Ahead of tomorrow’s matchup against Kansas City, Raiders fans are dreaded the Chiefs offense and what they will likely do to the Raider’s defense. An upset isn’t likely and the Raider’s opened the week 15.5 point underdogs at home against their rival. However the recent issues surrounding Kareem Hunt and his release from the team might be enough of a hiccup for the vaunted attack that the Raiders can exploit and pull off a victory.
The Raiders defense so far hasn’t been able to do much to stop offenses. Even back-up QBs on average offenses have had their way against this defense. Now the Raiders are up against MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes, whose skill-set is sickening according to Jon Gruden. Mahomes arm talent and ability to create outside the pocket have been boons for the Chiefs this year but Reid’s team also does things schematically and fundamentally better than just about any NFL team. Let’s take a look and see how the defense can counter Reid’s scheme.
Run-pass options or RPOs have become a big talking point in today’s NFL and the Chiefs run them better than any NFL team. You might think every team runs them considering how much they’ve been talked about by national media, but really, the Raiders have only faced 2 teams (Cleveland and Miami) who employed the RPO.
Bad news; these teams are nearly perfect when completing the pass option of the RPO play against the Raiders. The Raiders will need to go back and see how they can better disrupt this play because it is a staple in the Kansas City attack.
In the play above Mahomes reads the linebackers crashing down against the run action, decides to pull it and throw the slant to Tyreek Hill; who enters the area vacated by the linebackers. For most teams the play would end there and be a great chunk of yards, but not for Kansas City. Hill is a world class athlete and turns a slant into an explosive play, something the Raiders have struggled with all year.
The Rams knew the RPO would be an issue so they decided to employ a wrinkle in their scheme against Mahomes by lining up their Slot-Safety Lamarcus Joyner as a “Robber” player to defend the passes off the RPO. Notice #20 of the Rams shuffle and read Mahomes eyes to get a jump on any pass thrown. Well Mahomes notices it too and elects to hand the ball off allowing Kareem Hunt to do the rest. This is the conundrum teams face when defending RPOs: defend the pass or the run?
Pouring through the tape there was one instance of the Raiders defending the RPO perfectly against Miami. Notice #55 LB Marquel Lee standing directly between the two hashes. He reads run but shuffles out towards the slant route. He is able to do this because DE Fadol Brown steps inside to defend the inside gap. This is called a gap exchange and the Raiders were able to allow Lee to get in the passing lane without compromising their run defense.
Andy Reid teams just don’t run screens, they run some of the best screens in the history of football. Reid is famous for his screen game and is known to pilfer the lower levels of football all the way down to high school to add complex screens to his attack. The Raiders have also struggled against screens this season but have gotten better in recent weeks. The Chiefs game will be their biggest test playing sound fundamental football where every defender does their assignment.
This screen starts first with Tyreek Hill lined up in the backfeild. Mahomes fakes a pitch to Hill before coming back to the screen play across the formation. Granted Hunt makes some great moves here and he won’t be playing against the Raiders. The threat of Hill is enough to make defenses blow an assignment.
Hold onto your seats Raider’s fans, this Chiefs team takes misdirection to another level. Mahomes has Tyreek Hill in motion and first fakes the fly sweep (jet sweep if the QB is in shot-gun), before again faking the orbit reverse to #11. Finally Mahomes comes back the other way to hit Hunt who runs behind a barrage of blockers for a TD.
The Raiders haven’t played against nearly this high level of screen to date. There was a play against the Chargers however where they didn’t fall for the misdirection and motion and Arden Key was able to sniff out the screen play for no gain. All of the rookie DL will need to make plays like this for the Raiders to have a chance.
Two players in particular are stellar route runners for the Chiefs. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Both win in different ways and will pose serious problems for the Raiders match-up wise throughout the course of the game.
Travis Kelce is very nifty for his size and is able to run routes most TEs only dream of. This “stick-nod” concept has Kelce sell the out route before running to the post. Kelce’s footwork off the line, at the top of the route, and his head fake are textbook for any TEs studying how to win in the endzone. Raider’s linebackers have proven again and again this year they are no match for the highly skilled TE. Maybe Paul Guenther realizes this and can get a safety assigned to shadow Kelce.
Tyreek Hill for all his blazing speed is already hard enough to defend. This year he’s taken his route running up two notches and his “squirrel route” against the Rams proves he’s one of the best in the league. This would be a huge task to defend for any CB in any coverage.
Raider’s CBs haven’t done too terrible against the top route runners they have faced. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin had 6 catches on 8 targets for 91 yards earlier this year. Chargers WR Keenan Allen had 14 catches on 18 targets for 147 yards and 1 TD in both of his games combined against the Raiders.
The Raider’s corners have had an up and down year competing on the outside. Each CB, Conley, Worley, and Melvin have had flashes of brilliance however like the play above where Melvin stayed with his man after Baker Mayfield broke the pocket for a crucial 3rd down stop. Mahomes and his receivers make plays like this look routine when something breaks down and the QB scrambles. It will be on the Raider’s cover men to play through the whistle if the defense has a chance of getting off the field on 3rd downs.
The Chiefs will score but if the defense can slow them down in these areas Mahomes is also mistake prone and will hold onto the ball longer than necessary at times. The Raiders have done a good job lately of forcing some turnovers. And the longer Mahomes holds the ball, the better chance this young DL has of getting a sack.