What Raiders offense faces in Chiefs defensive line, linebackers

Peter Aiken

KC so far has played and defeated :

  • Jacksonville (28-2)
  • Dallas (17-16)
  • Philly (26-16)
  • NY Giants (31-7)
  • Tennessee (26-17)

Of these, the Eagles game held the most interest because of how well the Eagles ran the ball against the Chiefs defense (28 carries, 260 yards) and also because Mike Vick is a mobile QB and may give an indication to what the Chiefs' defensive approach against Pryor may be.

Here's a link to a video cutup of several very interesting plays that feature some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Chiefs' defense. Chiefs/Eagles interesting Plays.

(Side note, I had to leave out the secondary, which is a whole other world of analysis, due to time contraints. I just don't have time to watch all that video. Maybe someday if/when i can quite my day job...)

(Another note : since this is Pacific Rim week, you can call me "Gipsy Ninja" today. Aw yeah.)

LeSean McCoy : Nightcrawler

LeSean McCoy had a lot of success against KC and likely would have had more except he went out of the game for a while (injury or equipment?). He still finished with 20 rushes for 158 yards adn1 TD and was giving the Chiefs' defense fits.

These rushing totals may indicate that the Eagles offensive line was doing a good job and that the Chiefs' defense was giving up gaps and allowing holes to be opened up at the point of attack. This is actually not generally true. For the most part, the Front 3 was playing very stout and giving little running room at the initial target gap, but Shady often would hit that hole and then find an opening one gap over. Almost no other RB would be able to backout and jump over one gap, but since LeSean is part Nightcrawler, he is able to teleport and get free. He did this on a number of occassions and turned the Chiefs' aggressiveness against them.

That's awesome and all, but how can we use this information to OUR advantage? Well, unless the Raiders have a secret weapon somewhere, it's not really that relevant. Shady McCoy is magical and neither DMC nor Jennings have his mutant ability. The best hope for the team to have such a player is to draft Lache Seastrunk (Baylor) or Ka'deem Carey (Arizona) in next year's draft.

DMC and Jennings are straight-ahead, downhill, explosive runners. DMC adds the speed factor and so can often run to the outside (Toss action plays), but neither have great change of direction. And Reece and Stewart are similar. So, cutbacks and hopping to neighboring gaps are not really viable for the Raiders' running attack.

If the Chiefs front is able to clog the target gap, the Raiders' run game is likely to frustrate fans again. It will be another game with DMC running headlong into one, two, and three waiting defenders.

The Read Option and the Scrape

Philly used the Read Option (type) play quite a bit and the Chiefs were ready for it. They had a very interesting approach. Typically, the defensive end (or OLB) will be left unblocked and the QB will read this unblocked defender to determine whether to hand or keep. If the defender crashes on the runner, the QB keeps; if the defender rushes the QB, the QB gives. And so many have started to talk about the "mesh point" and for defenders to attack exactly the point where the QB and RB are meeting (or "meshing").

The Chiefs did many things, but one that stood out was that the End would set as if to contain the QB, giving the "Give"-read, but that edge defender would be looking at the runner all the way and would be scraping down the line, in a shuffling manner, keeping his chest facing the QB, but moving down the line.

This gives a false read as the body indicates that the edge defender is keying the QB, but the eyes are on the RB. A keeper would likely have been effective as the defender would have been several steps slow to react.

If Pryor can read it and make the defender pay, they may have to begin to play the Read Option more honestly.

Pryor's legs will be key in the running game, but he may need to establish the keeper to open up lane for DMC to run into. The Chiefs are likely to attack the runner's gaps and take those away, but that may leave lanes for Pryor to run into. If Pryor is able to establish the keeper, he may force the 2nd level to react and clear out some defenders from the running lanes. Pryor's handoff fake is absolutely fantastic and should be able to fake the edge defender if they are playing as they had against Philly.

Also, notice that the Chiefs play the runner's target hole very well, but McCoy is able to teleport to safety again. (side ntoe: as amazing as Shady McCoy is in real-time, he is even more impressive when breaking down his play in slo-mo and stills)

Notice/recall that Philly's offensive sets are very different from how the Raiders set up.

