Here's the good news: I feel so... UNDEFEATED.
But now for the bad news:
It was Herm Edwards' first season in Kansas City the last time the Chiefs beat the Raiders at Arrowhead. Matter of fact, there are only three players on the current roster (Colquitt, Hali, DJ) that have defeated the Raiders at home. Is this real life? Am I alone in thinking this just doesn't sound right? You mean to tell me my beloved Chiefs haven't beaten the Raiders at Arrowhead since 2006?
Adding insult, Kansas City has claimed victory just once in the last six games versus Oakland.
Despite how bad we've perceived the Raiders to be in recent years, they certainly seem to have the Chiefs' number in head-to-head matchups.
The 2013 Raiders aren't unlike the Jekyll and Hyde versions we're used to seeing - great one week and wholly disappointing the next. At 2-3, Oakland has proved themselves as a formidable opponent despite an immense salary purge ($54 million in dead money) this offseason.
Second year head coach Dennis Allen is the youngest in the NFL. His defensive background reached its peak in 2011 as the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator, a season in which the Broncos improved dramatically in a number of important statistical categories.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson held the same position in Tampa Bay during Josh Freeman's impressive 2011 season and some might consider Freeman's steep decline a result of Olson's departure. He is flanked by first time coordinator Jason Tarver on the defensive side. Tarver was a co-coordinator (?!) at Stanford in 2011 and spent his previous 10 years working in various roles in the 49ers organization. Al Saunders, once a household name in Kansas City, is now a senior offensive assistant with Oakland who Olson has described as "invaluable" to the preparation of their weekly game plan.
For years it was a running joke that Al Davis would undoubtedly select the most impressive athlete in each draft class. Many reduced his scouting reports to 40 times, with primary examples in Darrius Heyward-Bey and Darren McFadden.
Strangely enough, Al Davis' parting gift before his passing was supplemental draft pick Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders starting quarterback. Pryor has shown dynamic ability both passing and running and despite his inexperience, has only turned the ball over three times this season.
Oakland's primary running backs Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings are struggling with hamstring injuries, leaving Marcel Reece as the possible starter on Sunday. Reece has an intriguing skill set with great size, decent speed and soft hands but typically lines-up at fullback and is used in more of an H-Back role. McFadden - arguably the most electric offensive weapon for the Raiders - may not play, but Jennings could suit up with a reduced workload.
Denarius Moore leads the Raiders in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He's an exceptional route runner with tremendous speed to create separation over the top. Rod Streater is the other starting flanker and has emerged in 2013 as a viable option opposite Moore. Rookie Mychal Rivera, a guy I was very impressed with while attending the Senior Bowl in Mobile, starts at tight end and has begun showing signs that he can be a legitimate threat up the seam. Jacoby Ford plays the slot and is one of the fastest players in the NFL but he only has six catches for 44 yards this season as the Raiders have struggled at times on offense.
Now we arrive at the offensive line, a group highlighted by center Stefen Wisniewski (injured), RT Tony Pashos (injured), and... LT Khalif Barnes?
Look: Pro Football Focus just released their first quarter grades and placed the Raiders' line at 17th after four games (Chiefs were 23rd). Contrary to popular belief, PFF is not always the bible of modern football grading. This Oakland unit has surrendered 18 sacks on the year. In fairness, seven of those came in Matt Flynn's only start of the season... that's still a seven sack game, though. The injuries to Wisniewski and Pashos aren't helping matters and both will be game time decisions for Sunday.
How to stop them
Thus far in 2013, the Chiefs have shown a propensity to allow the opposing team's "stud" to get his numbers while making a point of shutting-down all other offensive threats. We're not certain if this is strategy or happenstance, but the Raiders present a unique problem if this is indeed part of the game plan. Terrelle Pryor is the catalyst on offense for Oakland, this much is certain. I suppose you could point the finger to Denarius Moore as their "stud" that you might allow to get loose, but really it all comes down to Pryor's effectiveness.
In his Week 1 debut on the road at Indianapolis, Pryor ran for 112 yards on just 13 carries. That coupled with his combined 117 yards on the ground in the other three games makes him the Raiders' leading rusher on the season. Allowing him room to roam simply cannot happen this week. I would expect a lot of outside containment from Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, with an emphasis on getting pressure up the middle against Oakland's paltry interior.
Secondary play will be paramount this week. If Hali and Houston can keep Pryor in the pocket and the Chiefs defensive backs can blanket the Raiders receiving options, we'll see a number of "coverage sacks" from members of the defensive line. Dontari Poe's violent demeanor at nose tackle will play a vital role once again, hopefully resulting in another herculean performance.
There may be a lot of new faces for Oakland this season - as many as nine new starters, by my count - but their style of play hasn't changed at all. Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver believe that sacks and turnovers are the only way to win so they place a very strong emphasis on aggressive play.
Defensive end Lamarr Houston is the lone returning starter on the defensive line and he continues to play with a very high motor and well-rounded game. Houston has three sacks on the season and his counterpart, journeyman Jason Hunter, follows him with two. Veteran defensive tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker are both newcomers that are being given their first real shot at being full-time starters.
