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Well, hello there – and a very Merry Chiefsmas to you!
The Kansas City Chiefs are set to play this coming Monday, Christmas Day, at Noon Arrowhead Time at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s an AFC West matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders, and an important one: With a victory, Kansas City will win its eighth straight AFC West title.
It’s the first time since 2016 that Chiefs fans have been gifted with the holiday matchup. That game featured an AFC West opponent, too: the Denver Broncos.
Ready for a blast from the past? The touchdown scorers in that game (other than Travis Kelce, of course) were Tyreek Hill and Demetrius Harris – and the touchdown passers were Alex Smith… and Dontari Poe.
Who knew that the best Christmas present of the day would be the Bloated Tebow?
But let’s fast forward.
Below, my counterpart, Bill Williamson of Silver and Black Pride, helps preview the matchup (and the upcoming Las Vegas offseason), and our Rocky Magaña discusses three Chiefs players to watch down the stretch of the season. First, though, my thoughts of the moment:
I think the best part of Rashee Rice’s breakout is there is still legitimate room to grow… and he knows that.
We raved on these pages about the recent play of rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice. Over the past four games, forget rookies: His numbers rival those of all NFL receivers. And the best part of that is that Patrick Mahomes sees this recent breakout as just the beginning.
I asked the quarterback about the ceiling for Rice, and it sounds like right now, there is none.
“He’s still got a lot he can improve on,” started Mahomes, “which is crazy to say. He’s had such a great season, but just the little things that NFL receivers do.”
That “Patrick-friendly” stuff.
“He’s got the explosiveness,” continued Mahomes. “He knows how to run the routes. The nuance and how you run the routes – how you set one route up to run another one. I’ll say this: He’s taken from the veterans – Marquez (Valdes-Scantling), from Justin Watson, from Travis (Kelce). He listens, and he learns as much as he can [and tries] to take that in. I think that’s why he’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on.”
Following up with Rice on those little things, he showed humility. He thinks he can still get better at “everything.”
“I’m young, and I feel like every time I’m out there – there’s vets on the field all the time – every time I’m out there, I’m looking to learn something from all those guys. If it’s the smallest thing or even if it’s the biggest thing, I’m going to try to put it in my game as soon as possible.”
That energy led to a rookie record, and Mahomes was sure he got Rice the ball.
“I cherish that moment when it happened, but I look forward to many great moments,” concluded Rice.
He’ll need to average 85 yards a game the rest of the season to become the first 1,000-yard rookie receiver in Chiefs’ history; right now, that seems doable.
I think we can expect a full-go Isiah Pacheco this week against the Raiders.
In-season surgery is never a good thing, but Pacheco managed to make it back to practice after a two-game absence following a shoulder cleanup.
I believe Clyde Edwards-Helaire was refreshingly strong in Pacheco’s absence, and Edwards-Helaire no doubt deserves his flowers, but there is no running style in the game right now angrier and more violent than that of the second-year Rutgers product.
I checked with head coach Andy Reid about Pacheco’s status before Monday.
“I think [Pacheco will] be a full workload (against the Raiders),” said Reid. “With that, we’ve got backup relief if he needs to come out. Clyde, we’ve got all kinds of confidence in Clyde stepping in.”
That’s very positive news against a Raiders team that ranks No. 22 (DVOA) against the run. Reid fed “Pop” the last time they saw Vegas, giving him 20 touches that turned into 89 scrimmage yards and two scores. With the running back desiring to make up for two missed games, Monday is projecting to be a bad day to be a Raiders’ defender.
I think that Chris Jones’ supportive, lighthearted moment on Thursday is an unfortunate sign of things to come.
The eight-year Chiefs had a very amusing session with the press on Thursday, poking fun at himself about how he handles Christmas in his house and discussing the challenging task ahead (no, not the Raiders – making Christmas cookies for Santa with his kids).
Eventually, the conversation shifted to the play of his teammate, second-year defensive end George Karlaftis, and he revealed the two have been discussing a very special potential upcoming moment in his life.
