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As has been reported here on SB Nation, Carson Palmer has gone from immediate starter to the possibility of starting the game standing on the sideline with a headset and a copy of the Raider playbook. Kyle Boller is now being reported as the believed starter and although he came in and made a couple plays in relief of Jason Campbell last week, he just doesn't strike fear into the opposition. For his career he's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and can be fumble prone as well. If this is indeed the case, a horrible Chiefs secondary may be let off the hook this week at Oakland. Statistically the Chiefs are near the bottom in almost every possible category when it comes to pass defense but Boller behind center could encourage them to walk up into the box and throw numbers at the Raiders running game. After some bad early season losses, the Chiefs have actually thrown the ball very well after losing Jamaal Charles to injury. To make things worse, the Raiders are banged up. Richard Seymour is listed as questionable going into the game and although he'll probably get some work in this game, don't expect him to be in for as many snaps as he normally would. We're going to look at some of the match ups and discuss whether the Raiders will have their hands full against KC this week.
The secondary for the Raiders has been a soft spot for much of the season. After Stanford Routt, the corners have been getting torched. Chris Johnson hasn't been able to stay on the field and when he has been out there he's been less than stellar. The rookies at corner Van Dyke and Chekwa have looked like just that... rookies. Chekwa has actually made a few plays and for a 5th rounder he's shown some nice improvement since earlier in the season but he's had a hamstring issue and that has limited his action on the field. Van Dyke, the higher pick in the 3rd, has been absolutely horrible for much of the season. He must be incredible in practice because if gameday was the only thing the coaching staff was looking at, I wouldn't know why he keeps getting thrown in the fire. He gets beat often and his first instinct is just to reach out and grab his matchup. Big third downs are converted with yellow flags flying in the wind as time and time again DVD gets caught with his hands in the cookie jar. I wish someone would give Hue Jackson a DVD copy of DVD because it's brutal. I know the options are limited for the Raiders right now, but if you can't cover in today's NFL you'll be lucky to beat bad teams. Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch have been solid in the back and having a couple reliable safeties and a solid CB in Routt is the only reason the Raiders have been as good as they have. How different would we be feeling about the Raiders right now if Michael Huff doesn't get that pick in Houston? Giordono has made a few plays of his own, 3rd in overall tackles on the Raiders to go with a safety blitz that got him a sack and another play early in the season where he got an interception. It almost makes me wonder if Huff would be an improvement if moved to corner. The Raiders are actually dialing up more blitzes than they have in a decade and mixing in more zone behind it. Historically the Raiders were pretty predictable; straight bump and run man defense for 95% of the game where the opposing teams O-line always knew who to block and the offensive coordinator had a pretty good idea of what plays would be effective. The change has the Raiders mixing it up a little more and has caught teams by surpise. It probably has given KC a little more to think about and work on. The Chiefs have had two weeks to gameplan for the Raiders and their renewed emphasis on the passing game minus Charles has put up some big performances from Matt Cassel as of late. Dwayne Bowe is a big receiver on the outside and Dexter McCluster has gotten loose over the middle. Ask Larry Fitzgerald if he misses former teammate and now KC wideout Steve Breaston and you won't even finish the question before Larry starts nodding his head up and down. Leonard Pope at tight end isn't a huge threat but does a good job in the running game and will sneak out and catch a few balls on 3rd down. The Chiefs have gone to more of a spread philosophy and will try to widen out the Raiders and find matchups in space that they want to take advantage of. This area in the game is a major concern. The Raiders have to be able to consistently apply pressure to Cassel or it's going to be a long day for the secondary. Seymour's ability to line up and attack is huge. Matt Shaughnessey is out so expect to see a healthy dose of Lamar Houston and Jarvis Moss coming off the ends. Trevor Scott will get some action as well as some Desmond Bryant when he's not lined up at tackle. Henderson gets alot of work in the middle, especially on early downs, and Tommy Kelly has been a rock for the Silver and Black all season. Of course with more blitzes, Wimberly gets more of a chance to do what he does best and that is get after the quarterback. All in all, it's a mixed bag. Raiders Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bresnahan will need to be agressive and creative so that Cassel and company don't start picking the youngsters apart on the outside. The lack of a huge threat at tight end and running backs out of the backfield should allow Huff, Branch, and Giordono to roll coverage away from Routt and towards the other side, hiding some weaknesses for the Raiders on the outside.
The running game for the Chiefs has taken a backseat to the wide open passing game of late so I like the Silver and Black's matchups on running downs. Aaron Curry has stepped right in and another week of practice should help him. Even if Seymour is limited somewhat this week, Kelly, Henderson, and Bryant have all been solid in stretches this season and should continue to do so against a depleted Chiefs backfield. Let's face it Rolando McClain is much better when he can just focus on plugging holes and stopping the run. The less he has to cover these hybrid tight ends and fleet footed backs in space the better so this week may finally allow him to do what made him a a first round pick out of Alabama, coming up and putting a hat on the ball.
