After falling down 24-0 in the AFC Divisional round, the Chiefs stormed back, outscoring the Texans by an insane 51-7 mark the rest of the game. Had they not been shut out in the first quarter, who knows how many points Kansas City could’ve piled up.
Raiders fans quickly went from rejoicing over the Chiefs’ seemingly impending doom to having an “oh shit” moment. And a lot of that moment has to do with the fact that we all know the Raiders will be dealing with Patrick Mahomes for most, if not all, of the 2020s.
To prevent the Chiefs from running the AFC West for the better part of the decade, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock need to devise a plan to build a roster that can stop, or at least slow down Kansas City. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, and nobody has quite discovered a perfect method for countering Andy Reid’s high-powered offense.
The prevailing wisdom at the moment regarding slowing down the Chiefs on offense suggests having the defense stay in man coverage, while simultaneously bringing a consistent pass rush. Reid is a master of figuring out how to attack opposing coverage zones with plays that force one defender to cover two receivers. With the speed that the Chiefs have on the perimeter and Mahomes’ arm talent, that lone defender covering two weapons doesn’t have a chance.
Conversely, the speed those Kansas City receivers possess poses problems for defenders staying in man coverage for a sustained period of time. It’s quite hard to find a guy who can go mano a mano with Tyreek Hill all night, and I suspect that Hill’s presence on the Chiefs was a major factor in the Lamarcus Joyner signing last offseason.
Pressing up against the Chiefs’ outside receivers is a good way to throw off the timing of their offense and limit the amount of time the cornerback needs to capably hold up while running with his man. In Trayvon Mullen, the Raiders have found a foundational press corner, but whether in the upcoming draft or free agency, it would behoove them to find a running mate for Mullen.
But even if a team manages to take away the Chiefs’ receivers, Travis Kelce is still a major problem for defenses inside. Kelce dominated the Texans with 10 catches for 143 yards and 3 touchdowns last Sunday, and the Raiders desperately need to find someone who can cover him.
That could be a linebacker acquired this offseason, or possibly incumbent bulldog safety Johnathan Abram, who plays with the physicality necessary to give Kelce a hard time. After missing the entire season, it’s tough to know how exactly Paul Guenther will utilize him. But the Raiders staff may already believe Abram is the answer to defending Kelce and the AFC West’s other top tight ends, or at least part of the answer.
Holding up in coverage against the Chiefs’ primary weapons is one thing, but even then Mahomes is good enough to thread the needle and beat good coverage when he has time to sit in the pocket and survey the field. So the Raiders will need their pass rush to stay consistent and force Mahomes to make quick decisions. And when those quick decisions become bad ones, they must make sure they capitalize with turnovers.
Again, stopping the Chiefs high-powered offense is a lot easier said than done, but if there’s one lesson that must be learned from watching Kansas City’s postseason performance, it’s that this is a problem the Raiders must deal with for the next decade.
Mahomes will shape the way the Raiders build their roster over that time, and how they do so will have a major influence on this team’s success.