Editor’s note: As we head into Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders, we welcome Matt Holder of Silver and Black Pride — our sister SBNation site covering the Las Vegas Raiders — for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1) 1. How well do you think the Raiders have done in dealing with all of the adversity that has come their way this season?
I think they handled the Jon Gruden email situation very well. The Raiders came out flat and lost to the Bears — which was Gruden’s last game after the first batch of emails came out. But in the two games after his resignation, they looked better than ever and had two convincing wins against the Broncos and Eagles.
As far as the Henry Ruggs situation, I think it’s still too early to say definitely one way or the other. Obviously, the Raiders looked terrible and suffered an ugly loss to the Giants last Sunday, but the emotions of the week were still fresh and I think how they look or respond this week will be more telling on how well they’ve dealt with the adversity. In my opinion, it’s reasonable to give them one week to “figure things out” but if it continues to be an issue, then I’ll be really worried.
With Damon Arnette, I’d be surprised if that has much of an impact on the field. Arnette was on injured reserve when that whole debacle happened and played his way onto the bench when healthy, so it was really just more of an embarrassing situation for the organization than something that could change the course of the season.
Publically, I think the Raiders have done a pretty good job handling these adverse circumstances — especially Derek Carr. Carr has said all the right things and has stepped up as a leader in the locker room which is what you’re looking for from a captain.
2) Does Las Vegas feel like home yet with the stadium opening to fans, or will it take a little while longer?
Well, it depends on who you ask, lol. I grew up about 30 minutes outside of Oakland, so the Coliseum — as much of a dump as it is — will always be home to me. I haven’t been to the new stadium in Las Vegas yet, but everyone I’ve talked to raves about it. Personally, it still feels weird that the Raiders aren’t in my backyard anymore so it will take a little while longer for me, but Vegas has really embraced the team and made fans feel welcomed.
3) The Chiefs and Raiders played out a couple of great games last year after a sustained period of Chiefs dominance over the division. Do you feel the rivalry is back and the teams are much more evenly matched these days?
I definitely feel the rivalry is back, especially this season. Sunday will be the first time in a while that the Raiders head into the game leading the Chiefs in the division standings, and I like how the Raiders match up with Chiefs, which I haven’t felt in years — even during last season.
New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has implemented a defensive philosophy similar to what has given Mahomes trouble so far this year. Bradley likes to sit back in coverage and uses one of the lowest blitz rates in the league but has still been able to get pressure thanks to Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. That coupled with Kansas City’s struggling defense levels the playing field. Plus, as you said, these two teams made for some epic battles last year, and the Raiders are a better team than they were a year ago.
4) Which defensive and offensive players should we Chiefs fans be aware of going into Sunday?
I think the obvious ones would be Crosby and Darren Waller. Those two are the best players on their respective sides of the ball and someone every team needs to account for.
Beyond those two, I’d say Nate Hobbs and Hunter Renfrow.
Hobbs is a rookie who is the Raiders starting nickel corner and should be up for the defensive rookie of the year discussion. He’s a good tackler — and with Tyreek Hill taking a lot of reps in the slot and being targeted in the short to intermediate areas more to adjust for the way defenses have played for Mahomes — that will be a crucial matchup that could go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game. Granted, I doubt Bradley will leave Hobbs on Hill one-on-one every play, but the two should line up across from each other a lot.
Coincidentally, Renfrow also plays in the slot, just on the other side of the ball. He’s been the most consistent offensive player for Las Vegas and is Carr’s security blanket — especially on third down. Even when Ruggs was in the lineup, Renfrow was Carr’s secondary option behind Waller; Renfrow is only six targets behind Waller but leads Bryan Edwards — who has the third-most targets on the team — by 24 so far on the campaign.
5) How does this one play out? Score prediction?
I’ll be a homer here and say the Raiders win in a shootout, 41-35.
I think Las Vegas should be able to put up points on Kansas City’s defense, and while I like how the Raiders defense matches up, I still have a hard time thinking Patrick Mahomes and Co. will struggle for much longer.