Here’s The Star’s weekly preview detailing the key players and matchups for the KC Chiefs’ game against the Oakland Raiders, 2-4, at 7:25 p.m. Thursday at the Oakland Coliseum. The game will air on the NFL Network and KCTV (Ch. 5) in the Kansas City area.
Coach: Jack Del Rio (89-86) is in his third year with Oakland and 14th overall as a NFL head coach. Del Rio, 54, played 11 years as an NFL linebacker. He’s known as a defensive coach. He went 68-71 during his first stop in Jacksonville, guiding the Jaguars to the playoffs twice. After he was let go, he latched on with Denver, where he helped the Broncos win three straight AFC West titles and reach Super Bowl XLVII as their defensive coordinator.
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Offense: Todd Downing, 37, is in his first year as the Raiders’ offensive coordinator after spending two years quarterbacks coach. He has come under fire for the Raiders’ lack of offensive success this season after Del Rio decided to fire Bill Musgrave, whose offense was criticized for being too conservative and for starting too slow. Oakland ranks 27th in passing offense (184.7 yards per game) and 24th in rushing offense (93.7). Oakland is passing nearly 60 percent of the time, but no team in the NFL uses play-action less (only 6 percent), according to Football Outsiders.
Defense: Ken Norton Jr., 51, is in his third year as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator. He’s a former NFL inside linebacker who built his reputation working under Pete Carroll as a linebackers coach in Seattle. Oakland ranks 20th in the league in pass defense (232.7) and 26th in sacks (11). The Raiders’ run defense ranks 21st in the league (117.2).
Special teams: Brad Seely, 61, is in his third year as the Raiders’ special-teams coach. Prior to his hire in Oakland, Seely had served as the special-teams coach for six different teams. Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio has made all nine of his field-goal attempts, and punter Marquette King has dropped 13 of 27 punts inside the 20, tied for second in the league. Oakland ranks fourth in kickoff returns (26.8), largely because of the brilliance of speedy and strong return man Cordarrelle Patterson. They also rank 27th in punt returns (5.0). It also ranks 19th in kick-return coverage (22.8) and 12th in punt-return coverage (6.4).
Four keys to a Chiefs victory
1. Turn the page
The Chiefs’ 19-13 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday featured many brutal moments, not the least of which was their inability to run the ball or stop the run. But that game is over, and the Chiefs can’t afford a hangover. At 2-4, Oakland is on the ropes and desperate; what was expected to be another building-block season could soon turn into a nightmare with another loss. If the Chiefs don’t come into this one focused, it could be a long night. The Chiefs will need to show mental toughness after only three days rest. A fast start is certainly a possibility; prior to the Raiders’ 17-16 loss to the Chargers last week, they’d allowed 38 first-quarter points — second-most in the NFL.
2. Sling it around
The Raiders have one of the league’s worst pass defenses, and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 105.4 — second-highest in the league. What’s more, the Raiders’ linebackers have been a liability in coverage while their secondary has struggled to defend the deep ball and hasn’t intercepted a pass. So yeah, the Chiefs should chuck the rock with impunity. It wouldn’t be a surprise to the see the Chiefs throw it to Kareem Hunt; the dynamic rookie running back could get it going on the ground against a shaky run defense — particularly on the interior — but he is also a solid receiver. The latter could be a boon, as Chargers running back Melvin Gordon tortured the Raiders for nine catches and 67 yards last wee. The Chiefs could look to get tight end Travis Kelce involved, as the Raiders struggled to defend the Chargers’ tight end tandem of Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. There’s lots to attack here: the Raiders also surrender nearly 10 yards per play on play-action, per FO.
3. Be gap sound
The Steelers pounded the Chiefs into oblivion Sunday, rushing 37 times for 194 yards. Much of this had to do with the Steelers’ reliance on gap/power schemes and running back Le’Veon Bell’s otherworldly patience. Bell tortured the Chiefs for 179 yards on 32 carries, and you better believe the Raiders saw that tape. Oakland uses a lot of zone running to accommodate Marshawn Lynch’s one-cut style, but don’t be surprised to see them line up and try to double at the point of attack with one of the league’s biggest offensive lines and bully the Chiefs. If they do, the Chiefs will need to show more gap discipline than they did against the Steelers and shed blockers better, too. They might also try flooding the line of scrimmage.
4. Take away the deep ball
The Raiders have had difficulty getting the deep ball going through the first six games, as quarterback Derek Carr has only completed one pass for more than 40 yards. Against the Chargers on Sunday, he went 0-for-2 on passes of at least 20 yards downfield, according to Pro Football Focus, and has only completed 3 of 10 at that distance. Teams have stymied Oakland’s offense by actively taking away deep-ball looks, and the Raiders have failed to hurt teams underneath, too. Expect the Chiefs to follow suit and bring pressure on Carr, who is playing with a broken bone in his back.
