving option this season, catching a team-high 29 passes for 355 yards and a league-high five touchdowns. Has caught at least three passes in 23 straight games and could be on his way toward a Pro Bowl year. Looks fully healthy and explosive again following an Achilles’ injury in May 2013. Courageous, competitive and confident receiver who can work the field horizontally and vertically. Tremendous route runner with field awareness and good feet. Is terrific at the top of the route when it comes to getting separation; even has a crossover step against off coverage. Has strong hands and consistently wins contested balls. Is Carr’s security blanket.
No. 52, DE Khalil Mack, 25 years old, 6-3, 252, 3rd season
Ranked No. 13 on the NFL’s Top 100 for 2016. 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; one of the game’s elite edge rushers. Possesses a nice spin move and long-arm pass rush. Racked up 15 sacks last season but 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. 27, S Reggie Nelson, 33 years old, 5-10, 210, 10th season
Ranked No. 60 on the NFL’s Top 100 for 2016. Thumper who will strike you; solid all-around player who signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Raiders in the offseason. Defensive tempo setter and team captain who is around the ball a ton — leads the Raiders in tackles with 37 (next closest player has 26) and has also racked up five passes defensed and an interception. Has also recovered two fumbles. Not quite the athlete he was in his younger days and has been beat in coverage some this season but generally has good instincts with playmaking skills; tied the Chiefs’ Marcus Peters with eight interceptions last season and leads all active safeties in interceptions since 2007 with 32. “He plays in center field, he also plays up by the line of scrimmage, they’ll also blitz him off the edge as well,” Childress said.
Projected Raiders two-deep
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, AP=2015 All-Pro, PB=2015 Pro Bowl, *=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
*33 DeAndré Washington, 5-8, 204, R | *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
81 Mychal Rivera, 6-3, 245, 4 | 88 Clive Walford, 6-4, 258, 2
72 Donald Penn, 6-4, 340, 11 | 73 Matt McCants, 6-5, 309, 4
*70 Kelechi Osemele, 6-5, 330, 5 | 79 Denver Kirkland, 6-5, 340, R
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
*74 Vadal Alexander, 6-5, 326, R | 77 Austin Howard 6-7, 330, 7
95 Jihad Ward, 6-5, 296, R | 96 Denico Autry, 6-5, 273, 3
90 Dan Williams, 6-3, 315, 7 | 78 Justin “Jelly” Ellis, 6-2, 334
*92 Stacy McGee, 6-3, 310, 4 | 75 Darius Latham, 6-5, 305, R
52 Khalil Mack (C, AP, PB), 6-3, 252, 3 | 95 Jihad Ward, 6-5, 296, R
*51 Bruce Irvin, 6-3, 260, 5 | 91 Shilique Calhoun, 6-4, 251, R
*57 Cory James, 6-0, 229, R | 56 Daren Bates, 5-11, 225, 4
*54 Perry Riley, 6-0, 240, 7 | 53 Malcolm Smith, 6-0, 226, 6
*29 David Amerson, 6-1, 205, 4 | 25 D.J. Hayden, 5-11, 190, 4
*21 Sean Smith, 6-3, 218, 8 | 38 T.J Carrie, 6-0, 204, 3
27 Reggie Nelson (C, AP, PB), 5-11, 210, 10 | 20 Nate Allen, 6-1, 210, 7
*42 Karl Joseph, 5-10, 205, R | 39 Keith McGill II, 6-3, 211, 3
11 Sebastian Janikowski, 6-1, 258, 17
7 Marquette King, 6-0, 192, 5
22 Taiwan Jones, 6-0, 195, 6 | *30 Jalen Richard, 5-8, 207, R
*30 Jalen Richard, 5-8, 207, R | 38 T.J Carrie, 6-0, 204, 3
59 Jon Condo, 6-3, 240, 10
Bonus notes on the Raiders
▪ The Raiders might be without their big Pro Bowl back, Latavius Murray, due to a toe injury, but his rookie replacements — Washington and Richard — are capable. Washington boasts superior quickness and runs tough; he’s got the most juice of the bunch, though both can catch passes out of the backfield. Richard is no slouch, either; he’s a tough and squatty runner.
