As Kansas City gets back on track for their drive to the playoffs, Oakland shifts into evaluation mode. The Chiefs ended a three-game slide – one that followed a 9-0 start – with a convincing win in Washington last week and, with Denver’s Thursday Night loss, are a half game back of the AFC West lead. Having dropped both of their head-to-head matchups with the Broncos, they’ll need a leapfrog move to take the division crown, but at worst they’ll find themselves locked into a wild card spot with a win this week.
The Raiders, on the other hand, march along in the rebuilding process and have questions to answer in the season’s final three weeks, one near the top of the list being: are either of their quarterbacks in the plans for next year? With contracts across the roster expiring after this season, they’ll need to have a handle on who they intend to bring back and who they’ll part ways with – let the last three weeks of auditions begin.
No matter the current standing of the teams, this long-standing rivalry always provides the setting for an interesting afternoon. Here are a few points to focus on:
The Charles Threat
Fresh off of his highest-graded game of the season – in fact, his highest-graded since mid-2010 — Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles will be a worthy point of focus for the Oakland defense, one ranked among the Top 10 in rushing yards allowed per attempt. Dangerous as both a tackle-evader and as a home run threat, Charles’ 37 forced missed tackles as a runner and 19 more as a receiver combine to give him the league’s fourth highest total (behind Lynch, Peterson and McCoy) and his 18 runs of 15+ yards are tied for the NFL’s best mark. Having found the end zone twice when facing Oakland earlier this season, the Kansas City runner rolled up 128 all-purpose yards in helping the Chiefs to a win – much more to the liking of Chiefs fans than his 4- and 10-yard rushing days against Oakland last season.
In the Raider front, only right end Lamarr Houston and outside linebacker Kevin Burnett rank among the leaders at their positions in Run Stop Percentage and they lead Oakland’s defense in grading against the run as well. Given their relatively soft interior, the fact that Charles has done most of his best work outside of the tackles (he’s averaging 6.0 yards per carry off left tackle, 5.8 off right tackle, and 6.2 off right end) should provide a matchup of strengths.
Coming After the QB
In a look at team pass rushing trends a couple weeks back, we saw the Chiefs’ linebackers ranked as the most effective 3-4 group in the league while their defensive backs were among the Top 3. Leading those linebackers are the edge pairing of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, both ranked among the Top 6 in Pass Rushing Productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers despite Houston missing the past two and a half games with an elbow injury. Houston hopes to return this week as the duo have fond memories of their Week 6 meeting with Oakland, one in which they combined for an astounding 24 total pressures. With Houston’s replacement, Frank Zombo, generating only four pressures while filling in and Hali just coming out of a mini slump, plugging Houston back in could reignite the Chiefs’ edge rush.
No safety has blitzed more often than Eric Berry and the four sacks and 17 total pressures that have come as a result also top the position. This game, though, will feature DBs coming from both defenses as the Raider secondary as a unit has out-blitzed all others. They haven’t created the amount of pressure that the Chiefs have, but their “coming from everywhere” approach has helped make their defense tougher to contend with. Adding on, the Raiders send their linebackers more often than any other 4-3 defense as well, so Alex Smith and the KC offense will need to be on their toes as extra rushers are surely on the way, especially given Smith’s drop in grade from +10.1 when not pressured to -5.3 when the rush closes in.
Sitting just above Smith in our overall quarterback rankings is undrafted Raider rookie Matt McGloin. His +3.8 passing grade in four starts ranks 14th and his ability to get the ball out in time (2.65 seconds as compared to Terrelle Pryor’s 3.47, the longest average time for any QB this season) has helped limit the damage of opposing pressure. In fact, he’s been pressured on 38.8% of his drop-backs compared to Pryor’s league-worst 46.1%, and has taken a sack on just 8.8% of those plays, the lowest figure among 40 qualifying QBs. To be fair to Pryor, the Oakland O-line has stabilized some during McGloin’s tenure, but it’s still far from an all-star cast.
One other area in which McGloin has made his mark is in the deep passing game. Taking a shot downfield on nearly 16% of his throws, he’s hit his target on 11 of 22 tries – both figures, the frequency and the accuracy, are among the league’s Top 5. With Andre Holmes emerging, Rod Streater staying his steady self, and Denarius Moore primed to return, this will be something to watch… will McGloin have the time to push the ball to the long-stemmed routes and challenge the Chiefs’ recently faltering Brandon Flowers-Marcus Cooper CB tandem?
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