Four Raiders to watch
No. 4, QB Derek Carr, 26 years old, 6-3, 214, fourth season
Ranked No. 11 on the NFL’s top-100 list for 2017. Pro Bowler in 2016, when he completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 15 games. Team captain. On pace to complete 68.3 percent of his passes for 2,464 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. Good athlete who moves well but has only slipped one tackle this season (per FO). Generally sees the field well and has plus arm talent — can drive the ball downfield and make all the throws, particularly short and intermediate. Also capable at throwing on the run, though he generally gets rid of the ball very quickly. Possesses a slighter build than some might prefer in a quarterback.
No. 24, RB Marshawn Lynch, 31 years old, 5-11, 215, tenth season
Sat out last year as he rested his body following a 2015 season in which he rushed 111 times for 417 yards and three touchdowns in only seven games because of various lower-body injuries. On pace to rush 187 times for 685 yards and five touchdowns this season. Runs with terrific balance, power and strength. Is shifty with quick feet and never stops churning his legs. Relishes contact and seeks it out. Can bully soft-tackling defenders with a ferocious stiff arm. Hard to bring down when he has a head of steam but has not broken a long run this season. The Raiders haven’t fed him enough, however — he’s never carried the ball more than 13 times in his last five games. Catches the ball OK and can be a factor in that area.
No. 15, WR Michael Crabtree, 30 years old, 6-1, 214, ninth season
Caught 89 passes for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016 and is on track to catch 67 passes for 811 yards and 13 touchdowns. Lines up everywhere. Not a blazing fast runner — most corners can run with him — but he’s strong, runs good routes and pairs strong hands with plus ball skills. Regularly wins contested balls and plays bigger than his size. Super competitive player who enjoys talking trash and consistently finds a way to get under the skin of opposing corners.
No. 52, DE Khalil Mack, 26 years old, 6-3, 252, fourth season
Ranked No. 5 on the NFL’s top-100 list for 2017. Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection in 2016, when he recorded 73 combined tackles and 11 sacks in 16 games. Team captain. On pace to finish with 93 combined tackles and 11 sacks this season. Boasts an excellent combination of athleticism, strength and awareness. Elite pass rusher who is also a very strong run defender and consistent tackler. Sheds blocks effectively; going his way is often futile. Competitive and tough, he’s one of the NFL’s best players, overall.
Projected Chiefs two-deep depth chart
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, PB=2016 Pro Bowl, AP=2016 All-Pro, Q=Questionable
No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years
11 Alex Smith (C, PB), 6-4, 220, 13 | 15 Patrick Mahomes, 6-3, 230, R
27 Kareem Hunt, 5-11, 208, R | 31 Akeem Hunt, 5-10, 185, 3
42 Anthony Sherman, 5-10, 242, 7
14 Demarcus Robinson, 6-1, 203, 2 | 80 Jehu Chesson, 6-3, 203, R
10 Tyreek Hill (C, PB), 5-10, 185, 2 | 80 Jehu Chesson, 6-3, 203, R
13 De’Anthony Thomas, 5-9, 176, 4 | 80 Jehu Chesson, 6-3, 203, R
87 Travis Kelce (C, PB, AP), 6-5, 260, 5 | 84 Demetrius Harris, 6-7, 230, 4
72 Eric Fisher, 6-7, 315, 5 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3
70 Bryan Witzmann, 6-7, 320, 3 | 79 Parker Ehinger, 6-6, 310, 2
73 Zach Fulton, 6-5, 316, 4 | 65 Jordan Devey, 6-6, 320, 4
75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3 | 65 Jordan Devey, 6-6, 320, 4
71 Mitchell Schwartz (AP), 6-5, 320, 6 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3
95 Chris Jones, 6-6, 310, 2 | 95 Rakeem Nunez-Roches, 6-2, 307, 3
96 Bennie Logan, 6-2, 315, 5 | 98 Roy Miller III, 6-2, 318, 8
97 Allen Bailey, 6-3, 288, 7 | 94 Jarvis Jenkins, 6-4, 300, 7
50 Justin Houston (C), 6-3, 258, 7 | 92 Tanoh Kpassagnon, 6-7, 280, R
56 Derrick Johnson, 6-3, 242, 13 | 57 Kevin Pierre-Louis, 6-0, 230, 4
59 Reggie Ragland,. 6-2, 252, 1 | 45 Ukeme Eligwe, 6-2, 239, R
55 Dee Ford, 6-2, 252, 4 | 51 Frank Zombo, 6-3, 254, 8
22 Marcus Peters (PB, AP), 6-0, 197, 3 | 23 Phillip Gaines, 6-0, 193, 4
38 Ron Parker, 6-0, 206, 7 | 21 Eric Murray, 5-11, 199, 2
