There’s an old adage that says ‘build a team to win the division’, meaning that you start the roster construction by managing talent and skills so that they match what the opposing teams are doing. If you beat the division, you should go to the playoffs (2010 notwithstanding).
It’s even more pronounced when a divisional rival has dominated you. This young Raiders team has been put together to win and over the past 2 years, that has really shone. In 2015, the team still struggled against the talented Broncos and Chiefs. In 2016 on Sunday Night Football, the Raiders got over the Denver hump with a dominant performance, but despite all the successes of that magical 12-4 season, the two losses to the Chiefs stuck out like a sore thumb. THAT was going to be the key to having any shot at post season success. The Chiefs were King of the Hill and until the Raiders could knock them off, it would be their division.
And when a team is looking up at a team like that, going AFTER a team like that, and focusing on beating a team like that, it’s going to show up. Samsung focuses on beating Sony; Hyundai focuses on beating Toyota. Raiders are focused on beating the Chiefs.
In the offseason, the Raiders bolstered their roster with moves that look to be specifically targeting the Chiefs.
The Raiders desperately needed a way to attack the Chiefs in the middle of the field in a way that Clive Walford could never do. Enter Jared Cook. The tight end caught 6 passes for 107 yards and set up the game-winning touchdown.
“Huge, huge, huge,” Derek Carr said of Cook’s play Thursday night. “This is going back to when he had his free agent visits. We sat there and this was tape that we pulled up. We said, ‘Look man, we need you. We need you. We need your help against the Chiefs. We need another weapon. We need you, and here’s how we can use you.’ We actually used that today, which is kind of cool.”
Other additions include WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, RB Marshawn Lynch, and draft picks CB Gareon Conley and S Obi Melifonwu.
They needed a response to Tyreek Hill in the return game as well as another explosive playmaker to scare the coverage to help out the Amari Cooper/Michael Crabtree duo. They needed a legitimate power running attack that could also break off big plays and force the LB’s up towards the line of scrimmage.
In the draft, they focused on getting faster at the outside CB position and adding some kind of match-up piece for Travis Kelce. Unfortunately, both the rookies have been struggling with injuries so they could not be part of this victory. Not surprisingly corner and safety were two areas the Chiefs attacked successfully in the game.
Going beyond just that, the coaching staff was looking at how to beat the Chiefs. Every game is important, but division games mean a lot more, and beating Chiefs is crucial.
Obsessions are often called unhealthy as they are so single-minded to the exclusion of other things.
That may have played some part of the Raiders’ offensive woes. Against the Chiefs, the Raiders brought out many plays and formations that they had not used previously, perhaps not wanting to put these on video for Andy Reid and his defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to prepare against. Some formations had very predictable play calls in the past, but against KC, the team reversed out of it, as if suckering the Chiefs (ie., the long con).
For instance, the offense had been utilizing Cordarrelle Patterson in a variety of ways and used Empty formations often and yet against KC rarely used Empty and did not use Patterson on gadget plays.
Nearly every Tight Bunch formation was an inside handoff run, but against the Chiefs, fake handoff.
Derek Carr did not use the wide zone bootleg play at all and that was one of the early successful plays against the Chiefs.
If this offensive gameplan seemed to have a different flavor from the past three games, it is because it certainly did.
The drawback is these were all plays and designs that would have been very useful in those previous games while the Raiders were on their 4-game losing streak and offensive coordinator Todd Downing was saying they were ‘so close’.
Downing may have vaulted some of his plays intentionally to prepare for the Chiefs game. If so, that may have played some role in the offensive struggles against Washington, Denver, and San Diego.
Now those plays are out in the open and have served their purpose of beating the Chiefs, so the full playbook should be in play from here on out. So here’s looking for a return to form for the offense.