The first time the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders met this season, the Chiefs were dealing with a little bit of turmoil because of the release of Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs offense was expected to look a little off — especially the rushing attack — and face a few setbacks trying to figure out how to run the offense without such an impactful player.
The game came and went. Even though the offense didn’t look as crisp as it had through most of this year, the Chiefs still scored 40 points — scoring on on seven out of eleven significant possessions.
The offense was moving along nicely, and the Chiefs are looking to match or exceed that performance as the Raiders come into Arrowhead Sunday afternoon — with the first overall seed in the AFC on the line.
Because the Chiefs played the Raiders so recently, this Advanced Scouting article will look a little different. The overall game plan will remain the same, but this article will focus on what the Chiefs executed well against the Raiders five weeks ago — along with what they didn’t execute well.
Game plan keys against the Oakland Raiders
Where the Chiefs succeeded
Establishing a competent running game
The Chiefs recorded their second-highest rushing output in the first Raiders game — despite working in new feature backs to replace Kareem Hunt.
Spencer Ware led the charge, but Damien Williams looked equally impressive in his limited carries. But since that game, Ware has been dealing with injuries and Williams has been coming on stronger each week.
The Chiefs should continue to run the ball with a mix of inside zone, outside zone and power running plays.
The Raiders defensive linemen are smaller, gap-shooting players that don’t hold up well against double-teams when teams run inside on them. The double-teams that begin both inside zone and power runs really give the Raiders defensive line a difficult time. Stretching out of the defense with outside zone runs presents another set of challenges to the Raiders.
Chiefs had success running outside against the Raiders. Forcing the Raiders LBs to read and react quickly to the Outside Zone and then remain gap sound as not to over-run and offer up an inside lane. The added bonus of the jet motion + kick out block freezes the backside flow. pic.twitter.com/AGUbzk85Cs— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 28, 2018
Once Andrew Wylie seals the defensive end to the play side, it’s all on the Raiders’ linebackers to make this play. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t most athletic linebackers in the game, and they are slow to diagnose the play, so they flow to it late.
By the time the strong side linebacker recognizes the play and makes his break, Mitchell Schwartz is waiting for him, forces a passive angle and still makes an easy block. The jet motion — plus the pulling tight end — holds both the middle and weak-side linebackers in place.
Deep drop backs and deep routes
In the first game, the Chiefs were a little hit-or-miss on deeper routes. The Raiders struggled to bring consistent pressure, so the Chiefs were able to get players open downfield on longer-developing routes. They just weren’t able to connect on them as frequently as they would have liked — missing out on a few huge plays by a couple of yards.
The plan should remain the same: getting receivers vertical against a Raiders secondary that is very inconsistent — even though they have some promising talent. Both starting outside cornerbacks have a tendency to bite on double moves or get caught on their heels watching the quarterback, and their safeties don’t have ideal athleticism or eye discipline.
The Raiders lackluster pass rush combined with desire to play man coverage opens them up for longer developing routes. Add in the extra pre-snap motion and the defense has lost 1 WR and has a slot DB running across the field away from his leverage w/ no help. pic.twitter.com/E9P65SXsHZ— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 28, 2018
This play had the Raiders defense confused, as Hill ends up completely open in the flat while three defenders key on the running back in the flat to the back side of the play. The vertical route on the outside — combined with the slice route by Chris Conley in the slot — stresses the single-high safety to choose one or the other. The slot cornerback is playing with outside leverage, trying to force the receiver to his helping defenders. But when Conley carries vertical and there is no safety help, the cornerback has no choice but to grab him to prevent a big play.
Attacking zone coverage in the middle of the field
The initial game plan called for attacking the Raiders linebackers tasked with zone coverage in the middle of the field due to their use of pattern match coverage. This often put these linebackers picking up in-breaking receivers and having to cover them one-on-one — even though these players don’t possess great athleticism and aren’t adept in coverage.
