When you’ve won as many football games as the Kansas City Chiefs have in the last two seasons, you don’t have many opportunities for revenge. But the Chiefs have taken full advantage of their few recent opportunities: last season, they beat both the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans in the postseason after losing to both teams earlier in the year.
They especially haven’t had many chances for revenge against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs have only lost three of their last 15 matchups against their divisional rivals. Nor have they allowed either of the previous two losses to snowball into another one; Kansas City bounced back each time with a multiple-score victory.
This time, they’re seeking vengeance for the 40-32 defeat they experienced in Week 5 — still the only loss of the Chiefs’ season. They’ll travel to Paradise, Nevada to play the Raiders in their new Allegiant Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
It should be a great game to kick off the second half of the season. Here are five things to watch:
1. Limiting explosive plays by the Raiders
The Chiefs’ most obvious issue in the first matchup was their deep pass defense. The Raiders had five separate plays of 42 yards or more — including passes to deep threats like wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Nelson Agholor. But based on how the secondary has played the rest of this season, these plays were an anomaly.
The Chiefs defense's five biggest plays given up of 2020:— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 20, 2020
1. 72-yard TD pass - Week 5 vs LV
2. 59-yard TD pass - Week 5 vs LV
3. 46-yard pass - Week 5 vs LV
4. 43-yard run - Week 5 vs LV
5. 42-yard pass - Week 5 vs LV
Even Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s big game was an outlier. The Raiders’ deep passing has been more effective this season, but Carr’s huge game in Kansas City drastically boosted those statistics.
In Week 5, Carr had six deep passing attempts, completing four of them for 219 yards and two scores. He went deep on 19% of his throws. For the year, Carr has had 28 deep attempts with 13 completions totaling 536 yards and five touchdowns. These account for 10% of his throws. That means that 31% of Carr’s deep completions — and 41% of his deep yards — came in the Week 5 game.
This week, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and safety Tyrann Mathieu gave Carr credit for his ability to take advantage of the holes in the Chiefs’ coverage during the last game — but they also made it clear they’ll be more prepared to defend the long ball in the rematch.
2. Chiefs’ changed up offensive line
Last time, the Chiefs’ starting offensive line was left tackle Eric Fisher, left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Austin Reiter, right guard Andrew Wylie and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz — the same group that had started the first four games of the season.
Since then, Osemele and Schwartz have left the lineup due to injuries. Reiter has been rotating with veteran Daniel Kilgore as the starting center, starting only one other game since Week 5. Fisher and Schwartz were both placed on the reserve/COVID list earlier this week, but both were removed from the list on Thursday. To pile on, fill-in right tackle Mike Remmers is questionable for Sunday’s game with a rib injury.
The last time around, the Raiders’ pass rush notably affected Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He had just a 30.8 passer rating when throwing against pressure, completing just one-third of his attempts and taking three sacks. In fact, the Raiders had one of their best pass-rushing performances of the season, with ten more quarterback pressures than in any other game.
The Raiders will be missing starting edge rusher Clelin Ferrell due to a positive COVID-19 test; in the first matchup, he led the team with nine pressures. However, the Raiders should have interior defensive lineman Maurice Hurst — who missed the Week 5 game — back on Sunday.
3. Matching up with Darren Waller
We already know the Chiefs will put an emphasis on stopping explosive, deep passing plays — but that may actually feed into the true strength of the Raiders’ offense. Tight end Darren Waller has separated himself as the NFL’s second-best receiving tight end this season. As with the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, he will benefit from fewer defenders in the intermediate zones.
In the Week 5 game, the Chiefs trusted safety Daniel Sorensen to cover Waller on a handful of occasions. In those situations, Waller caught all three of his targets for 39 yards — two of those being important first-down conversions. On the other hand, when Waller was covered by cornerback Bashaud Breeland, he was blanketed — leading to a forced throw and an interception.
It’s not always possible to match up a boundary cornerback to a tight end — especially when the wide receivers are also big threats — but the Chiefs may have to get creative. Cornerback Charvarius Ward’s combination of size and speed is a great counter to Waller’s physical ability; so is Breeland’s physique.
If they can find a way to prevent Sorensen — or linebackers like Ben Niemann or Damien Wilson — from covering Waller in crucial situations, it will be for the better.
4. A big day from the Chiefs offense
There are few games where the Chiefs aren’t expected to score a ton of points. But there are a lot of factors pointing to a very explosive offensive performance on Sunday night:
- The Chiefs are facing the Raiders after their bye week. Following a week of rest, head coach Andy Reid is 24-5 in his career — including the postseason.
- The revenge factor is real. Reid has commented on the Raiders’ victory lap from the Week 5 win; he’s subtly made it a point of motivation. Credit to him for spicing up the rivalry.
- Las Vegas put a majority of their starting defense on the reserve/COVID list at some point this week due to close contacts with Clelin Ferrell. Most of them have now come off the list, but that obviously hinders a week of game planning — and they could still hold some players out. Linebacker Cory Littleton — also on the reserve/COVID list — will miss the game.
- For the most part, the Raiders defense has not been good. They are below-average in scoring and total yards. Last week, they took advantage of struggling Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock and used bad weather in Cleveland to hold the Browns to a low-scoring game in Week 8. Besides those two games, they’ve allowed 32 points per game this season.
After all, the Chiefs offense played well the first time around; they just stalled a few times in the second half and then couldn’t catch up. There’s reason to believe they’ll be even more focused in Week 11.
5. Production from the Chiefs’ pass rush
In the first matchup, the Chiefs’ dangerous pass-rushing duo of Chris Jones and Frank Clark were nearly invisible. The two combined for just three pressures and one quarterback hit. That allowed Carr to make the big throws — and this time, such a performance from both of them will be unacceptable.
Now in his third NFL campaign, Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller has been playing exceptionally well, allowing just one sack on the season. Week 5 was one of three games where he allowed only one quarterback pressure. But Miller has missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury. He is expected to play on Sunday, but he may not be at his best.
Right tackle Trent Brown was on the other side in Week 5, but he was placed on the reserve/COVID list a few weeks ago and hasn’t returned. In his absence, Sam Young — a 33-year old veteran who hasn’t played a sizable role for a team since 2017 — has carried most of the load.
One way or another, the Chiefs’ star pass rushers need to make their presence felt on Sunday night.