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5 things we learned as the Chiefs stomped the Raiders at Arrowhead

What did we learn from Kansas City’s 48-9 beatdown of Las Vegas?

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs improved to 9-4 on the season with a convincing 48-9 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.

Here are five things we learned.

1. If you dance on the Chiefs’ logo, they’ll dance on your grave

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, you will see this clip a lot. Before kickoff, Raiders defensive end Yannick Ngakoue gathered his team at midfield — on the Chiefs’ logo — to get pumped up for the game. The Raiders’ pregame antics picked up where their postgame antics left off the last time they were at Arrowhead — when they took a victory lap around the stadium in their team buses after a 40-32 win over the Chiefs.

Once the game clock started to run, it didn’t take long for Kansas City to respond. On the first play from scrimmage, Jarran Reed pried the ball from the hands of Raiders running back Josh Jacobs — and Mike Hughes scooped it up, returning it 23 yards for a touchdown. With that, the floodgates opened — and the Chiefs would not let them close until the clock hit triple-zeroes.

After huddling on the logo before the game, the Raiders’ offense would not return to midfield until 28 seconds were left in the first half. Las Vegas would end that drive with three points — cutting Kansas City’s lead to 35-3 at halftime. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the 32-point deficit at the half was the Raiders’ second-largest in franchise history.

And it would only get worse. In the second half, the Chiefs extended their margin of victory to 39 points — making Sunday’s game the biggest blowout in the 62-year history of the Chiefs-Raiders rivalry.

Everyone on the Kansas City side — fans, players and even head coach Andy Reid — wanted to blow the doors off Las Vegas. After they did, the Chiefs sent the Raiders packing in style.

2. The turnover battle is turning back in Kansas City’s favor

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

After losing the turnover battle in six consecutive games (beginning in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Chargers), the Chiefs have now won it in five consecutive games. Part of the turnaround can be attributed to luck — and an inevitable regression to the mean.

For example, in the second quarter of Sunday’s game, a botched handoff between Patrick Mahomes and Clyde Edwards-Helaire bounced off the turf and right back into the running back’s hands. Two plays later, the Chiefs were in the end zone. It was a stark contrast to earlier in the season, when it seemed like every fumble the Chiefs made bounced to their opponent.

Attributing the positive trend to luck alone, however, would overlook the work the Chiefs have put in on defense. Kansas City’s suddenly opportunistic unit has created 13 turnovers in its past five games — seven interceptions and six fumbles. On Sunday, the defense forced the Raiders to cough up the football five times.

And forced is the operative word. Each of Las Vegas’ turnovers on Sunday was caused by textbook plays from Kansas City’s defense — the kind that arise from hours spent in defensive drills. After the scoop-and-score to start the game, the Chiefs almost (and should have) notched another one in the fourth quarter, when defensive end Alex Okafor came up with a strip-sack of Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr. In addition to his opening touchdown, Hughes caused two fumbles in the game — both when he wrapped up the offensive player with one arm to secure the tackle and punched the ball out with his other arm. The game’s only interception occurred when Daniel Sorensen broke up a pass that Tyrann Mathieu swarmed and intercepted.

Sometimes the ball bounces your way — and in others, it doesn’t — but the Chiefs are doing everything they can to skew the odds in their favor.

3. The Chiefs look more prepared for the trench warfare of the playoffs

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Football is won or lost in the trenches; it’s one of the game’s oldest sayings. And on Sunday — for at least one game — the Chiefs proved it to be true.

Kansas City’s defensive line held the Raiders to just 44 yards on the ground — and it dominated the Las Vegas offensive line on passing downs, too. The Chiefs pressured Carr 12 times in the first half — the most the quarterback has faced during a first half in all of his eight seasons in the league. The unit would continue to apply pressure in the second half — getting home to sack Carr a total of four times.

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs rushed for 132 yards behind the push of their offensive line. Kansas City’s interior offensive line, in particular, put forth another dominant performance. The Chiefs’ tackles followed suit in the running game — but they surrendered three sacks to the Raiders’ edge rushers. Fortunately, Kansas City should soon have reinforcements on the outside.

