The Las Vegas Raiders got the monkey off their back last week by notching their first win of the season against the Denver Broncos. Not only did the Raiders get a much-needed victory, but they were also able to gain some ground in the AFC West. They have a chance to do the same in Week 5 on Monday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs, however, it will be a much more daunting task.
Our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook currently have Las Vegas as a touchdown road dog in Kansas City. The six-time defending AFC West champions currently hold a one-game lead over the rest of the division — two games ahead of the Raiders — and, once again, look like Super Bowl contenders. So, if the Silver and Black want to put themselves in that category and pull off the upset, the players below will need to put together some of the best performances of their careers.
I always hate using a guy like Crosby as an X-factor because, no duh, of course he’ll have an impact on the game as the team’s best defensive player. However, the magnitude of the contest calls for it and he will be leaned on heavily to slow down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense.
Just about everyone knows that defenses can’t blitz Mahomes because he handles it well and can pick a blitz apart. That being said, the Cardinals found this out the hard way by blitzing him 54 percent of the time only to get shredded for 360 passing yards and five touchdowns. Four of those five scores came against the blitz, which is tied for the most in a game during the Next Gen Stats era.
But defenses can’t just sit there and let him pick you apart either, so defensive linemen have to win and let the defense get pressure with just four rushers. With Kansas City having a pretty good left tackle in Orlando Brown and Chandler Jones struggling to generate production so far this season, Vegas will need another big day from Crosby.
The good news is the Chiefs are still starting Andrew Wylie at right tackle, who Crosby had his way with last year. In the two contests combined, Wylie allowed 13 total pressures — two sacks, one QB hit and 10 hurries — while Crosby racked up 15 pressures. That should serve as a confidence booster for the pass rusher heading into Monday.
Madd Maxx has been doing his thing this season too with 18 pressures which are tied for the sixth-most edge defenders. But Wylie has been much more sound in pass protection, getting beat just seven times so far this year. In a way, this matchup will be a test to see just how much the offensive lineman has grown from year to year.
Deablo, like a lot of other players on the team, is coming off his best game of the season last week. He racked up eight total tackles with no misses and earned his highest overall PFF grade of the year by more than 10 points (70.1). Also, he logged three defensive stops and had his best performance in coverage as the lone pass thrown his way fell incomplete.
Continuing that momentum into Monday night will be paramount for the linebacker and defense as a whole, especially since Travis Kelce awaits.
To put it simply, there isn’t a formula to completely shut down Kelce. He already has 26 catches for 322 yards and three touchdowns on the season, and the fewest yards he’s had in a game was 51 in Week 2 against the Chargers. It takes a full-team effort just to keep the All-Pro tight end in check and the Raiders will likely use a committee approach toward defending him, and Deablo’s background as a safety can be a big factor in that.
The former Hokie has the athleticism to match Kelce in coverage and won’t be giving up too much size at 6’3” and 226 pounds to Kelce’s 6’5” and 250-pound frame. That being said, the latter did catch all three passes thrown his way for 27 yards and three first downs against the former last season, so history isn’t on Deablo’s side as he’ll be looking to bounce back.
Again, covering Kelce likely won’t be left up to one man, but when Patrick Graham does call Deablo’s number, the linebacker needs to answer.
Also, Kansas City has been getting their running backs more involved in the passing game this season. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has 14 targets through four games after seeing just 26 in 12 contests last year, and he’s managed to rack up 13 catches for 117 yards and three touchdowns en route to the highest PFF receiving grade (80.0) at the position in 2022.
Plus, Jerick McKinnon is still around and has been thrown at seven times, so it’s clear that getting backs involved in the passing game is one way that Andy Reid has adjusted his offense without Tyreek Hill.
Long story short, the Chiefs’ passing attack puts a ton of stress on linebackers, whether that be with a superstar tight end or a couple of running backs, so Vegas’ second-level defenders will need to be at their best, especially the one who has logged the most snaps.
Tre’von Moehrig and Duron Harmon
I probably don’t need to remind you, but Mahomes torched the Raiders last season. In the two matchups combined, he went 55 for 74 (74.3 percent completions) for 664 yards and seven touchdowns with zero interceptions. Part of the problem was the previous defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley, ran a one-high scheme and wouldn’t/couldn’t get into the cover two shells that gave Mahomes so much trouble a year ago.
