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Raiders vs. Chiefs: Area of Concern

Can Patrick Graham’s Las Vegas defense marginally disrupt Andy Reid’s Kansas City offense?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid’s (right) Kansas City Chiefs offense is a domineering group that can score at will. Can the Las Vegas Raiders defense marginally disrupt Big Red?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Defending the juggernaut that’s the Kansas City Chiefs offense can be absolutely ridiculous at times. Andy Reid’s Big Red Machine is the top-ranked unit in the league in points scored (465) and yards gained (6,683) heading into the final week of the regular season and shows little signs of slowing down.

Stopping — let’s be real here: marginally disrupting — the Chiefs offense is a tall task for Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. His unit is ranked 25th and 26th in points allowed (387) and yards yielded (5,867) and is coming off a game where the San Francisco 49ers racked up 454 yards and 37 points.

Saturday afternoon’s final clash between the host Raiders and visiting Chiefs has the makings of a fireworks display with Las Vegas likely to be burnt by the firepower.

In 17 games, the 13-3 Chiefs were held under 20 points only once this season — a 17-point output in a 20-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts way back in Week 3. Flip it to the 6-10 Raiders, and the least amount of points they allowed was 13 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 13-10 loss two weeks ago. Of course, the cold along with a rookie quarterback captaining Pittsburgh played a part in that.

Against Kansas City, Las Vegas finds itself trying to stymie quarterback Patrick Mahomes who’s thrown for 5,048 yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His top target, the ageless Travis Kelce. The 33-year-old tight end has 104 receptions for 1,300 yards and team-leading 12 touchdown catches for Kansas City this season. The second-highest touchdown receptions count goes to versatile tailback Jerick McKinnon with eight. He’s hauled in 54 passes for 512 yards.

Covering running backs out of the backfield isn’t a Las Vegas strength and expect Kansas City to exploit to the extreme. Especially considering the Raiders linebacker unit is decimated by injury and beset by ineffectiveness. The loss of middle linebacker Denzel Perryman (shoulder injury) has opened up snaps for undrafted free agent Luke Masterson and others. And like Perryman, Masterson is a better run defender than cover man. The depth at linebacker is so thin that veteran Harvey Langi was signed off the street and ended up starting against San Francisco. He played 45 snaps (67 percent of the Raiders total defensive count) and finished with nine total tackles.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) is second on the team with eight touchdown catches.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s a takeaway from the Raiders and Chiefs initial meeting of 2022 — a close 30-29 win by Kansas City back in Week 5 — is Las Vegas defense limited Kansas City to 10 first-half points. As you can see, the flipside of that is the Raiders allowed 20 second-half points in the narrow defeat. The lack of complementary football contributes heavily to this, however. In five losses in which Las Vegas held the halftime lead, it was outscored 113-32 in the second half.

The inability to add onto their lead on offense dampens the ability of the defense to prevent points and the result speaks for itself.

Last Sunday’s loss to San Francisco was one of the few times where the offense was game and scored 17 points in the first and second halves while the defense floundered throughout. Of course, Las Vegas defense was down to defenders who would be special teamers on better-built teams.

Plenty of blame belongs on Graham’s shoulders. After all, he’s the defensive coordinator — talent deficient or not. Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels isn’t one to blame one particular individual and backs Graham as defensive boss.

“I think Pat’s done a great job of that, our staff has too. And look, these are our guys,” McDaniels began. “These are our guys, and so whether we drafted them, signed them, or they were here before we got here, it doesn’t make any difference in football, like this is our team. So, to me, we coach them all the same. We don’t look at how they ended up here. That’s not what we’re judging. What we’re judging is what they do on a day-to-day basis. And our job is to try to help them improve. In many cases, especially some of our younger players, have really showed some progress throughout the course of the season.

“We’ve played a ton of players on defense. That’s an exciting thing as we move forward. I know not everybody’s excited about that at the moment, but that’s a good thing as we progress here. Look, any blame, I mean, like I said, we all share it. It starts with me.”