Encouragingly, the Chiefs’ role players played a large part in the team’s success in the trenches. Alex Okafor registered one and a half sacks and two quarterback hits on Sunday. Tershawn Wharton added another sack and two quarterback hits. Mike Danna had a quarterback hit that almost caused an interception in the end zone.

Kansas City’s second-string offensive line also played well — paving the way to 66 rushing yards (on nine carries) for running back Derrick Gore. After Okafor’s strip-sack in the fourth quarter, reserve offensive linemen Austin Blythe and Nick Allegretti — alongside starter Trey Smith — created a massive running lane that opened the door for Gore’s 51-yard touchdown run.

Come playoff time, the Chiefs will need to be stout in the trenches to make a run. Sunday showed they are heading in the right direction — and they have the depth to keep it up.

4. The offense is finding its balance

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City’s running backs turned in another stellar performance on Sunday. They accounted for 170 total yards and scored four of the team’s five offensive touchdowns.

Yet unlike in previous weeks, it was clear that their play was adding to the offense’s production, rather than making up for a lack of production elsewhere. Josh Gordon and Mecole Hardman returned from relative obscurity — the former catching his first touchdown pass of the season and the latter amassing 59 yards through the air. Tyreek Hill caught all four of his targets for 76 yards. Byron Pringle added a 28-yard reception.

The first touchdown drive by the Chiefs’ offense illustrated why that balance matters. Early in the game, the Raiders had made a point to beat up Travis Kelce at the line of scrimmage — resulting in multiple incompletions and growing frustration for the star tight end. Several times this season, that frustration has boiled over as the Chiefs struggled to adjust to their opposition blanketing Mahomes’ favorite target. Sometimes, Mahomes would continue to force the ball to Kelce — causing uncharacteristic turnovers by the quarterback and uncharacteristic drops by the tight end.

This time, Reid flipped the situation to his advantage. After Raiders’ safety Tre’von Moehrig defended an incomplete pass to Kelce on third-and-8 — which was nullified by a defensive offside penalty on Ngakoue — Reid dialed up a brilliant play call on the ensuing third-and-3. Kelce split out wide and motioned back toward the Chiefs’ offensive line — bringing Moehrig with him. At the snap of the ball, he ran a route to the inside — engaging a linebacker and dragging Moehrig in even farther. Mahomes flipped an easy pass out to the flat to Darrel Williams — who has emerged as a reliable pass-catching option — which went for a 23-yard touchdown.

With 14 weeks of football under their belt — and a mostly-healthy roster — the Chiefs’ offense looks like it has the experience and the playmakers to pick defenses apart in myriad ways. If it maintains the poise it showed on Sunday, defenses will be hard-pressed to find a solution to every one of them.

5. The deep ball is a sleeping giant

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As a welcome byproduct of the Chiefs’ balance, the deep passing game raised its head from a weeks-long hibernation on Sunday. On the first touchdown drive, Hardman hauled in a big 44-yard reception — his longest since Week 6. Hill’s 38-yard grab during the first drive of the third quarter was his longest since Week 4.

Hill’s reception put him over 1,000 hard-earned yards this season. It also reminded us of the special connection between Mahomes and the speedy receiver — which feels like it has been dormant for a while. On the play, Mahomes scrambled left and threw across his body — well, across the entire field — to hit Hill just outside the numbers.

Crucially, the Chiefs were even able to capitalize on the plays they didn’t make in the deep passing game. Lost in the dialogue about Kansas City’s deep-ball struggles, the Chiefs were dead-last in the league at drawing defensive pass interference (DPI) calls entering Week 14. Over that stretch, the Chiefs only managed to draw a single DPI call — which accrued 1.2 Expected Points Added (EPA).

In the second quarter of Sunday’s game, Hill drew the Chiefs’ second DPI call of the season on a deep pass from Mahomes. The penalty amounted to a 30-yard gain for the Chiefs, which would have been their third-longest reception of the night.

Quietly, Mahomes and company are back to accounting for 100-plus yards of offense in the deep passing game. Here’s the question: will they be able to sustain that production down the stretch — and against stiffer competition? Against the Chargers on Thursday night, that’s one of the things we’ll start to learn.

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