The good news is there have been a lot of changes in Las Vegas since then. For one, Patrick Graham is in the building and he managed to keep Mahomes to just 29/48 for 275 yards and one touchdown to one interception with the Giants in 2021. The other significant change, and this is somewhat in defense of Bradley, is the Raiders have two safeties who can actually play two high.
Part of the reason why Moehrig was such an important draft pick and played pretty much every defensive snap last season was because he was the only safety on the roster who could successfully play that deep or center field type of role. Bradley’s B, C and D options were Dallin Leavitt — a career-long special teamer — and Roderic Teamer and Johnathan Abram, both of whom are more of the strong safety types.
In comes Harmon, who is a free safety by trade and filled that role for a couple of weeks while Moehrig was injured. The veteran played well in relief of the sophomore, logging coverage grades of 68.0 and 71.1 in the two contests while mixing in a pass breakup and interception as well. Granted, last week wasn’t as pretty after he gave up a long 55-yard completion, but Harmon has been more positive than negative so far this year.
These matchups are exactly why the Raiders spent a second-round pick on Moehrig and brought Harmon in during free agency. Not only will their play go a long way toward keeping one of the best quarterbacks in the league in check, but it will also show the rest of the NFL that they now have the personnel to shut down explosive passing attacks.
Interior offensive line
I’ll go with a group of guys for our next X-factor for the second one in a row.
Everyone knows how much of a force Chris Jones can be and this season has been no different as he currently holds the second-highest PFF grade among defensive tackles with an elite 90.8 mark. He’s behind just Jeffery Simmons and Aaron Donald with 15 pressures on the year and ranks second with an 83.5 run defense grade.
Part of the problem with Jones is he rarely lines up in the same spot consistently. Out of 213 defensive snaps, he’s line up as a left defensive tackle or end about 37.6 percent of the time while playing on the right side for the other 62-ish percent of snaps. So, while he favors the right over the left, Jones will flip around and be able to attack an opponent’s weakest offensive lineman.
That means the entire unit has to be on its game, regardless of what combination Josh McDaniels decides to go with this week.
It seems like Dylan Parham is a lock to start, whose two highest-graded games have come at right guard — 83.1 versus 53.5 — but he hasn’t faced nearly as good of completion at guard, playing center against the Titans and Jeffery Simmons. Then there’s Andre James, who continues to be solid in the middle, but he might not draw a whole lot of one-on-one matchups with Jones and will likely play a more supplementary role to the guys next to him.
The Raiders' biggest problem becomes the left side. If Alex Bars gets his third start in a row, then I can tell you where the Chiefs will put their stud defensive tackle as Bars has yielded five pressures and earned a 38.9 PFF run blocking grade in the last two games.
John Simpson would be the team’s next best bet, and he put together two dramatically different performances in pass protection last season against the Chiefs. In Week 10, he allowed four pressures, one being a sack, and earned a 23.8 grade in that realm, but he turned it around four weeks later for a shutout and an 85.4 mark.
The main point here is all three interior linemen have to be on their best for the offense to get going.
Part of the reason the Raiders offense was able to get off the ground last Sunday was because they established the rushing at attack and got Jacobs going early. He finished with 28 rushing attempts which was nine more than his previous single-game high heading into the contest.
This week, Vegas faces a similar defense in that the Chiefs’ coverage unit is stronger than their run defense with a team PFF coverage grade of 67.7 and a 60.8 mark against the run. So, the Silver and Black’s offensive gameplan will probably be pretty similar to what it was against the Broncos.
However, Kansas City does have an emerging linebacker in Nick Bolton, who is known for his run defense. Bolton has managed to log a defensive stop against the run on 8.7 percent of opportunities — tied for 18th among all LBs — and has an average depth of tackle of 2.2 yards which ranks tied for 13th at the position.
Part of what makes this such an interesting one-on-one matchup is Bolton doesn’t miss tackles. In fact, he’s only missed one all season — none as a run defender — only had a 4.9 percent miss rate a year ago. On the other end, Jacobs has forced the second-most missed tackles in the league with 22 on the campaign.
So, this will be a battle of who gives in first and tacking on yards after contact has been a big part of the running back’s game throughout his career.