Chiefs vs. Raiders Game Preview: Scheme Spotlight, Mahomes' Notes, Matchups to Watch, and More
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The Kansas City Chiefs (5-4) and Las Vegas Raiders (5-3) meet Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium at 7:20 pm CST.
Here’s what else you should know:
The Las Vegas Raiders defensive line has been absolutely dominant as a pass rush unit but they aren’t near as competent as a run defending unit. Early in the season it wasn’t as big of a deal because they were putting points up on the board in a hurry. The last few weeks, however, it’s become a bigger deal as the offense has regressed back to the mean.
Gap Scheme Runs vs the Raiders
The Raiders’ defense specifically struggles to defend gap (or man) scheme runs. Their defensive line doesn’t hold up well to being attacked by opposing offensive lines. The defensive tackles and defensive ends simply aren’t strong enough to hold up to double teams and are easily moved off their spots or worse, driven backwards multiple yards.
The second level of the defense doesn’t perform much better as the linebacker pairing of Corey Littleton and Denzel Perryman struggle to make the proper reads based off the defensive line. When working against these double teams, they are too quick to show in a gap allowing blockers to peel off and pick them up or for a running back to simply cut away from them.
Another thing that has to be mentioned is the abysmal tackling by the apex players for the Raiders. Whether the slot cornerbacks or safeties playing as an overhand, when they are put into one on one opportunities with a runner they aren’t getting the stop. This is the goal of a gap scheme run most of the time and the Raiders are more than willing to give it to them
Unfortunately, the Chiefs simply haven’t run a ton of Duo this year, which is what a ton of teams have found success running against the Raiders. The Chiefs could incorporate the run this year as they did run it more often in 2020 or they could stick with some other gap scheme runs they have utilized this year.
Using runs with pulling offensive linemen has also resulted in a fair amount of success against the Raiders, even without perfect blocking. The Chiefs have been running more and more Power as of late but have also worked in more “exotic” gap scheme runs like these.
The Chiefs have run various Pin-and-Pull concepts throughout 2020 and 2021 and have introduced a short-Trap run in the past couple weeks. Trey Smith’s ability as a pulling blocker is proving to be a weapon that the Chiefs recognize they need to utilize and this could be the perfect week to really lean into it.
Mahomes Must Keep Firing
We’ve spent a lot of time this week defending the performance of Patrick Mahomes here at KCSN — and plenty of others in the city have also taken up to that task as well.
The box score optics don’t completely align with how he played — key drops, some receivers pulling up downfield. But if you’re looking for signs of improvement — there were plenty. For instance, Mahomes looked much more confident from the pocket this week than he has in recent memory.
Mahomes’ decision making from a ball protection perspective was good. The risk aversion he played with for large amounts of the game was not.
One of the more surprising developments — and byproducts of the offensive struggles — has been Mahomes’ appearing a little less willing to challenge in tight windows. There have been some decisions that lead you to believe at times he has played not to turn the ball over — especially in the red zone.
And can we blame him entirely? As many weird, wacky things have happened — especially in plus territory — I get feeling additional pressure to protect the ball. The problem is for the majority of Patrick Mahomes’ career he and his team have navigated the line of madness and brilliance perfectly.
The mantra we’ve heard for yearsfrom Mahomes, Andy Reid, and the rest of the coaching staff in the four year has been “keep firing”. It’s served them well for the vast majority of their time together.
Even Alex Smith — one of the more risk averse quarterbacks in the league — finally got it coached out of him his final year in Kansas City. He got more aggressive — and started firing down the field.
The final drive against the Packers seemed to spark unique emotion out of Mahomes as they iced a crucial game. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy went as far as to call the pass from Mahomes to Hill “a key moment in our season.”
It very well could be, but only if Mahomes can parlay the release of all the pent of frustration into a desire to be the aggressor again. He’s a unique talent that shouldn’t operate as a game manager. He needs to get back to the personality that allows him “keep firing” with confidence — making plays and lighting up the scoreboard.
We saw a glimpse late last Sunday. If that snapped him and this team out of their funk, than Sunday Night Football is going to be as much fun as we’ve had watching the Chiefs in quite some time.
Chiefs slot CB’s vs. Hunter Renfrow
The Raiders offense has undergone quite the transformation throughout the year. They started white-hot with a quarterback that pushed the ball downfield and threatened every level of the defense — similar to the Raiders team that the Chiefs saw in both matchups of the 2020 season. They then accepted their head coach Jon Gruden’s resignation and became a bit more of a shallow/horizontal passing game before cutting Henry Ruggs III and losing their best deep threat.
Throughout all of those changes, one thing has been clear: the production of Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow is averaging 7.5 targets a game in this Raiders offense, despite never breaking 10 targets in a single game this season. He’s averaging 56 yards a game, despite never breaking 77 yards in a single game this season. He’s been the definition of consistent for this offense, which is why the Chiefs cornerbacks will have to be acutely aware of him throughout the game.
Renfrow primarily works out of the slot, which means he’ll likely see L’Jarius Sneed when the Chiefs are in sub-packages, or Tyrann Mathieu when the Chiefs are in their base defense against 12 or 21 personnel. While both are heady players that understand route distributions well, it’s Renfrow’s double moves that could put these players behind the play. An aggressive cut underneath a route to try to jump the pass — one of Mathieu’s favorite things to do in the shallow/intermediate area — might turn into a massive gain for the Raiders offense.
Derek Carr knows what is in Renfrow’s toolbox, which is why he’s so reliant on him in some of these “gotta have it” situations, particularly on third downs or in the red zone. While Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs will be the obvious focal points for the Chiefs defense to stop on Sunday, they may need to keep a close watch on Renfrow on third down and have patience to see out the full route from him on Sunday.