The Chiefs begin the final stretch on Sunday with their second matchup against the Oakland Raiders. Three games left to decide their fate for the 2014 season. This Sunday will mark 27 days without a victory for the Chiefs, who now have an opportunity to get back on track against the same team who initially knocked them off of it.
Here are the keys for this Chiefs-Raiders AFC West rivalry game.
1. Stop RB Latavius Murray
Murray returned to the field this past Sunday but wasn't a huge factor against the 49ers. However, the Chiefs must stop the rookie back who ran for over 100 yards the last time these teams met. Murray has a unique combination of size and speed. The Raiders will attempt to double Dontari Poe and run Murray through those gaps. Kansas City must contain those run fits.
2. Win third downs
The Chiefs have struggled on third down in their three-game losing streak. The offense is 9-for-37 and the defense is 23-of-52. The Chiefs offense has to put themselves in manageable third and fives or better. The Chiefs can not afford five consecutive punts in the first half like it did against Oakland the last time around.
3. Get creative pressure
Bob Sutton needs to get creative in pass rushing situations. The defense attempted a package with Dee Ford, Justin Houston, Dontari Poe and Tamba Hali last week. The package of players was different but the rush lanes they were taking were the same as any other game though. There was no unpredictability for the offensive line. Sutton is a big proponent of getting the quarterback off his spot. It's a great concept but the only way you accomplish that is by attacking pass protections with twist, stunts and delayed blitzes. The Chiefs have been very predictable on defense. Offensive lines can gain a familiarity with the Chiefs pass rushes after a couple series. The lineman doesn't have to guess if he needs to pass off a stunt. The rush lanes will be wide and create a clean pocket with an easy job for the linemen to block. Derek Carr can be rattled and will get rid of the ball but only if you keep him on his toes.
4. Move the pocket
The coaching staff did a great job last week of using the pass to set up the run. Teams are no longer going to respect the Chiefs deep ball or the pass in general. Each team will want to stop Jamaal Charles, pin their ears back and play press man coverage. The best way to get the run game going is to utilize play-action passes, bootlegs and roll outs. The Chiefs found success with that against Oakland last time they played. Unfortunately it took them until the third quarter to do so. The offensive line continues to regress and the only way to give Alex Smith more time is to move the pocket, which makes it tougher for a pass rush to pin their ears back because the quarterback isn't staying at the same spot.
5. Find attitude
For three weeks the offense and defensive lines have been smacked in the mouth. While the defensive line responded at times in Arizona, the offensive line has been out to lunch since Seattle. The line of scrimmage needs to belong to Kansas City in this game and no team can come into Arrowhead and take that from them. That is what both sides of the ball need to believe. This team needs to take the fact that a team even showed up on their field as an insult. The Chiefs need to find that attitude if they want to make a run. Otherwise, it will spell the season's end.
6. Catch the ball
The last time a Kansas City defense had an interception was when Ron Parker intercepted an Austin Davis pass against the Rams ... in Week 8. It's Week 15 now. The Chiefs have not forced a game changing turnover on defense since Buffalo in Week 10. The defense has had their opportunities to come up with multiple interceptions during the three game losing streak. The Chiefs were plus-18 in turnovers last year; they are minus-five this year. Those missed opportunities lead to missed points which costs them wins. The defense needs to create more opportunities to get the ball back.
The Chiefs have struggled at closing out games. Whether it's a game winning drive that needs to be made or a defensive stand to hold onto victory, Kansas City must respond this weekend. They need to start fast on Sunday and stomp on the accelerator. If things get tough in the fourth quarter they must step up like they did in the Seattle game. The Chiefs need to find its swagger before it's closing time and some are out looking for new jobs.
The margin for error is gone. It's time to make a statement.