▪ Crabtree has been the boss this year at receiver but don’t forget about Cooper. Between them, they’re averaging 11.5 receptions and 156.5 receptions per game this year. Third receiver Seth Roberts (6-2, 195) is impressive, too; he’s big, quick and has some elusiveness after the catch. The Raiders like to find him on sprint outs in the red zone.
▪ They miss tight end Lee Smith, a good blocker who helped them set the tone in the running game but is out due to an injury.
▪ Against the Chargers last week, they decided to occasionally pound the ball with six offensive linemen, as rookie tackle Denver Kirkland (6-4, 335) served as a blocking tight end, of sorts.
▪ Oakland’s offensive line is pretty good, and the offseason addition of Kelechi Osemele (6-5, 330) has only helped. Just a big, nasty group that can get after you a bit. The interior, in particular, with Osemele, Hudson and Jackson, is rock-solid.
▪ If Dee Ford is going to have a big game — and yes, he knows he needs more production — this might be the week. He might be facing a hobbled rookie tackle in Vadal Alexander (6-5, 326) who is a bit heavy-footed on the edge and can be stressed by speed. He’s committed a team-high five penalties this year, including three holds, but he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday due to an ankle injury. Even if he doesn’t play, Ford — or whoever lines up on that side — needs to take advantage of that matchup, anyway.
▪ The Raiders need more from their pass rush, just like they Chiefs. They only have seven sacks this year, which ranks 30th in the NFL. Defensive lineman Stacy McGee (2 1/2 sacks) and linebacker Bruce Irvin (two sacks) have flashed, but the rest of the group — outside of Mack — needs to pick it up.
▪ The Raiders’ inside-linebacker play has been uneven all year, as rookie Cory James (6-1, 229) and the recently-signed Perry Riley, Jr., (6-0, 240) have been charged with holding down the fort after starter Ben Heeney’s injury. Del Rio says he’s happy with the job both have done under a “tough set of circumstances,” but the Chiefs might still be wise to try to attack both of them, especially if they both have to play due to weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith’s quad injury.
▪ David Amerson (6-1, 205) is playing his tail off. He’s a ballhawk with swagger; last year he led the NFL with 27 passes defended, one more than Chiefs star Marcus Peters. Like Peters, he often puts himself in position to make a play on the ball.
▪ With Amerson thriving, teams have attacked former Chief Sean Smith (6-3, 218), who signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Raiders in March. Smith was benched in the season opener against New Orleans after struggling mightily against the Saints but has bounced back. He can still be a little grabby in space and in off coverage, and he still struggles with smaller, quicker players at times, but he’s bounced back with interceptions in consecutive games and remains an enthusiastic sort who can bring some juice to a defensive backfield.
▪ Rookie safety Karl Joseph (5-10, 207) has helped the secondary since his insertion into the starting lineup before Week 3, despite the lingering effects of a knee injury. He’s little, but he’s a good athlete with range. He’s also a willing and capable tackler.
▪ Some things never change, as Oakland is the most penalized team in the NFL with 49 penalties.
Prediction: Chiefs 27-24
The Raiders’ four wins are by a combined 12 points, so it’s not like they’ve been crushing teams. Throw in Andy Reid’s ridiculous record after the bye (15-2), his 5-1 record vs. the Raiders as the Chiefs’ head coach and the Chiefs’ desire to put their embarrassing 43-14 loss to Pittsburgh to bed, and there’s a lot of things going in the Chiefs’ favor here. Expect a fun, competitive and emotional game, one that might be reminiscent of past memorable Chiefs-Raiders tilts. The Coliseum should be rocking.