Happy Raider Week!
The Kansas City Chiefs will hit the road for the second consecutive week to take on their division rival — the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have not been competitive within the AFC West in recent history, but they looked great in their season-opening 24-16 win over the Denver Broncos. The Black Hole will be as rowdy as ever knowing this is the last time they’ll host the Chiefs in the Oakland Coliseum.
I have five things to watch in this Week 2 matchup:
1. Mecole Hardman stepping up
It didn’t take long for the injury bug to infect the 2019 Chiefs. Star wide receiver Tyreek Hill was only able to play 12 snaps in Week 1 before a shoulder injury took him out and will keep him on the sideline for an extended period of time. The awesome performance of receiver Sammy Watkins made the loss of Hill easier to swallow for fans — but the other wideouts will need to step up moving forward.
The player with the biggest opportunity to step up should be rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman. He may not be the most polished receiver yet, but Andy Reid can work with his blazing speed and quickness. The opposing defense will have to account for his ability to get behind the secondary — which should help the intermediate routes come open. Hardman has also shown that he can execute the creative pre-snap motions that Reid loves to use with Tyreek.
He was on the field for 53 offensive snaps in Week 1 — but the only target he saw was a dropped pass on a short swing route. He did out-snap his teammate at receiver, Demarcus Robinson, in the Jacksonville game. It’s safe to assume that Hardman will be more of a focus in the offensive game plan for Week 2. Look for Reid to get him involved with creative plays designed specifically for him. The quicker he gets comfortable with the ball in his hands, the better chance he has at getting his number called for big-play opportunities.
2. The Chiefs’ pass rush vs. The Raiders’ offensive line
The Chiefs’ pass rush only accounted for one sack in the Week 1 contest. That result was disappointing, considering the Jaguars had a third-string left tackle starting for them, but a comparison to Week 1 of 2018 gave the performance some perspective:
From my charting:— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 12, 2019
I've got 10 pressures/qb hits/hurries and one sack for the Chiefs defense on Sunday on 38 passing plays (including penalties).
I've got 9 pressures/qb hits/hurries and one sack in Week 1 against the Chargers in 2018 on 59 passing plays (including penalties).
The point of this statistical comparison is to show that there’s a lot of time left in the season for the pass rush to become more productive. The 2018 Chiefs went on to lead the league in sacks. Plus, the Jaguars were doing everything they could to stifle the defensive front; they were constantly using multiple tight ends to help slow down edge defender Frank Clark. All that considered, there is plenty of reason to feel optimistic about the Chiefs ability to get to the quarterback.
The Raiders offensive line was able to keep quarterback Derek Carr clean in Week 1. They limited the talented Broncos defensive line to no sacks and only five total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The credit could go to head coach John Gruden for scheming up quick passes to counter the Denver pass rush — and he would be smart to use that strategy again against the Chiefs. This puts the pressure on the Kansas City secondary to hold their water in coverage. If they can force Carr to hold the ball longer then he wants, the pass rush will have a significantly better chance at penetrating the protection and getting a sack.
Look for the pass rush to take advantage of some of the inexperience among the Raiders offensive line. Frank Clark needs to make more plays to get fans excited. If his performance last season against Oakland was any indication, he should be in for a monster game.
Frank Clark vs. Kolton Miller was a mismatch pic.twitter.com/fz0ozbDcLS— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 16, 2018
3. Pat Mahomes’ mobility
All Chiefs fans held their breath as they saw their MVP quarterback limp to the sideline after a second-quarter play in Week 1. He would return to the game without missing a snap — but it was obvious the sprained ankle he suffered was bothering him the rest of the day. He has been a full participant in practice leading up to Week 2 and shrugged off the severity of the injury when asked about it by the media.
“Nah, If you’ve played sports you’ve had ankle injuries before” he said in response to a question about if the injury was any different than a common ankle injury. “Right when it happened, I knew what it was, but I was glad I was able to get back out there and finish the game.”
Mahomes’ mobility is very important to his style of play. He is elite at throwing on the run, and he made multiple plays made in Week 1, highlighting how vital it is for him to move around and pass from outside the pocket. The first completion to tight end Travis Kelce came from Mahomes stepping up to his right and tossing the ball on the move. The second touchdown to Sammy Watkins happened because Mahomes was able to move to his left and bring the defense with him — allowing Watkins to be all alone down the right sideline.
Watch to see if Mahomes’ ability to move is still hindered against the Raiders. Either way, the star quarterback has shown admirable toughness and will undoubtedly still play at a high enough level to lead the offense to a high point total.
4. Containing Josh Jacobs
The performance from Raiders rookie running back Josh Jacobs in Week 1 was noteworthy. He accumulated 113 yards and two touchdowns on 24 touches — with 63 of his 85 rushing yards coming after initial contact, according to Pro Football Focus. The first-round pick was not sharing any carries, either; the other two Oakland running backs combined for three carries total.
The Chiefs didn’t get burned by Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette — but he was still able to produce 5.53 yards per touch. Fournette made some attempted tacklers look silly with quick jukes and subtle speed cuts in the open field — and it could be argued that Jacobs excels in those areas even more. The Chiefs linebacker group will have its work cut out for it in Week 2. Containing Jacobs may be the biggest factor in stopping Oakland’s offense.
5. A big day from Travis Kelce
The last time Travis Kelce went up against the Oakland defense, he had the game of his life. In last season’s 40-33 win over the Raiders in the coliseum, Kelce went off for 12 receptions, 168 yards and two touchdowns — all personal career highs. He’ll be looking to have a big game similar to that after a relatively quiet Week 1. He did make two 40-plus-yard catches in the season opener, but he only hauled in three of the eight targets he saw. The 37.5% of targets he caught is the second-lowest percentage of his career.
There are plenty of factors leading to the belief that the All-Pro tight end will have an All-pPo game. Kelce would have been going up against the talented first-round rookie safety Jonathan Abram — but his season looks to be in jeopardy after a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1.
There is a chance the Raiders defense will overcompensate to shut down Watkins after his big performance in Jacksonville. Also, if Mahomes truly is limited and the game plan involves getting the ball out of his hand more quickly, Kelce has shown that he can be Mahomes’ security blanket because of his ability to win on short, quick routes. I believe we’re in for a big day from No. 87.