There’s no better way to truly gauge if your ground and pound attack is on truly on track than matching up with a team that’s the best at defending the run. That’s what awaits the Las Vegas Raiders when they step foot on the field at Arrowhead and go toe-to-toe with the host Kansas City Chiefs this Monday night.
In the Raiders 32-23 win over the Denver Broncos last Sunday, Las Vegas ran roughshod over the horsemen to the tune of 212 rushing yards. Running back Josh Jacobs had a career day in the victory galloping for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. On the year, the Silver & Black bell cow back has 336 yards and two scores on 70 totes giving him the fifth overall ranking amongst NFL ballcarriers in total yards. He’s the clear workhorse in what was expected to be a running back by committee approach in Las Vegas.
What awaits Jacobs and the Raiders offensive line in Kansas City, however, is the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. Steve Spagnuolo’s Chiefs defense limits the opposition to a league-best 263 yards on 79 carries so far this season and ranks sixth in rushing touchdowns allowed at six.
As the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense and the Chiefs explosive offensive attack (ranked second in the league with a total of 129 points) creates wide leads that results in the opposition abandoning the run and going aerial trying to catch up as quickly as possible. So that looms large in Kansas City’s ability to stymie the run — but isn’t the only reason.
Kansas City’s defense is led by frenetic second-year linebacker Nick Bolton (38 total tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for loss). His energy and determination fuels the Chiefs as slot cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (32 total tackles, three sacks, and four quarterback hits). Those two are buoyed by defensive lineman Chris Jones (seven total tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss) and Carlos Dunlap (11 total tackles, two sacks). Fortunately for Las Vegas, Kansas City will be without linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (16 total tackles, two stops for loss) due to a four-game suspension.
In comparison, the Raiders ground game, fresh off its trampling of the Broncos, ranks 14th in the league in total yards at 452. In terms of rushing attempts, Las Vegas drops down to 23rd in the league with 91. Yet, the output is a very bright one for a Raiders team that’s played musical chairs with their offensive line as they rotate to find the best-five grouping. One would think four games deep into the regular season, the starting five is solidified but Las Vegas continues to tinker with Jermaine Eluemunor and/or Thayer Munford at right tackle.
Nonetheless, Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi notes the team is growing comfortable with an offensive line group of Kolton Miller (left tackle), Alex Bars (left guard), Andre James (center), Dylan Parham (right guard), and Eluemunor/Thayer.
“They’ve strung a couple weeks together that’s been pretty solid. We ran the ball very effectively this past week and they protected pretty decent against two really good edge rushers in (Randy) Gregory and (Bradley) Chubb,” Lombardi said during his mid-week press conference. “I think we’re stacking the days together. We talked about that two week ago. Stacking the days together in terms of making sure practice is good in the run game and protection-wise and it translates over to the game. I think that’s the same mindset every single week. I’m sure all those guys and everybody on the offense, they’ve erased Sunday. It doesn’t exist anymore.
“We’re going to come in tomorrow morning, and say, ‘Hey, this is a new day.’ We’re going to take the challenge ahead of us and try and stack Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday together to hopefully lead up to Monday night.”
Raiders head coach and chief play caller Josh McDaniels noted the team’s gameplan against Denver was to establish the run early and continue to drop healthy doses of Jacobs on the Broncos. The offensive line coupled with Jacobs’ ground superiority ensured the plan was executed. According to Lombardi, last week’s outburst was due in large part to practice performance translating into game day exploits.
“Confidence obviously comes from practicing well,” Lombardi said during his mid-week press conference. “I think that’s the number one thing and those guys had a really good week of practice last week and I think they went into Sunday afternoon saying, ‘You know what, we’re going to execute our job and we feel pretty good about getting the running game going because we executed in practice.’ So, again, it goes back to flushing it and moving on. If we don’t have a good practice on Wednesday and Thursday, we’re going to have a lapse in confidence on Monday night.
“We got to make sure that we come in here on Wednesday morning and say, ‘You know what, we got to really make sure we did a good job of executing the plan on the practice field’, because that’s really what gives us confidence for Sunday. It doesn’t really matter what’s happened in the game prior. It really happens on the practice field during the week.”
For the Raiders to excel once more on the ground, the offensive line must be in-sync and up to the task. It’ll take sound execution by both the offensive line, fullback Jakob Johnson, Jacobs, and any other ballcarrier, to pummel the Chiefs the same way the Raiders did the Broncos. A balanced attack would also do Las Vegas wonders especially considering the team is 3-13 in the last 16 outings against Kansas City and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is 1-7 overall in Arrowhead.
Coincidentally, the absence of tight end Foster Moreau ended up helping the Raiders run game last week — strangely enough. With Moreau missing the matchup with Denver, Las Vegas deployed offensive tackle Justin Herron at the tight end spot Moreau usually mans. This gave the Raiders extra beef up front as Herron reported eligible on the plays he lined up as the in-line tight end.