Fresh off of a week where the Kansas City Chiefs defense reigned supreme, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s crew should see a bit of a stiffer test against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders boast a good offensive line and some dynamic young weapons that head coach Jon Gruden would love to get loose in the Kansas City defense.
With that in mind, let’s dig into the Raiders’ personnel — and a concept we may see on Sunday. Then we’ll discuss how the Chiefs defense can try to slow them down — and further the distance between them and their AFC West foes.
The Chiefs are very familiar with Derek Carr, since he’s been the Raiders’ starting quarterback since 2014. He has struggled with the Chiefs in his career, tallying just a 2-10 record and a poor 59% completion percentage in those matchups. Carr has thrown just 15 touchdowns in those 12 games — offset by a back-breaking 13 interceptions.
Josh Jacobs is the lead running back. Gruden isn’t afraid to force-feed the ball to him; Jacobs averaged seven yards per carry against the Chiefs in his rookie season — and the Chiefs should be prepared for another heavy dose. Jacobs will be spelled by Jalen Richard, who is a good back in his own right. Devonte Booker could get some third-down reps.
Las Vegas is strong at tight end, starting with Darren Waller. Waller has a staggering 30 targets in their run-heavy offense; he is clearly Carr’s go-to option at receiver. Waller is a strong move tight end; defenses must account for wherever he is on the field. Jason Witten came out of retirement two years ago and is a smart, savvy player; the Raiders often use him as a blocking fullback or H-back. Foster Moreau is the Raiders third tight end. He’s a good all-around option in heavy multiple tight-end sets.
Las Vegas overhauled their wide receivers this offseason; the Chiefs will get a significantly different look in 2020. Rookie Henry Ruggs III is a dynamic deep threat — a speedster that few defenses have the personnel to counter. Bryan Edwards is another rookie who is a strong, physical receiver — best known for getting yards after the catch. The Raiders have also added Nelson Agholor as viable outside receiver depth. Second-year slot receiver Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones round out the wideouts.
The Raiders have a fantastic offensive line, starting with Trent Brown and Kolton Miller at offensive tackle. Brown is on the downside of his career, but is still a very good right tackle. Miller had a poor rookie season — but over the last two seasons, he’s progressed into a good left tackle. On the interior, Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson are quality players who can eliminate good players on the interior. Rookie John Simpson is at left guard — and is a potential target spot for the Chiefs.
The offensive concept: Yankee route combination
Gruden loves the Yankee concept, and having credible deep threats make him comfortable implementing it.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 8, 2020
12p forces base D, PA slows rush and forces LB's to step up. D brackets Waller, SS turns hips away from slot WR's deep route. CB doesn't ID and rotate deep, QB throws to space pic.twitter.com/4HIbg1qQlY
Jon Gruden is a good offensive mind who typically does well in maximizing his talent. This offseason, he’s put together quite a bit of it, allowing him to run a diverse set of route concepts.
One such route combination is the Yankee concept. Its foundation is a two-man route that consists of a front-side crossing route — usually a dig or a deep over — and a deeper crossing route that is usually a post or a deep over of its own. The concept is meant to stress deep coverage responsibilities — particularly against single-high safety looks.
While Carr doesn’t typically attack aggressively downfield, that hasn’t stopped Gruden from dialing up these deep passes to take advantage of the defense keying on run-heavy tendencies. By implementing play-action, Gruden buys Carr the extra time — particularly behind the Raiders’ good offensive line — to step up into the pocket and capitalize on the defense’s mistakes.
The natural tendency of the defense should be to play the run and attempt to take away Waller. This concept takes advantage of those tendencies, with safeties and cornerbacks biting on either the post or the dig, creating space for the other player in the route combination. Even though Carr isn’t an aggressive player, the blown coverage/late rotation allows him to throw into space without much risk.
In order to come up with the stop on these routes, the Chiefs secondary will have to have fantastic communication. In split-safety looks, the Chiefs will need to rotate and switch responsibilities as the routes develop. Both safeties will have to have strong communication; they’ll have to switch early as the routes develop to cut (or top) the other route.
In single-high safety looks — which are often used to keep an extra man in the box against the run — the communication from the dig cornerback and the deep safety/hole will have to be especially strong. As the deepest safety identifies the concept, he’ll have to communicate the route, allowing the cornerback to bail to a deep third, where he could undercut an underthrow for an interception.
The bottom line
The Raiders have a strong rushing offense, good weapons and a good offensive line. Against a young secondary — and a shaky rushing defense — this should be a matchup that Las Vegas likes.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, Spagnuolo has built a solid pass rush and a strong safety group. Carr can produce when he’s in rhythm, but really struggles when he’s been hit repeatedly. Chris Jones’ return should help collapse the pocket and speed Carr up — which is when he starts floating passes to the secondary. Carr likes to throw to the short middle of the field, so later in the game, Juan Thornhill and Tyrann Mathieu may find success driving downhill on routes.
Keeping a lid on Ruggs and Waller — without giving up too much underneath — will be the balance the Chiefs need when the Raiders throw; Gruden will lean on a strong play-action passing game to get their two most dangerous weapons free. The Raiders may only take 5-6 vertical shots on Sunday, stopping them will be a key to keeping the Chiefs’ stellar pass defense streak alive.
Jacobs and the rushing offense might allow the Raiders to milk the clock, attempting to reduce possessions for the Chiefs likely-potent offense. If they can fit the run well early in the game — and tackle better than they have — some early-down stops may be the difference between the Chiefs forcing a pass-heavy game script or a Raiders offense that keeps them in the game.