The Raiders are in Kansas City this week for the second meeting with the Chiefs on the season. They are hoping for a repeat performance from their big Thursday Night Football win three weeks ago. It was their first win of the season, and the first of a current three-game losing streak by the Chiefs.
There is a lot riding on this game for the Chiefs. Here are the key areas to watch for in this match-up between two bitter rivals.
The Chiefs need this win. If they lose, their hopes for a second-straight trip to the playoffs will be all but officially lost. When the Chiefs came to Oakland a month ago, they were riding high with an AFC West leading 7-3 record. That begun a three game losing streak. A fourth straight would punch their ticket for a trip to their couch in January. Getting swept by the Raiders on their home field would be terrible but to be knocked out of the playoffs along the way would be so catastrophic, you may be able to see the mushroom cloud rise over Arrowhead from space.
All eyes on Latavius
The Raiders got their first win of the season riding Latavius Murray. And the Chiefs gave up their first rushing touchdown of the season... and their second. Murray exposed an already weak run defense to the tune of 112 yards and 2 touchdowns before leaving the game with a concussion. The Raiders will again tap that well until it dries up. If they get another big day from Murray, it could mean another win for the Raiders.
Jamaal Charles vs Khalil Mack (and not much else)
There could be an interesting game of cat and mouse happening in this game between Khalil Mack and Jamaal Charles. The Raiders will be without Sio Moore for the game and Miles Burris is a liability against the run. Mack is the Raiders best hope to try and keep Charles from gouging them for huge chunks of yards. He has certainly done it before, including a 5 touchdown game against them last season. That was without Mack in the lineup. But without Sio, it could be equally damaging. Replacing him in the lineup will be either Ray Ray Armstrong or Bojay Filimoeatu. Not a good thing either way.
Secondary a Chief concern
One player the Chiefs are pretty stoked about these days is cornerback Phillip Gaines. And he won't play Sunday. The physical cornerback suffered a concussion in practice on Wednesday and is officially doubtful for the game Sunday. In his absence Jamell Fleming and/or Marcus Cooper are expected to play. Cooper has been the Chiefs' worst cornerback this season and Fleming has only appeared in two games. The Chiefs secondary was already weakened by the loss of Eric Berry. He felt a mass in his chest following the game against the Raiders and test results revealed lymphoma (For anyone not familiar, that's cancer). Husain Abullah has replaced Berry at strong safety the past two weeks and has not looked good. That means outside of Steve Smith the Chiefs have some serious issues in the secondary right about now.
Charles Woodson vs Travis Kelce
The Chiefs still don't have a touchdown pass to a wide receiver this season. They get most of their offense from the tight ends and the running backs. Alex Smith's number one target is tight end Travis Kelce. His 51 catches for 688 yards leads the team and his 4 touchdowns is tied for second with fellow tight end Anthony Fasano. Kelce had one of his better games of the season last time these two teams played. He caught four passes for 67 yards. He was held out of the endzone, but Fasano scored. Woodson can't cover them both but his primary assignment will be the tougher cover of the two. Take away the tight end from the Chiefs offense, and you remove a good portion of their attack.
Last week Derek Carr took a very big step forward in his development as the Raiders hopeful franchise quarterback. It was not his first win of the season, but it was the first time he put the Raiders on his back and carried them to a victory. That's not to say he deserves sole credit, but he deserves a great deal of it. He showed patience, smart decision making, pocket presence, and ability to improvise on the fly. The Raiders used the run game to beat the Chiefs last time. The 49ers set out to stop that run game and Carr made them pay for it. Carr will keep the Chiefs honest, forcing them to give equal attention to the run and the pass game. After that it's a chess match.
Khalif Barnes vs Justin Houston
When the Raiders played the Chiefs three weeks ago, it was Menelik Watson who was starting at right tackle. He had his worst game of the season in pass protection facing Justin Houston, giving up 5 quarterback hurries and a sack. Watson was injured two weeks ago against the Rams and it's Barnes who will face off against Houston this time. Barnes had one of his worst performances against Chris Long and the Rams when he replaced Watson. Houston is the league's sack leader and is arguably a tougher match-up than Long. The Chiefs have an all-around very good pass rush which means the Raiders will not be able to focus their on stopping Houston. Donald Penn will have his hands full on the left side with Tamba Hali. Derek Carr was able to carve up the 49ers but he did it by having a pocket from which to throw a good percentage of the time. Whether that is possible Sunday will be wholly dependent upon whether Barnes is able to keep Houston out of the backfield.
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