Division rivals, playoff positioning on the line and a primetime television slot, NFL games don’t get much bigger than this week’s Sunday Night Football matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Raiders come into this game after a tumultuous week that culminated with a loss to the Giants, while the Chiefs got off to a bumpy start but are looking to build on their first two-game winning streak of the season. That should make for a close contest and whichever team can win the battles below will likely be one to emerge victorious.
Derek Carr vs. Tyrann Mathieu
For the second week in a row, Derek Carr will square off against a premier defensive back.
Ever since joining the Chiefs in 2019, Tyrann Mathieu has become one of the best and most versatile safeties in the NFL, and his ball skills are a large reason why. He has 13 interceptions and an additional 13 pass breakups in Kansas City, and he’s never allowed a passer rating above 71.3 for a full season.
As far as this season goes, Mathieu has continued to play at a high level, allowing 13 receptions on 19 targets for 106 yards and zero touchdowns. Among safeties with at least 82 snaps in coverage, he ranks eighth in passer rating allowed (42.8), 14th in yards per reception (8.2) and tied for 10th with two interceptions. Also, his 72.3 PFF coverage grade is nothing to scoff at either and is 14th-best at the position.
The honey badger has always been known for his play-making abilities, and Carr is coming off a game where he tied for the most turnover-worthy plays (three) for the week.
The good news is the game against the Giants was an anomaly for Carr. Before last Sunday, he had zero turnover-worthy plays in the two previous weeks, and the last time he had more than one in a single game was Week 2 against the Steelers. Also, in the five games that Mathieu has gone head-to-head with Carr, the defensive back only has one interception and zero passes defended, and his two lowest PFF defensive grades in 2020 came against Las Vegas.
In a game that is expected to be filled with emotion and have a lot of momentum-changing plays, the Silver and Black are going to need those trends to continue, meaning their quarterback has to take care of the ball and know where Mathieu is on every play.
Raiders DTs vs Chiefs iDL
I wanted to include a matchup or two that involved Tyreek Hill and/or Travis Kelce since those two are the headliners of the Chiefs offense outside of Mahomes. However, neither of them lineup in one particular spot so it’s tough - and honestly would be a waste of your time - to nail down a one-on-one matchup for either of them.
Instead, I dove into some numbers and a couple of players that might impact Hill’s and Kelce’s performances in my X-factors column, and we’ll take a look at the locomotive that makes Kansas City’s offense go, the interior offensive line, here.
While the Chiefs’ tackles have struggled this season, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Joe Thuney have not.
Humphrey, a rookie second-round pick, currently has the highest overall PFF grade (90.4) among centers and has the highest run-blocking grade (93.0) by about three points. In pass protection, he’s allowed just seven pressures and owns a 99.1 efficiency rating, the fifth-best at the position.
Cleveland, Dallas and Kansas City are the only three teams in the NFL to have two guards with top-15 overall PFF grades. Smith, a sixth-round rookie, ranks sixth with an 82.2 grade, while Thuney, a top-dollar free agent signing, sits at No. 15 with a 72.9 mark.
Smith is the better run-blocker of the two, as he boasts an 89.7 grade in that realm, but he has struggled in pass protection by allowing 23 total pressures, tied for the sixth-most among guards. Thuney is the exact opposite, he leads the position with an 83.5 pass-blocking grade and has only surrendered 10 pressures, none of which have been a sack or QB hit. However, the former Patriot’s run-blocking is slightly above average with a 65.1 grade that ranks 33rd.
That should make for one interesting fighting the trenches.
Solomon Thomas currently ranks 16th among defensive tackles with a pass rush win rate of 13.6 percent, and Quinton Jefferson isn’t too far behind tied at 23rd and 12.5 percent. However, both have struggled mightily as run defenders, especially against duo, a concept the Chiefs love to run.
That’s where Johnathan Hankins comes in since he’s always been known for being a space-eater in the middle which comes at the sacrifice of some pass-rush production.
Either way, the interior of the Raiders' defensive line has to show up on Sunday if they’re going to have any chance at slowing down the Chiefs' offense, both in the air and on the ground.
Bryan Edwards vs Rashad Fenton
Rashad Fenton is far from a household name on Kansas City’s defense. He had started just three games in the two seasons prior to 2021, but he has managed to crack the starting lineup in five out of seven contests this year.
The increase in playing time is both a reflection of how well Fenton has performed and how poorly the Chiefs’ other cornerbacks have played.
The South Carolina product boasts the fifth-highest coverage grade (80.9) among corners and ranks tied for 14th with 8.7 yards per reception allowed, per PFF. Meanwhile, Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed rank 64th and 91st, according to PFF’s coverage grades. So, while Kansas City’s secondary as a whole might be down, Fenton is still a potential problem for Las Vegas.
Fenton is an outside corner so he’ll likely draw a lot of one-on-ones with Bryan Edwards. There’s no doubt that the Raiders need one of their wide receivers to step up with Henry Ruggs III no longer in the lineup, and Edwards needs to be that player, meaning he’ll have to find a way to break free from Fenton on Sunday.
The 2020 third-round pick was a ghost last week, catching zero passes on four targets and that can’t happen again. While the addition of DeSean Jackson might help take some of the pressure off, Jackson will likely be on a pitch count this week seeing as he just got in the building. So, Edwards will still serve as a significant catalyst or decelerator for the Raiders offense this week.