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Chiefs vs. Raiders: how the Chiefs offense beats the Raiders defense

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With the Chiefs offense healthy again — and the Raiders defense reeling from injuries — we’re likely to see an offensive party between the hash marks

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a bye week — and a big holiday — Kansas City Chiefs fans are itching for some football at Arrowhead Stadium. They are about to get it against a well-known opponent: the Oakland Raiders.

The Chiefs are looking for a bit of an offensive rebound after two games that haven’t gone exactly to plan — and the Raiders are fighting to hold on to their playoff hopes. Thanks to their vertical passing attack, familiarity with the Raiders defense and the extra time off, the game could provide a huge resurgence for the Chiefs offense.

Let’s look into how the Chiefs can go about beating the Raiders defense in Week 13.

Oakland Raiders v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Personnel

We discussed Oakland’s defensive personnel in detail before the Chiefs defeated the Raiders 28-10 in Week 2.

Since then, safety Karl Joseph — arguably the Raiders’ best defender — was injured and is out for the season. His young career has been up and down, but he was trending the right direction. The other starting safety — Lamarcus Joyner — has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. If he plays on Sunday, he’ll likely still be hampered with it. Finally, Vontaze Burfict is serving a league suspension and will be unavailable against the Chiefs.

In place of these three leaders, the Raiders will start safety D.J. Swearinger, cornerback Curtis Riley and linebacker Nicholas Morrow. They’ll join Tahir Whitehead and Erik Harris in a in the middle of a Raiders defense filled with players who are likely best suited to be in situational roles. Given the injuries they’ve suffered between the hashes, the Raiders have been reeling when teams have attacked them there.

Travis Kelce, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman all had success over the middle of the field when they played the Raiders in September — and that was with a healthier, better defense arrayed against them. But the Chiefs are now healthier on offense; Tyreek Hill and Eric Fisher are back, joining a full-strength Patrick Mahomes.

The Chiefs offense is set up for a party between the hashes.

Safety play

The Raiders predominately play man coverage on defense, interchanging single and two-high looks from their safeties. Unfortunately for them, their cornerbacks aren’t good enough to consistently lock down opposing wide receivers play after play. They need assistance from their help defenders — the safeties over the top or the linebackers underneath.

On this play, the cornerbacks get neither.

The Raiders are blitzing, so the other underneath defender is occupied. Meanwhile, the safety isn’t doing anything good. After identifying the vertical push, the safety takes nearly two full seconds to stop and turn back inside on what should have been a free pass breakup or an interception. Once the receiver makes the catch, the closing safeties demonstrate their lack of athleticism by whiffing on the tackle.

In their first meeting, the Chiefs had success attacking the Raiders safeties with Hardman and Robinson. Based on what the Raiders have shown lately, that may have been only been a precursor of what is to come.

Linebacker play

Assuming the Raiders use their safeties to protect over the top, there should be a lot of space in the intermediate area of the field; when playing safeties deeper than usual, it falls on the linebackers to cover more ground.

In theory, this can work, as it forces teams to take shorter passes. A team that is good at tackling — think the Indianapolis Colts — can keep everything in front of them. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they simply don’t have linebackers who are good enough to do that. They don’t tackle well in the open field — and even worse, they aren’t rangy in coverage.

On this play, the run action pulls both linebackers forward — but even upon identifying a pass and the need to drop back into coverage, they simply cover no ground. Even if they drop to an adequate depth, the linebackers just don’t have the coverage skills to match NFL athletes.

In September, Kelce did most of his damage over the middle of the field and after the catch. With Hill’s return — and less attention falling on the big tight end — he may top his seven-catch, 107-yard performance.

Zone coverage

Against the Chiefs, most teams prefer to play man coverage, but with Hill’s return — and the Raiders’ inconsistent cornerback play — they may run more zone coverage. The good news for the Chiefs is that the coverage won’t really matter; the Oakland linebackers and safeties will still have to cover someone or some area of the field. Whether it’s from communication issues, delayed reaction times or a simple lack of athleticism in space, the Raiders are vulnerable at all levels.

Here, after passing a wide receiver off to another dropping defender, the slot cornerback drives on an underneath route, opening up the deep dig route right behind him. The outside cornerback expects help, so when his underneath man bails, he loses it. Since there is only one vertical route (on which they have bracket coverage), the deep safety should be driving sooner, but he is late coming downhill.

Whether it’s help coverage or primary zone coverage, the Raiders defense simply doesn’t have any deterring forces in the middle of the field.

The bottom line

Based on their recent past — and how bad they looked against the New York Jets last week — it’s easy to overlook the Raiders. But divisional games are rarely that easy.

This game may be one of those anomalies, though. The Chiefs offensive strengths match up perfectly with a major defensive weakness — one of the NFL’s worst. Defending Kelce, Hill, Hardman and Sammy Watkins over the middle of the field — with Mahomes at quarterback — is no easy task for even the most talented defenses. But when your defense already lacks talent — and then gets hit by the injury bug?

On Sunday, the Chiefs’ should have huge a day through the air, making a big statement as they come off their bye week.