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Five things to watch as the Chiefs play the Raiders

Get ready for the first Raider Week of 2020

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

In Week 5, the Las Vegas Raiders (2-2) will travel to Arrowhead Stadium and take on the Kansas City Chiefs (4-0). It’s the 122nd matchup between the two storied franchises — but it won’t feel quite the same.

This is the first meeting since the Raiders relocated from their long-time home in Oakland, California to a brand new, $1.84 billion stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. They still dawn the signature silver and black, their quarterback is still Derek Carr, but the transition to a new city changes the mystique of the Raiders to me.

There was something about the city of Oakland that made the Raiders seem more rigid and tough. Maybe it was the Oakland Coliseum, known for the section of fans called “The Black Hole” and incredibly poor facilities for visiting teams. Maybe it’s their history in Oakland: their days as the dominant bully of the NFL in the 1970s happened in Oakland and two of their three Super Bowls were won then.

Honestly, it’s probably just the change to Las Vegas. When you hear a reference to the city of Las Vegas, you think of bright lights, partying and gambling — three things that don’t really exemplify toughness or grittiness. I infer that their stadium audience will be more of a corporate atmosphere than a passionate one.

Am I saying that the Raiders got softer solely based on their move to Vegas? Yes, I am — and no, there is no legitimate logic behind that.

In the Chiefs’ inaugural matchup with Las Vegas, I have five things to watch:

1. Derek Carr’s performance in Arrowhead Stadium

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There’s one thing that will be in Carr’s favor for Sunday’s game: the weather. The forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures into the 80s — which is a big difference from what Carr is used to in his annual trip to Kansas City.

Carr has never played a game in Arrowhead Stadium earlier than Week 13 in a season. That means the game usually takes place in late November or December, when this region can start to see low temperatures. The California-born Carr has not been able to handle the Midwest cold so far in his career.

The Raiders are 0-6 in Kansas City under Carr’s leadership. They’ve averaged 9.5 points per game in that stretch — including 12 total points in their last two trips. Carr has averaged nearly 192 passing yards per game, and has thrown four total touchdowns while also tossing seven interceptions — including two in each of the last three matchups in Arrowhead. His highest passer rating in any of those games was a 77.1 rating from 2015.

With some warmer weather, maybe this trend reverses — or it has nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with Carr’s inabilities as an NFL quarterback. I’ll take the latter.

2. A bounce-back game for the Chiefs offense

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Chiefs offense was firing on all cylinders a couple of weeks ago, but their play came back down to earth in last Monday night’s win over the New England Patriots. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes pointed out his individual struggles in that game, but there’s reason to believe they will bounce back against the Raiders.

First of all, Mahomes has dominated the silver and black so far in his young career.

In the four games he’s played them, he’s led the offense to an average of 36 points per game. It doesn’t hurt that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is also dominant against Las Vegas; Reid is 12-2 against them since he came to Kansas City and has won the last five meetings.

The Raiders defense has also been exploitable this season. They allow the seventh-highest rate of yards per play in the league, the seventh-highest rate of yards per throwing attempt and allow a score on 53% of their defensive drives — the fourth-highest percentage in the league.

Their pass rush has also been nonexistent. They’ve earned four sacks this year — the second-fewest in the NFL. Three players lead the team in pressures with six on the season. For comparison, the Chiefs have four players with eight or more pressures this year.

It’s fair to expect a big game from the Chiefs offense in Week 5.

3. Covering Darren Waller

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Carr’s been bad in Arrowhead his whole career — but he hasn’t always had tight end Darren Waller. Waller has emerged as one of the most utilized receiving tight ends in the league. His 39 targets this season are the fifth-most of any NFL player, and by far the most for a tight end (Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has the second-most with 32). That being said, he is only averaging 8.4 yards per reception and has found the end zone just once this season.

He began to emerge last season, when he went up against Kansas City twice. In those games, he totaled 13 catches on 16 targets with 163 receiving yards and no scores.

The Raiders have used him as an in-line tight end and flexed out receiver, forcing the defense to use different players to cover him. In 2019, 10 different Chiefs defenders saw at least one target as the closest coverage defender to Waller.

Effectively containing Waller would be a huge factor in stopping the Raiders offense.

4. Getting the Chiefs run game going

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Since he ran for 138 rushing yards in his NFL debut, rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s production on the ground has significantly slowed down. He has totaled 166 rushing yards in the three games since Week 1. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the season opener — but only a rate of 3.6 since.

There is a staggering difference between when Edwards-Helaire rushes towards the left and when he rushes towards the right.

On the left side, you have veteran left tackle Eric Fisher, who has always excelled as a run blocker more than a pass protector. Also, former All-Pro left guard Kelechi Osemele, who is known for his ability to bulldoze a run defender with his brute strength. As the statistics show, running behind them has been a lot more effective this season.

Either way they run it in Week 5, the Raiders have struggled to defend rushing attacks. They have surrendered five yards per rush this season — which is the fifth-highest rate in the league. They’ve also allowed the most rushing touchdowns this season.

Expect Edwards-Helaire to finally have another good game on the ground.

5. The return of Bashaud Breeland

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

After serving his four-game suspension to open the 2020 season, veteran cornerback Bashaud Breeland was officially activated back onto the roster earlier this week.

His return was needed: rookie cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is out an extended period of time with a broken collarbone and cornerback Charvarius Ward is playing with a casted, clubbed hand.

Fortunately, cornerback Rashad Fenton played the best game of his young career in Week 4 — but reinforcements were needed regardless. Watch to see how big of a role Breeland plays in his first action of the year.