3TFO: Raiders @ Chiefs, Week 6
Trey Cunningham highlights some of the more interesting matchups in a game between two teams off to surprisingly fast starts in the Raiders and the Chiefs.
3TFO: Raiders @ Chiefs, Week 6
This AFC West showdown features two teams which are arguably very different than the 2012 versions, especially at QB. Last season the two-win Chiefs were swept by Oakland, including being shut out in Week 15. The Chiefs are still undefeated five weeks in though, and being swept by the Raiders doesn’t seem likely.
Behind a ferocious defense and ex-49er Alex Smith (though the defense deserves much of the credit for their current record, Smith is a clear upgrade on who they had last year), the Chiefs have put the league on notice. They also haven’t allowed more than 17 points in a game. The Raiders hold a 2-3 record, but have been much more competitive than many imagined they would be — much of that can be attributed to Terrelle Pryor, the last draft pick the late Al Davis made.
Here are some matchups that will determine whether or not the Chiefs get to 6-0.
Terrelle Pryor vs. Chiefs Secondary
The controversial former Buckeye Terrelle Pryor has played a large part in the Raiders’ competitiveness this season, and he’s improving. After the first two games this year, Pryor impressed but still ended up with a -3.6 passing grade and a lackluster deep ball — on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, he completed one of eight for 41 yards and two interceptions (including the one that sealed the Colts’ win in Week 1). In his last two games (not including Week 4 where he didn’t play), however, he hasn’t thrown an interception, has ‘green’ passing grades in both weeks, and has completed five of eight deep passes for 201 yards and two TDs (including a 44-yard TD pass on the first play of the Chargers game last week). Oh yeah, Pryor can move the chains with his feet as well.
The Chiefs’ defense, despite ballin’ out these first five weeks, did allow Michael Vick to run five times for 99 yards, so Pryor could have some success on the ground. But let’s focus on Pryor as a passer against this Kansas City secondary, which is the weakest link on this stellar defense, but not by much. CB Brandon Flowers has been hampered by injuries, and has had a pair of rough outings, especially against Dallas where he got burned repeatedly by Dez Bryant for 135 yards and a TD. After missing Week 4, Flowers rebounded last week with a green coverage grade, but still allowed seven of 10 passes to be completed in his coverage. It’s unclear if ex-Texan and Falcon Dunta Robinson will play in this contest — after being a liability, he seems to have been replaced by rookie seventh-round pick Marcus Cooper, who rewarded the Chiefs’ confidence in him with an interception and a pass defensed last week, not to mention two PDs the week before. Otherwise, the Chiefs are solid on the backend with Eric Berry (+7.2 coverage grade), Quintin Demps (+4.4), Kendrick Lewis (+3.6) and ex-Dolphin Sean Smith (+4.2). Pryor will have a tougher go of it than he did against the Chargers’woeful secondary.
Stopping Jamaal Charles… the Receiver
It’s no secret that Alex Smith is rarely going to test defenses 20+ yards down the field, so it shouldn’t surprise that RB Jamaal Charles has been the most targeted ‘receiver’ for Kansas City. On 40 targets, Charles has hauled in 28 catches for 250 yards, two scores and nine forced missed tackles (the same amount of misses that he’s forced on the ground). The Raiders should be prepared for a healthy dose of short passes to the dangerous running back.
Teams have not really tested Oakland with their RBs through the air… until last week. Chargers’ RB Danny Woodhead, coming off a superb Week 4 outing vs. Dallas, managed to burn the Raiders’ defense for 58 yards on nine catches (which was the total number of passes thrown to him) and a score. A chunk of that and the TD came against LB Kevin Burnett. Behind the often-burned CB Tracy Porter, Burnett has the second-worst coverage grade of this unit. Look for Smith and Charles to go after Burnett, at least.
Lamarr Houston vs. Branden Albert
While Alex Smith has been praised for his excellent ‘game manager’ role in the Chiefs’ 5-0 start, the fact remains that Smith’s level of play tends to diminish when he’s under pressure — his completion % dropping from 63.9 (no pressure) to 44.2 (pressure) is just one example. It is important for Kansas City to handle the most productive pass-rusher for Oakland, defensive end Lamarr Houston. Labeling Houston the best pass-rusher for the Raiders isn’t much of a compliment (he is one of two Raiders with a positive grade in this area at the moment), but it is worth noting he has the sixth-best Pass Rushing Productivity signature stat among 4-3 DEs. There hasn’t been a contest yet in 2013 where Lamarr hasn’t put a QB on the ground, and he even got a rare strip-sack of Peyton Manning in Week 3.
Houston won’t have an easy challenge in LT Branden Albert. Like the man he’ll spend the majority of Sunday playing against, Albert owns a top spot for his team in a PFF signature stats section — offensive tackle Pass Blocking Efficiency. The long-tenured Chief currently owns the 11th-best PBE among tackles with only one sack, two hits, and 11 hurries conceded on his watch. This will be an important matchup that decides which squad in this ancient AFC rivalry ends the day with a victory.
Follow Trey on Twitter