Chip Kelly likes to really spread the field with lots of players at the boundaries. Sometimes he'll set with TEs and WRs at the boundary, setting up WR screens to either sideline or he may just WRs in a Double-stack, again at each sideline. This is truly (literally) "spreading" the defense from sideline to sideline. By doing this, it removes offensive blockers, but it also removes defenders from the interior of the field. With fewer players in the box, it gives more space and bigger gaps for McCoy to run into. (On this play, the Eagles actually have a TE on the line, but most of the time they do spread it out horizontally)

This is a potentially solid tactic to use against the aggressive Chiefs' defense. Taking Rivera and Denarius one sideline with Reece and Streater on the other would put Pryor, DMC, and the OLine against 6 defenders in the middle of the field. Keep an eye out and see if Greg Olson tries spreading the Chiefs out like this and potentially giving Pryor and DMC more room in which to work.

Dontari Poe

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Dontari Poe is emerging as a force in the middle. The player that reminded me of a Tommy Kelly-type player (fantastic DT physical skills, less than spectacular production) is now turning into an upscale Tommy Kelly player who is now honing his craft and showing his skills on the field.

One of Scott Pioli's parting gifts is paying off a year later.

The problem is that he's so big and strong that a blocker (or two) have to really anchor and work hard to move him. But then he is also very agile so that he can get move and get around blocks very well.

For success, Poe will have to be handled and in some cases, it will have to be one-on-one. The Eagles had a few nice runs and in some of those, they were able to actually move Poe with one blocker.

Can Gurode or Nix to this? If one of the Raiders can actually handle Poe solo, then DMC actually has a chance. This is a HUGE task, though, and from how they have performed so far, it is probably asking too much.

And at other times in Pass Protection, if he's left one-on-one, Poe is able to quick the block.

Tyson Jackson

This guy was supposed to be a bust. And while he's not a dominant player as you might hope for his draft slot, he's sollid and effective and when attention is divided among the other pass rushers, Jackson can jump in and make a sudden impact.

Mostly he's going to set the point and use power; he will crush the pocket but he's not showing an ability to outquick a blocker. If Brisiel is matched up one-on-one here, he could get overpowered.

Justin Houston

A wide open game may be exactly how Justin Houston wants to play. Against Philadelphia, he had a ridiculous game. His stat line read : 6 tackles, 1 assist, 3.5 sacks for 24 yards, 4 tackles for loss, 3 passes defensed, 1 Forced Fumble, 2 Fumble Recoveries.

Absolute stud and he's still getting better. While Derrick Johnson still is the key to this team, Justin Houston may soon becomes the best overall player on that defense.

At 6'3", 260lb, he's able to play with great power and just Rocking rookie Lane Johnson's (6'7", 310lbs) world. Here, the RG tries to help, but with Derrick Johnson blitzing, this frees up Dontari Poe who disrupts the play and allows Houston sack Vick by rag-dolling Lane Johnson into him.

Matt McCants, get ready.

And then if Lane Johnson is left one-on-one with Houston, Houston can use power and then turn that power in explosive quickness. Vick had no chance on this play.

Tamba Hali

There's not much to be said about Hali. Everyone already knows what a dynamic force he is. Khalif Barnes 1-on-1 with Hali is a mismatch and the key will be if Pryor can break contain and force more containment rush and/or quick throws that don't allow Hali to get upfield. With the Chiefs' secondary playing aggressive man coverage, this second key may be more hope than possibility.

And while we all know Hali can get upfield in a hurry, they can also run games for him underneath and have him loop thru the A-gap. A competent DC in KC is a really terrible thing.

Derrick Johnson

As amazing and disruptive as the many studs on the Chiefs' defense are, perhaps the most important defensive player is LB Derrick Johnson. The guy is so smart and so physically gifted that he is making plays all over the field. To get a decent run, someone has to take out DJ. On underneath passes, watch out for DJ cutting underneath.

Recall two years ago when the Raiders were playing the Chief and had 1st-and-goal inside the 5 yardline. Hue Jackson gave it to Michael Bush 4 times and 3 of those times, it was Derrck Johnson that made a fantastic play to stop Bush short of the TD.

