Offensive, defensive and special teams keys for the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) in Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders (7-8) starting at 3:25 p.m. CT at Arrowhead Stadium.
What happens on Sunday for the Chiefs offense will have as much to do with their berth in the AFC playoffs as it will the Oakland Raiders.
The unit has not been consistent, or as productive as they were earlier in the team’s nine-game winning streak.
It started four games ago when these teams met for the first time this season. The Chiefs had trouble keeping much going against the Raiders, something they repeated in the last two games against Baltimore and Cleveland. That needs to be fixed with better execution, play selection and staying away from penalties
They had just one touchdown in the first half at Oakland, but came back with three offensive scores in the second half, including a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Alex Smith to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. They had 232 total offensive yards and produced just 89 rushing yards that day in Oakland. They’ll have to do much better if they hope to beat the Raiders again.
The Oakland defense is ranked No. 22 in yards allowed (365 yards per game), but has done a good job against the run with a No. 9 ranking (99 yards.) The Chiefs have kept their offense balanced in play calling during the streak, but when they needed the run game in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, it wasn’t there.
The Chiefs turned the ball over twice in that game against Oakland and allowed four sacks of Smith, including two from NFL leader Khalil Mack, who has 15 on the season. They must have better ball security and pass protection this time.
The Chiefs continue to rise to the top of the important defensive statistics in the NFL, ranking eighth in yards allowed (337 yards per game) and No. 2 in points given up (270).
Over the nine-game winning streak, they have given up an average of 314 yards and 12.3 points per game. In the earlier meeting between the teams, the Raiders offense bettered those numbers with 361 yards and 20 points. With a sack and three interceptions of quarterback Derek Carr, the K.C. defense was able to clamp the Oakland offense in the second half of that game, including a touchdown on an interception return by safety Tyvon Branch.
The performer in the Raiders’ offense that has hurt the Chiefs has been running back Latavius Murray, who has 1,035 rushing yards on the season, the first Oakland back to top the 1,000-yard standard since Darren McFadden in 2010. Explosive wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree combined had nine catches for 114 yards in the first game, below the regular production per game from the duo of 10 catches for 129 yards.
Carr has put together a strong season with 31 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions. Carr has only been sacked 25 times, and if the Chiefs do not have Justin Houston (knee) and Tamba Hali (thumb) coming off the edges on Sunday, that will be a problem for Bob Sutton’s unit.
The Chiefs are 60 minutes of action away from finishing the 2015 regular season without a punt return or kick return touchdown. That would be the first time in three seasons with the Andy Reid-Dave Toub combo handling the kicking game that they did not reach the end zone at least once with a return. It would be the ninth time in the last 25 seasons where they did not have a return score in the kicking game.
With punt returner De’Anthony Thomas on the non-football illness list and out for the season, the Chiefs will have to rely on kick returner Knile Davis, who is averaging 25.1 yards a return, with his longest return this year 54 yards. Oakland gave up a 93-yard kickoff return TD earlier this season.
The Chiefs and Raiders are an even match in the kicking game, whether it’s the kickers, punters, returners or cover guys. It’s time for Toub’s units to grab an edge and provid a needed boost for the Chiefs headed into the postseason.