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

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The Nerd Squad breaks down the Raiders offense — and a concept we might see on Sunday.

Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs see their first repeat opponent of the year in the Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon. In their first matchup of the year, the Oakland offense had a couple of sustained drives in the first and third quarter. However, Steve Spagnuolo and the Chiefs defense made adjustments and helped shut down the Raiders offense for the second and fourth quarters.

This week, as we do every week, we’ll take a look at the Raiders personnel and a concept they might use. We’ll then break down what the Chiefs defense can do to slow down the Oakland offense.

The personnel

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

The Raiders personnel is largely unchanged since the last time I discussed them, with a few minor adjustments.

At wide receiver, the Raiders released Ryan Grant in September. They lost Dwayne Harris to IR, and rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow will miss this week due to a broken rib and punctured lung. Zay Jones and Marcell Ateman will be asked to pick up the slack in their absences.

When the Chiefs first played the Raiders, they were missing two key pieces along the interior of their offensive line. Both guards are healthy and back from suspension, with Gabe Jackson at right guard and Richie Incognito at left guard. With their return, the Raiders have found more success running the ball up the middle with Josh Jacobs and have given Derek Carr a better pocket to step into in the passing game.

The offensive concept: Picks and follows from condensed bunches

Say what you will about Jon Gruden, but the man knows how to scheme players open.

As the year has gone along — and with receivers growing into a more comfortable role in the offense — Gruden has dialed up more 11 personnel condensed bunch formations. Operating out of these formations helps the run game by compressing the defense and putting more blockers in the box on the playside. It also helps the offense by giving two players a free release and allows the offense to dictate some of the coverage responsibilities in the secondary.

Releasing the point man of the bunch up the hash and the Z receiver on a shallow drag creates two levels of conflict for the middle defenders. The middle hook is stressed underneath by the drag and over the top by the seam, forcing safety help. That leaves a defender in single coverage against the slot receiver, whether it be a man or zone coverage scheme.

The above play has the opposition in man coverage, and the slot tucks in underneath the point man on the release. As the point breaks to the middle of the field, the slot uses the natural pick to release out and up the boundary. With no safety help over the top, it’s an easy downfield throw for Carr.

Later in the game, the Raiders lined up in the condensed bunch with the same routes by the point man and the Z receiver. However, this time, the slot takes a horizontal step to release outside of the bunch and gets vertical. He then follows the drag route across to the open middle of the field for another easy completion and big yardage.

The Chiefs are going to have to play with quality leverage and communicate switches and releases quickly to stay on top of these play designs. That will be easier said than done when going against a run-first attack from these condensed bunches. Oakland leaned on Renfrow in these formations in the past weeks, and his absence might see a less savvy route runner in these situations this week.

The bottom line

Chiefs fans have watched this Raiders offense for enough years to know what’s coming. Carr struggles in Arrowhead Stadium, and especially struggles in the cold temperatures that he’ll see on Sunday afternoon. Those struggles will force the Raiders to turn to the run game early and often.

Oakland has some quality weapons in Jacobs, Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller. Even Foster Moreau could see more time with Renfrow out, and he could end up being a poor matchup out of 12 personnel against the Chiefs linebackers. There are plenty of avenues for Oakland to be able to move the ball against the Kansas City defense.

That said, Carr shouldn’t threaten the Chiefs downfield. That should allow Spagnuolo to keep his safeties a little closer to the box and offer some help in the run game against an excellent back in Jacobs. Limiting his ability to shake loose in the gap and burst into the open field is paramount to success against a porous Chiefs run defense.

Kansas City has done well to produce more negative plays in recent weeks, particularly on early downs. They also have produced more explosive plays on the resulting downs, allowing teams to sustain drives. Against Oakland, those explosive plays should be a little less likely due to a limited vertical passing game, making those early down stops count for even more on Sunday.