49 Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 208, 4 | 21 Eric Murray, 5-11, 199, 2
23 Phillip Gaines, 6-0, 193, 4
39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 4 | 25 Kenneth Acker, 6-0, 195, 4
Projected Raiders two-deep depth chart
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, PB=2016 Pro Bowl, AP=2016 All-Pro, 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, 4** | 3 E.J. Manuel, 6-4, 236, 4
**24 Marshawn Lynch, 5-11, 215, 10** | 30 Jalen Richard, 5-8, 207, 2
49 Jamize Olawale, 6-1, 240, 5
**15 Michael Crabtree, 6-1, 214, 9** | 10 Seth Roberts, 6-2, 195, 3
*89 Amari Cooper (PB), 6-1, 211, 3 | 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 6-2, 220, 4
10 Seth Roberts, 6-2, 195, 3
87 Jared Cook, 6-5, 254, 7 | 86 Lee Smith, 6-6, 265, 7
72 Donald Penn (PB), 6-4, 340, 12 | 71 David Sharpe, 6-6, 357, R
70 Kelechi Osemele (PB, AP), 6-5, 330, 6
*61 Rodney Hudson (C, PB), 6-2, 300, 7 | 76 Jon Feliciano, 6-4, 323, 3
66 Gabe Jackson, 6-3, 336, 4 | 76 Jon Feliciano, 6-4, 323, 3
73 Marshall Newhouse, 6-4, 328, 7 | 74 Vadal Alexander, 6-5, 326, 2
97 Mario Edwards Jr., 6-3, 280, 3 | 96 Denico Autry, 6-5, 273, R
78 Justin Ellis, 6-2, 334, 4
94 Eddie Vanderdoes, 6-4, 305, R | 90 Treyvon Hester, 6-3, 300, R
**52 Khalil Mack (C, PB, AP), 6-3, 252, 4** | 95 Jihad Ward, 6-5, 296, 2
51 Bruce Irvin, 6-3, 260, 6 | 47 James Cowser, 6-3, 244, 2
55 Marquel Lee, 6-3, 240, R | 53 NaVorro Bowman, 6-0, 242, 8
57 Cory James, 6-0, 235, 2 | 50 Nicholas Morrow, 6-0, 224, R
*29 David Amerson, 6-1, 205, 5 | 22 Gareon Conley, 6-0, 195, R
27 Reggie Nelson (C, PB), 5-11, 210, 11 | 39 Keith McGill II, 6-3, 211, 4
*42 Karl Joseph, 5-10, 205, 2 | 41 Erik Harris, 6-3, 225, 2
22 Gareon Conley, 6-0, 195, R
*38 T.J. Carrie, 6-0, 204, 4 | *21 Sean Smith, 6-3, 218, 9
2 Giorgio Tavecchio, 5-10, 182, 1
*7 Marquette King (AP), 6-0, 192, 6
84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 6-2, 220, 4
30 Jalen Richard, 5-8, 207, 2
59 Jon Condo, 6-3, 240, 11
Scouting notes on the Raiders
▪ Amari Cooper has been strangely ineffective this season. A Pro Bowler a year ago, he’s struggled with drops — he leads the league with five, per FO — and struggled some against press coverage.
▪ Michael Crabtree has been a nemesis of Marcus Peters in the past. Those two love to jaw at each other. Peters will need to keep his cool against a nemesis looking to bait him in front of the entire country.
▪ Rodney Hudson is having another nice season for the Raiders. He does a good job as a puller and has arguably been the Raiders’ most consistent lineman. The Raiders’ offensive line, by the way, is only yielding pressure at a rate of 15.7 percent, best in the league.
▪ David Amerson, the Raiders’ top corner, has been battling a shoulder injury.
▪ T.J. Carrie stepped in as the starter at corner last week for former Chief Sean Smith, who struggled a week prior against the Baltimore Ravens. Carrie does his best work inside in the nickel.
▪ Karl Joseph is coming into his own after a rookie season in which he recorded 60 combined tackles, six pass deflections and an interception in 12 games. He’s on pace to record 112 combined tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and five pass deflections. Hard-hitting eraser at safety with an outstanding motor. Showed solid ball skills in college but hasn’t had as much ball production in the pros. Can be susceptible to jump balls vs. bigger, athletic tight ends; struggled in coverage against the Chargers.
▪ Marquette King is an outstanding punter. He boasts an elite leg and can flip field position easily. He even has some personality; he’s been known to break out a dance move after a big punt.
Prediction: Chiefs 24-20
Make no mistake about it, the Coliseum will be a snake pit on Thursday night. The Raiders — who have lost four in a row — will be eager to end the Chiefs’ five-game winning streak over them. But Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s team has responded to challenges like this more often than not, and while they are a little beat up, Reid seems to pull out his best plays for division games. I expect the Chiefs’ offense to look a lot better than it did Sunday against Pittsburgh, while the defense should also bounce back against a runner not named Le’Veon Bell, as Lynch hasn’t broken a run longer than 15 yards this season.