You really don’t know when it comes to games in the NFL. That fact gets further proven year after year.
Stop for a moment and think about it. When this season’s schedule came out and showed a Week 7 Thursday night marquee matchup pitting the Kansas City Chiefs against the Oakland Raiders, what did you picture?
I know it couldn’t have been this: an Oakland team that had already matched its four losses from all of last season against a Kansas City club whose only vice may be it can’t seem to stay on the field.
Thursday night, in my mind, is simple.
It’s desperation versus identity.
First, the desperation.
After starting the season 2-0, the Raiders have dropped four straight games, including two against division rivals Denver and
San Los Angeles.
Quarterback Derek Carr has not been himself all season, and his play has earned him a narrative we’re quite familiar with in Kansas City. No, really. Here you may find an ESPN article titled, “Why isn’t Raiders quarterback Derek Carr going deep?”
The offseason signing of running back Marshawn Lynch was heavily hyped, but through six games, there really hasn’t been a ton to be hyped about.
Former fourth-overall pick Amari Cooper averaged 72 yards a game last season, and this year he’s converted only 18 receptions on 39 of his targets and his production has dropped to 24 yards a game. Three Raiders—Michael Crabtree (304), Jared Cook (209) and Seth Roberts (157)—have more yards than Cooper.
And then there is the defense. The Raiders made waves this week by signing former San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman on Monday. And as of Thursday morning, he’ll start.
The move could have a lot to do with starting linebackers Marquel Lee (ankle) and Cory James (knee) both questionable, but with it, there is certain desperation. The Raiders allowed 83 rushing yards from Melvin Gordon, 73 from Javorius Allen and 95 from CJ Anderson the last three weeks, and as we well know now, Kareem Hunt will be no easy task.
Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are strengths (5.0 combined sacks), but the secondary may not be. Former Chief Sean Smith was benched last week, TJ Carrie and Dexter McDonald taking his place.
It’s a team that has had trouble scoring (No. 30, yards per game) and trouble defending (No. 23, yards per game), and it’s also one that can’t lose tonight.
2-5 and 0-3 in the division may be the equivalent of an early lights out for Oakland.
And then there are the Chiefs. I for one still believe in the “new Alex Smith.” But after last week’s 19-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are some doubters.
I’d argue it’s not so much an Alex problem more than an injury problem. The Chiefs were without Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif last week, and it showed.
Smith will need to find a better rhythm with Demarcus Robinson on Thursday night because with Albert Wilson questionable again, he will likely have no other choice. Smith missed Robinson twice against the Steelers at crucial moments in the game.
The Steelers also did a nice job containing Kareem Hunt on the ground, as he finished with a season-low 21 yards. That finish makes “Hunt-Bowman I” even more interesting, and the Chiefs will need to get Hunt going to help open up the passing game. Hunt only had nine carries last week.
Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill will look for rebound games and I would again expect De’Anthony Thomas to be even more involved.
With all those weapons against a questionable Raiders defense, you’d expect success as long as Smith has the time. Here’s looking at you, Zach Fulton and Cam Erving. Mitch Schwartz and Mack is another important battle to watch.
Lynch had to be wide-eyed after seeing Le’Veon Bell gash the Chiefs for 179 yards, and the Chiefs rush defense will need to do a much better job.
The team we watched the first five weeks of the season was absent on Sunday, leading me to question exactly who the Chiefs are.
Are they a dominant force that can sustain the injuries until the reinforcements likely arrive 10 days from Thursday, or was it a false identity all along?
Hopefully some answers in Oakland.