(CBS San Francisco) — The Oakland Raiders (6-5) remain one win out of the AFC West lead and in the thick of the AFC wildcard race. But their situation has changed, a lot.
The Raiders endured a blowout loss to the New York Jets (4-7) last Sunday, and were dominated in every facet of the game. Dynamic rookie Josh Jacobs managed only 34 yards on 10 carries, as their productive running game stalled. Derek Carr, who seemed to come out sharp, completed only 15 passes for a mere 127 yards; he was replaced by Mike Glennon late in the third quarter. Receivers dropped passes, stalling drives. The defense couldn’t contain a Jets offense that has scored single-digit points on three different occasions this season.
This week, the seemingly always-visiting Raiders head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs (7-4). Whereas the Raiders hope to answer questions, or at least somehow dismiss Sunday’s collapse as a fluke, the Chiefs come in well rested from a Week 12 bye and ready for a playoff run. They too face some uncertainty, having lost two of their last four games. The winner of the Raiders-Chiefs matchup will own at least a share of the division lead. The loser will remain playoff-relevant but face stiffer headwinds over the last quarter of the season.
The Raiders defense has held up enough to this point in the season. But a top-tier quarterback can pick them apart. The Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford completed 26 of 41 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers went 25-31 for 425 yards and five touchdowns. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes lit them up in their first matchup, going 30-44 for 443 yards and four touchdowns.
As The NFL Today analyst Nate Burleson described it, “after watching the Jets game, maybe they (the Raiders) were just putting Band Aids over open wounds. And now, those Band Aids have started to break. Going up against the Chiefs, you know it’s going to be a tough task, as the Chiefs offense is the closest thing we have to the Golden State Warriors (of the last few seasons) in this game. So, I don’t expect the Raiders defense to be able to keep up with the Chiefs.”
It’s no secret that Kansas City’s offensive attack relies on the arm of Mahomes. The K.C. QB is averaging 312 yards passing per game, which is third best in the NFL. He’s tossed 19 touchdowns against only two interceptions in his eight-plus games. Since returning from the dislocated kneecap that sidelined him for three weeks in the middle of the season and will likely require surgery in the off-season, he’s been a little uneven, going 36-50 for 446 yards and three TDs against the Tennessee Titans but only 19-32 for 182 yards and one TD versus the Los Angeles Chargers.
Which Mahomes shows up remains to be seen, though smart money probably leans toward the former. There are some injuries around the offense, however, which also raise questions. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill is still hobbled by a hamstring he tweaked against the Chargers. Running back Damien Williams suffered a rib injury in that same game, which could limit his availability this week. But running back LeSean McCoy, who did not enter concussion protocol, should be available.
What running game the Chiefs have flows throw Williams and McCoy. So Williams’ health is a concern if they hope to have a counterpoint to their passing attack. Hill’s availability is arguably more important. The Chiefs receiver, who has dealt with injuries for much of the season, averages 16.5 yards per catch and has pulled in five touchdowns in his seven games. Tight end Travis Kelce leads the team in receptions, with 63 for 833 yards so far, which puts him second among tight ends.
The high-powered Chiefs offense can’t overwhelm the patched-together Raiders defense if they can’t get on the field. And the Raiders offense can help limit opportunities for the opposition by sustaining drives, controlling the clock and ultimately putting up points. As Burleson described it, “I expect the game plan to be, ‘alright guys look, we know the Chiefs are going to go and get their points. But, let’s make sure on offense we’re doing what we need to do in order to get points ourselves.'”
That starts with feeding Jacobs the ball and going after a Chiefs run defense that allows 5.1 yards per carry and 143.1 rushing yards per game, both among the NFL’s top-five worst. Jacobs is the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher, and averages 87 yards on 18.3 carries per game. That kind of production can eat up some clock and put up some points. It can also set up the play-action. Carr has been a solid passer this season, despite last Sunday’s lackluster stats. He’s one of the few regular stating quarterbacks completing over 70% of his passes. Combine that with his 7.8 yards per reception, and that should be enough to keep the chains moving. That is, if receivers make catches.
The importance of focus and receivers executing grows even more as defenses load up the box to stop the run. Burleson, himself a former NFL receiver, breaks it down like this: “That puts more pressure on guys like Tyrell Williams, who they paid a ton of money to come in this offseason in free agency, on Hunter Renfrow, the rookie receiver from Clemson, and on Darren Waller, the tight end. Those guys are going to have to step up. (It’s since been reported that Renfrow suffered a broken rib and punctured lung, which will likely keep him out of action.) And they have shown they can do it this season. It’s not a matter so much of making adjustments as it is of finding those performances again. You know that teams are going to try and make Carr make throws into tight windows, and you know that they’re going to be tough, contested catches that you have to make.”
Can the Raiders bounce back from Sunday’s ugly loss against Chiefs team hoping to return to form in time for the playoffs?
The Raiders play the Chiefs Sunday @ 4:25 ET on CBS.