Former Bears LB Nick Roach starts in the middle and brings quality leadership and a tough attitude to a defense that was in desperate need of both. Kevin Burnett is on his fourth team in the past six years but leads the Raiders in tackles after two highly productive seasons in Miami. Rookie Sio Moore (another player I adored in Mobile) starts at the other OLB spot but has struggled mightily in his first few games and surrendered quite a few snaps to Kaluka Maiava.
Oakland's secondary is sneaky good but they're missing who might be their best player in Tyron Branch due to injury... and when I say best player, I really mean their best player. Brandian Ross has been a somewhat acceptable replacement, but the loss of Branch has been noticeable. Charles Woodson returned to the Raiders this season and has already shown the leadership and playmaking ability we've come to expect from the former Heisman winner. Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter are the starters at cornerback. Both are former first rounders now on their second team and it seems like the new system they're in has complimented them very well. Surprise first round pick DJ Hayden is starting to get his feet wet playing the nickel and has definitely flashed some of the ability that GM Reggie McKenzie fell in love with during the scouting process.
How to attack them
Truth be told, this Raiders defense has been a pleasant surprise thus far considering the complete overhaul they undertook in the offseason. I'm not sure what to make of their 13 sacks given that six of them have been registered by members of the secondary. Whether it's through creativity and disguise or just hard-nosed overload blitzing, clearly it's working.
The offensive line play has been the biggest weakness on the Chiefs in 2013 and I'm not sure there's much room for debate here. The communication in blitz pickup has been lacking but the bigger disappointment for me has been the run blocking.
My theory? It's been well publicized that Andy's first 15 plays are scripted, the majority of which have been passing. There's also been a significant difference in effectiveness with and without Anthony Sherman as a lead blocker. I spent 15 minutes looking for the stat and couldn't locate it, so forgive me - it was something like an average of less than two yards per carry with Sherman on the sidelines and over five when he's on the field. Point being: perhaps it's cliché to say that offensive linemen prefer run blocking, but maybe it would help them set the tone early on if Andy's first 15 plays weren't all coming from the freakin' shotgun.
Key advantages for Oakland
1. Mobile QB - I hate to simplify things so much, but this game really is all about Terrelle Pryor. The Chiefs' defense was embarrassing Tennessee until Ryan Fitzpatrick started using his legs. Clearly Bob Sutton didn't read Start Me Up last week. Perhaps more concerning is that Pryor is bigger, stronger and faster than both Vick and Fitzpatrick. Don't be surprised if the Chiefs' defense get beat for a long touchdown, something we'll simply have to get used to as the season wears on.
2. Run defense - Teams are only averaging 3.7 yards per carry against the Raiders and as mentioned, the Chiefs offensive line isn't exactly setting the world on fire in this department. If Oakland can somehow keep Jamaal Charles in check - which is a tall task, mind you - that leaves the game in the hands of Alex Smith... which isn't exactly an enviable position. The Chiefs have gotten leads early and relied on Jamaal in the fourth quarter, but what happens when/if that doesn't work?
3. History - Oof... 2006, guys. If you want some eye-popping specifics, check out today's Amateur Hour (with the ever-charming Sam Mellinger) in which we're quizzed on starting players for each team. If you can name the Oakland QB that started the last game the Chiefs won at Arrowhead, I'll give you a shoutout on the post-game show.
Key advantages for the Chiefs
1. Arrowhead Stadium - After visiting Nashville, I've come to the conclusion that a lot of NFL cities just aren't doing it right on gameday. Small sample size, but still. We're having a record flyover, attempting a record decibel level and oh yeah... our actual record is five and UNDEFEATED.
2. Momentum - Bear with me because this one is kind of a stretch... Kansas City has momentum for obvious reasons: we just toughed-out a road game against the best team we've played so far, plus we're still UNDEFEATED. For those of you that want to point out how well the Raiders played against San Diego late Sunday night, I counter with "well yeah... that just means they're gonna suck this week" and I think I'm right about this.
3. "Puff Puff Pass Rush" - An endearing way to gloss over our edge rushers' love for recreation, if you will. I just checked and we're still leading the league in sacks. Everyone seems to be contributing too, which makes Bob Sutton's job exponentially simpler. I mentioned earlier that I think the pressure may come from inside this week, so I'd be remiss if I didn't once again mention dat dude Dontari:
Dear Mr. Poe,
When we drafted you, I was terrified that you were going to suck way worse in the NFL than you did at Memphis ... and man, no offense but that wasn't exactly a stunning display you put on in Conference USA. I'd like to offer my sincere apologies and undying loyalty to you. I'll be more than happy to don a Red B for "Band-wagoner" on the 92 jersey I'm undoubtedly purchasing soon. I'd like to think that in time that B could stand for "Believer" instead ... No matter what though, I will never again question your skill or work ethic. You're a freaking monster.
Thanks for everything,
Ryan S. Hall
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, it's time for...
The Bottom Line
Did I mention that the Chiefs still haven't allowed an opponent above that 17-point threshold I'm always yammering on about? Color me confident, but I just don't see the Raiders bucking that trend. Terrelle Pryor is bound to have a few duds this season and his first experience at the Real Arrowhead looks like the perfect time for one to transpire.
I see the Chiefs getting on the board early once again and taking care of business the rest of the way. The Chiefs are the better team in all three phases and I fully expect KC to show that from start to finish. In what should prove to be the most complete performance of the young season...
Chiefs 24 - Raiders 9 - Ryan 88 (in-game tweets to make up for not getting cell service last week)