RUN DMC - When the Raiders have the ball they will continue to lean on a power running attack however that is the strength of Kansas City's defense. They run a 3-4 scheme and Tyson Jackson, Kelly Gregg, and Glenn Dorsey are not necesarily burners but they do throw their weight around and can be a solid front against the ground attack. Derrick Johnson is still a very solid guy at RILB and they'll routinely have 7 in the box against the Raiders, even sliding a safety up to the line on early downs to get that extra hat around the ball up front. This will be a solid test for the O-line and McFadden to continue to show why they are one of the most respected running games in the NFL. Youngsters Veldheer and Wiznewski have been a solid tandem on the left side for much of the season however some of that continuity was lost when Satele went down at center and the nephew of the Wiz had to take over snapping responsibilities. Vets Carlisle and Barnes have done a good job on the right and I am very impressed with Kevin Boss' blocking abilities at TE. Boss has prevented defenses from setting the edge often in his time in Silver and Black and those key blocks have helped spring DMC to the outside. McFadden is a powerful guy and does a nice job between the tackles, but when Boss and company help spring him to the outside it's lights out for opposing defenses. Expect KC to stay wide with their 3-4 and force as much as possible back in to Kelly Gregg in the middle and two solid tacklers at middle linebacker led by Johnson. The Chiefs are hoping to slow down Run DMC and force Boller into 3rd and long. Whether or not the Raiders are effective on early downs will in large part dictate the final outcome of this game because if the Chiefs don't know if it's run or pass they arguably have the worst secondary in the NFL. If it's 3rd and long and they can zone up and let the Raiders catch it for short yardage and then just come up and tackle, that could be a formula for getting off the field.
Boller or Palmer has been the question across the nation all week but regardless of who Hue runs out there to start the game, the Raiders should look to keep the Chiefs off-balance mixing in short completions, power runs, and deep throws on the outside. Whichever guy is behind center this week will have a somewhat limited playbook to work with for very different reasons. For Boller, asking him to consistently hit the 25 yard crossing routes, post plays and streak routes is a recipe for disaster. I just do not have the faith that anything more than a scaled back version of the offense will create more big plays than bad ones with Boller back there. He is mobile and is an experienced guy compared to alot of 2nd stringers but his track record suggests that if you ask him to do too much than he's going to make completions to the other team. With Palmer, he just hasn't had the time to feel comfortable with all the ins and outs of the offense (pun intended). There are going to be some basic routes that he's comfortable with such as slants and play action with one key read to make. If the offense is in big part the running game, mixed in with a couple easier routes and the occassional bomb than that might make the most sense. Ok, KC puts 8 guys in the box and you don't know which 7 are going to blitz, does Palmer know a couple audibles that he can check to? Is he going to be able to communicate in a way that the line will respond to, for adjusting pass protection? Is he going to be able to give hand signals to his backs and receivers to get to the route that will take advantage of the look the defense is showing? In 2 minute offense, many of the same questions exist. There is no doubt in my mind that I feel more comfortable with Palmer back there but does Palmer himself feel more comfortable back there? We know the KC secondary is suspect but are the Raiders in a position, 5 days after Carson's acquisition, to go after it? Are the Chiefs going to pin their ears back and send the house to stop McFadden? It makes sense they will. A dangerous running game combined with a quarterback that will be getting his first start this season for the Raiders tells me that KC sells out and attacks the line, especially if it's Boller. He may not know all the plays but Palmer has a reputation that will keep the other teams defensive coordinator from gambling too much.
Special teams is often forgotten by the casual fan and media alike but it is at least one third of the game. Janikowski is on the questionable list and the Raiders had 3 kickers in practice on Friday trying to address that issue should Seabass not be able to go. He's been dealing with a hammy issue and will be a gameday decision. Not only does the guy make the Raiders feel like they're in the scoring zone everytime they cross midfield, he also routinely kicks the ball through the end zone on kickoffs. Fortunately the Raiders still have the best punter in game and Jacoby Ford has been a regular on top 10 plays on sportscenter and with league recognition for special teamer of the week. A change at kicker will probably change the game quite a bit though. Instead of needing to get to the 45, the Raiders, without Seabass, probably need to get closer to the 25. That's 20 yards difference no matter how you cut it thats one fifth of the field. The Chiefs should be looking for Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel to pull a rabbit out of his hat again on Sunday. A little trickeration brings a smile to my face and the Raiders have had their fair share this season. No doubt about it, a big part of the reason the Raiders are 4-2 is Fassel and the special teams unit for the Raiders, Janikowski has been terrific and his gametime decision will impact the game.
There are quite a few question marks going into this game but I haven't discussed the true X-factor until now. Raider Nation is a buzz, and the Black Hole will be rocking as the Raiders have sold out once again. The anticipation is due to a much improved team over recent seasons and in the trade deadline acquisition of Palmer to go with a game changer at running back. In what could of been looked at by many as an easy game may be anything but. The Silver and Black fan base will help the newbies that may not of gotten as much time until now to settle down and be productive. I expect with that inspired 12th man that the Raiders will make enough plays on both sides of the ball and on special teams to come away with the win. Gameday decisions at several positions could swing the game in one direction or another. The Raiders are going to need every ounce of energy from the crowd to get ahead and take the pressure off a new starter at quarterback. Thank you for reading this installment of GMtalk. We'll see you on Sunday Raider Nation.