Here he's dropping into the short zone, reading Vick's eyes and jumping the quick hook. But what's amazing here is that Johnson reads it and jumps it before Vick even starts his motion. He's not reacting; he's anticipating (or understanding the play from film study). He knows it's a quick pass and where it's going and jumps into the passing lane. He doesn't get the int, but he tips it up and Eric Berry gets a Pick 6 out of it.

QB Scramble

With such a physically gifted front 7, it may seem that the Chiefs should be able to cope containing and handling a mobile QB better than most defenses. However, against the Eagles and Mike Vick, the Chiefs had moments where they left seams for Vick to run into and he made them pay. In response, the Chiefs would use more containment rushes against Vick, forcing him to make throws from within the pocket.

Pryor may have some similar opportunities and while Pryor has been focusing on making plays with his arm and to get the ball to his playmakers downfield rather than to try to do everything himself, against the Chiefs and their formidable secondary, Pryor may need to force the issue with his legs more than he wants to.

The Chiefs' defensive front is somewhat reminscent of the RAIDERS' own defensive fronts. Al Davis placed such a high premium on physical skills and measurables that he loaded the line with absolute monsters. And when they were properly focused, motivated, and executing well, it was frightening for opposing offenses. Just ask Philip Rivers in 2011 when Kam Wimbley sacked him 4 times and the Raiders were constantly hitting him.

The Chiefs right now have those types of gifted athletes, who are perhaps even better overall football players. And yet some of the same weaknesses of the past Raiders' teams may haunt the Chiefs.

For instance, the aggressive attack nature of the edge rushers (Hali and Houston) can ravage the OTs, BUT, since they are so quick to get upfield, if the QB breaks contain, then they have taken themselves well out of the play.

The Chiefs seem to play a lot of man coverage. Raiders' fans can recall how mobile QBs can take advantage of that. When all the coverage defenders have their backs turned to the play, it can lead to a huge play by the QB if he breaks loose.


I feel like much of this post was like the beginning of the movie Best of the Best. "Khalif Barnes, your matchup is Tamba Hali. Matt McCants, you face Justin Houston. Mike Brisiel, you have Tyson Jackson. Andre Gurode and Lucas Nix, you have Dontari Poe!" And when we play paper-matchup like that, it doesn't look good at all. But the real matchup will be how the entire offense plays against that defense.

When a team has a young quarterback, they are supposed to protect him. Establish the running game and don't put the load of the entire offense on the young QB's shoulders. Let him work within the context of the offense.

Unfortunately, the Raiders' offense (and offensive personnel) is not able to do this. If they were, Flynn may still be the starter. The team atually needs PRYOR to establish the offense so that the other parts can executed! The Team needs Pryor to make plays and force the defense to react to that; when the defense is keying Pryor, that is when DMC, Jennings, et al can start to get rolling.

And that may be how the approach will have to be in this game. Going at the KC defense with a standard playbook may expose the weaknesses of the Raiders' matchups against their Chiefs' counterparts. If Olson gets into Run-run-pass (punt) early on, it could be a long day. But if Pryor can break loose early, it may even out the disadvantages the Raiders have. A couple of QB scrambles may encourage the Chiefs to play more zone. A QB keeper on the read option may force defensive reactioins and open up lanes for DMC. A few QB rollouts may slow down the pass rush and force more containment rush.

The Chiefs played containment rush and then mixed in some pressure. In those containment rush plays, Vick had time and a chance to make some throws but in many cases, he missed them. That may be another huge factor with Pryor and the WRs. Moore, Streater, Butler, Rivera will at some point have to be able to beat Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith, Marcus Cooper, and Eric Berry and Pryor will have to make them pay by hitting the throws. If the Chiefs' play substantial man coverage, that will help some since these WRs tend to generally have problems recognizing and reacting to zone coverages.

Pryor has been focusing on being a true throwing QB; he's been working on his pocket passing and at times when he breaks outside, he often looks to throw first. That's admirable and very important for his long term growth as a QB in the league. But against the Chiefs, especially early in the game, he may need to flash his inner Randall Cunningham to set the tone for the game and then settle down into more of the role he'd like to play.