The 8-1 Kansas City Chiefs are coming off of a bye week and travel to play the Las Vegas Raiders for the first time in their new stadium. The last time these two teams met, the Chiefs defense struggled to stay on the same page, didn’t rush the passer well and allowed the most points of Steve Spagnuolo’s tenure in Kansas City.
I typically cover the bulk of the opposition’s personnel, but as I have in previous seasons, I’ll just cover the changes from the last time these two teams played. With that in mind, let’s dig into the Raiders’ personnel changes — and a concept we may see on Sunday. Then we’ll discuss how the Chiefs defense can try to slow them down — and avenge their only loss of the 2020 season.
The Raiders are fairly healthy on this side of the ball — especially compared to their defense — and their backfield of Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard and Devontae Booker all return from the previous matchup with the Chiefs. The Raiders will have rookie Bryan Edwards available at wide receiver and still will have Henry Ruggs, Hunter Renfrow and Nelson Agholor in the mix.
The biggest change from the last time these teams met comes at the right tackle position. Trent Brown is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for the second time this season and is expected to return after this weekend’s game. That should mean that the Chiefs will go up against journeyman right tackle Sam Young, starting his sixth game of the year for the Raiders.
The offensive concept: Return route from a condensed bunch
LV will use return routes in "gotta have it" moments.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 20, 2020
Condensed bunch puts the boundary CB in outside leverage. Point man with a deep drag keeps buzzing S parked for an extra beat. Out route from carries defender up. Return route sells flat, then back to the wide open MOF. pic.twitter.com/MsEgyUfhyA
The Raiders lead the league in third-down conversion percentage, just squeaking ahead of the Chiefs in the number two spot. While the Chiefs have been able to rely on Patrick Mahomes’ heroics on third-and-long situations, the Raiders tend to find themselves ahead of the sticks on third downs — winding up with plenty of third-and-short situations.
When the Raiders do find themselves in third-and-medium — or longer — situations, Jon Gruden’s got some good route combinations that pair well with his weapons. One of the calls he’s not afraid to use is a return route from a condensed bunch.
The return route is simple: the receiver releases in a vertical stem, fakes the out route, then cuts back inside to the middle of the field. When implemented from a good route runner, it’s a good way to beat man coverage from any alignment. However, when implemented from the boundary receiver in a condensed bunch formation, it can make it even more dangerous.
In a condensed bunch like the one shown above, the boundary cornerback is forced into outside leverage. This allows the cornerback to sit on a bubble screen, drive on the flat or switch and carry a receiver vertically if the offense crosses routes within the first five yards. It’s a common defense of a condensed bunch, and Gruden is able to take advantage of it.
Ruggs is the slot receiver, and his speed keeps the deep safety honest on his deep out route. Darren Waller is the point man of the bunch, and he runs a deep over, which holds the safety that is buzzing to the hook zone in the middle of the field. Renfrow sells the out route to the cornerback playing outside leverage, then whips back around to a wide-open middle of the field.
It’s a terrific concept that is well-designed to maximize the weapons that Gruden has at his disposal — further exacerbated by a blitzing linebacker to create even more space. The play itself takes more time than Carr is typically comfortable holding the ball, but the defense is unable to capitalize against a good offensive line. Spagnuolo will have to be choosy this week with his late-down blitzes because Gruden has plenty of plays like the one above to exploit them.
The bottom line
This Raiders offense beat the Chiefs defense on the ground and deep through the air in their first matchup. Carr had ample time to throw, and the miscommunications in the secondary resulted in the five most explosive plays the Chiefs defense has allowed in 2020. The weapons the Raiders added this offseason — and another year in Gruden’s system — definitely tipped the scales in Las Vegas’ direction in the first matchup.
However, I don’t expect this game to be a repeat performance from either side. From the Chiefs defense’s perspective, Spagnuolo has routinely limited scoring and explosive plays in his time in Kansas City. While it’s not surprising to have one of those tendencies broken at the same time as the other, it is surprising to have it happen against a typically non-explosive Raiders offense. Las Vegas only has three plays on the season that were longer than their fifth-longest play against the Chiefs. While the Raiders were able to capitalize in the first matchup, there’s little evidence to suggest that it should continue based on the whole of their season.
It seems obvious, but the Chiefs have to rattle Carr early in this week’s game. Carr was able to sit back in the pocket and step into deep throws — something he hasn’t been able to do the majority of his career. None of the Chiefs pass rushers were particularly good on the day, and they have to be excited to get another bite at the apple. Frank Clark will relish a matchup against a backup right tackle, and the return of Alex Okafor — third on the team in pressure rate among active players — could offer a bit more juice off the edge than the Chiefs have had for the past three weeks. The Raiders do have a strong interior offensive line, but Chris Jones has been able to find success in the past, averaging half a sack a game against Carr in his career.
I expect a major bounce-back performance from Charvarius Ward this week. He was victimized on a handful of the Raiders’ explosive plays in the first meeting and will definitely want to prove that to be an anomaly. The team also plans to return L’Jarius Sneed to the active roster as well. While it’s undetermined what role — or how many snaps — Sneed will play, it will certainly be a boost to the secondary to get his speed and ball skills back on the field.
This Chiefs team is going to be laser-focused against the Raiders. They have plenty of motivation — both on field and off — to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. I think the pass rush will be more successful than the last time these teams met, and I expect the secondary to be immeasurably better as well. The true test may come down to stopping the Raiders excellent rushing attack, but we’ve seen teams try that time and time again against the Chiefs. Only those that have the defense to slow down Mahomes have been able to stick to that game plan, and there’s little reason to believe that the Raiders can do just that.
The leaders on this team want this win back, and they want it in dominating fashion. The Chiefs defense is better than they showed in the last meeting against the Raiders, and I expect that better version on the field on Sunday. However, if they can’t force Carr off his spot early and some of the communication struggles on the back-end pop up again, this could be another long night with Gruden dialing up big plays.