Against the Chiefs, the Raiders mixed it up quite a bit by playing an equal amount of single-high and split-safety snaps — and the Chiefs took advantage of them. Whether attacking short, intermediate, or deep in the middle of the field, the Chiefs were able to make the Raiders pay for having less-than-mediocre athletes trying to defend great athletes.
The Raiders tried to protect over the top with split safety looks and the Chiefs had success making them pay between the hashes. Plays like this make KC so dangerous, it's a stick play designed to open up a hook for a 1st down. Mahomes sees MOFO, hits Kelce w/ no S occupying WRs pic.twitter.com/LGR50K0JWe— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 28, 2018
Given their weapons on the outside, It’s tempting to play split-safety coverage against the Chiefs, but you have to have a linebacker capable of running the alley with the likes of Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill. Patrick Mahomes’ arm talent always makes the space between the hashes open — even when there is no one occupying the two deep safeties — and they have made teams pay for it any time they see a healthy amount of Cover-2 or quarters coverage.
The Raiders lack the kind of linebacker that is great for this role — Seattle players like K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner are good examples — so these plays should be open for the Chiefs again. If the Raiders ditch the MOF-open shells, look for the linebackers to be targeted, as they will have to carry receivers vertically and horizontally with their match coverage.
Winning the isolated one-on-ones
In the initial game plan, this was specifically about Daryl Worley. The Chiefs did target Worley early in the game, and the Raiders ended up using him for about 30% fewer snaps than he had been seeing. Since that game, he has worked his way back into the rotation, but the point still stands: Worley has struggled mightily this year.
The other one-on-one matchup the Chiefs attacked — and should continue to attack — is their tight ends against Raiders safeties or linebackers. Both Kelce and Demetrius Harris were able to get open often, and the Raiders made it easy to isolate them on the back side of formations.
Whether Kelce or Harris, the Chiefs had success getting TEs split out and Iso'd against Raider defenders. When they got these 1 on 1s, whether in the slot or outside, it was promising.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 28, 2018
Ignore the miscommunication to sit/carry the route, the TEs were getting open often vs Oak. pic.twitter.com/GQFGdBoE7X
In this play, Harris is split out wide on the back side as a Y-Iso, and the Raiders have their help shifted to the strong side of the formation. Harris runs a simple slant, sells the outside/vertical release and gets wide open — but then has a simple miscommunication about sitting in the space and carrying through. This was one of six plays where the Chiefs were able to generate an open tight end against one-on-one man coverage against the Raiders — and they should continue to do it.
Where the Chiefs can improve
Skill positions in the open field
This isn’t to say the Chiefs didn’t find success getting the ball to running backs in the flat or hitting running back and tight end screens. They did have success. But they left some meat on the bone. The Raiders did a good job of flying out to the flats when they saw a running back angle in that direction, and between their emphasis on the flats and a few late or ill-placed throws, there is some room to improve in the rematch.
One of the few things the Chiefs didn't get going in the first meeting with Oakland was the quick passing game/screen game to the RBs. Good pursuit by Oakland on both and simple execution mistakes by KC cost them a first down here forcing a FG. pic.twitter.com/rmTIwcb184— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 28, 2018
Here we see a couple of execution errors — which aren’t normal for Andy Reid’s short game. On the screen pass, you’d like to see Mitch Morse stab or chip the nose tackle briefly to help Andrew Wylie get there quickly — or see Damien Williams trust his speed to beat the nose tackle outside because Wylie is cutting off his pursuit angle. The ball placement on the quick flat is just a little behind Williams, which forces him to slow down and gives him no real chance to pick up the first down after the catch.
The bottom line
Even though I just wrote about why the Chiefs offense may not be as elite as it was earlier in the year, they really did have their way with the Raiders defense in Week 13.
The few offensive failures were simply the Chiefs making simple mistakes in execution, rather than the Raiders actively stopping them — and the Chiefs still put up 40 points.
The Chiefs offense — with everything on the line — should come out firing on all cylinders, and pick up right where they left off during their last meeting with the Raiders.