“He needs to get 10 (sacks),” smiled Jones. “He needs to get 10. We’ve been talking about it all week. I’ve been bustin’ ba…
“I mean, I’ve been giving him crap.”
Jones cleaned it up before getting serious.
“I’ve been giving him crap all week, man. I think it was one of his goals coming into the season, to make sure he had double digits, and I want to push him to get that. He works so hard during the season and during the offseason. Me and him talk about it a lot. I think it would be another milestone for his career.
“To reach that, we’ve got three more games left, and I think if he’s able to do it, it would be tremendous for not only his confidence and his game moving forward, but give him something to build off of.”
Jones said he senses a growing maturity in Karlaftis and, with that, a better understanding of the game. Then came the playful reality.
“Like I told him, ‘You continue to double your sack count, oh my God!’” laughed Jones. “You’re going to kick me to the curb out of this place, man! You’re going to get me up out of here!
“But yeah, I’m a cheerleader for George, man. I want him to excel.”
I tend to think we’re entering the last stretch of Jones in a Chiefs uniform. If that’s the case, I’ll miss days like Thursday when he can seamlessly mesh humor and richness in a 10-minute press session.
Perhaps Karlaftis’ 10th comes on Christmas against the Raiders; it seems Jones wants nothing more.
3 questions on the Raiders with Bill Williamson
Bill Williamson is the editor-in-chief of Silver and Black Pride. He has been an award-winning sports journalist since 1990. He has covered the NFL since 1996, and he has covered the Raiders since 2008.
63 points against the Los Angeles Chargers. Is another offensive explosion repeatable over the next three weeks in your mind? Why or why not?
BW: I’m not sure 63 points is attainable for any NFL team in the final three weeks. That was historic. In terms of what to expect from the Raiders offense on Monday in Kansas City, I’m truly at a loss as far as realistic expectations go. Remember, this team was shut out (coming off a bye week) four days before the 63-point explosion (the offense scored 49 points and the Raiders had two defensive scores). The Raiders’ offense had scored more than 20 points twice all season before the Chargers game and had scored 46 points in the previous four games combined. So truly, who knows what we should expect in Week 16? With that said, I do expect a spirited offensive approach, and if they do have some success at Arrowhead, I wouldn’t be shocked.
Chiefs fans know what to expect from players like WR Davante Adams and DE Maxx Crosby. Who are the under-the-radar players who have stood out to you this season?
BW: On offense, guard Greg Van Roten has been tough. He has been excellent in pass protection, and he has had some big moments in the run game. Van Roten was an afterthought signing in May. He was a roster bubble player who took over in training camp and has not looked back.
On defense, there are a lot of defensive players who are carrying their weight, which hasn’t happened a lot in recent seasons for this team. While there are choices, I’m going with the hot hand in third-round pass rusher Malcolm Koonce. He has been exactly the help that Maxx Crosby has needed. Koonce has been coming on strong, according to Pro Football Focus, and has registered at least four pressures in each of the past five games (Including Week 12 against the Chiefs). He had two sacks with strip fumbles against the Chargers. One resulted directly in a touchdown and the other led to a touchdown. He’s an exciting force right now.
At 6-8, the Raiders are once again looking toward the future for ideal results; what does the perfect offseason look like in Las Vegas?
BW: Well, that all depends on who the general manager and head coach will be. Then the attention goes to quarterback, and it could be Aidan O’Connell. So there are so many unknowns. But let’s say, in the eyes of fans right now, I think the ideal offseason will be Champ Kelly staying as GM and Antonio Pierce staying as the coach, and then they get in a position to draft a quarterback such as Jayden Daniels (who was with Pierce at Arizona State) in the first round. Then, spend free agency and the rest of the draft filling out the roster, starting with more defensive help and some investment on the offensive line, and finding a way to keep running back Josh Jacobs. That all would make it a pretty productive offseason in Las Vegas.
3 players to watch as the Chiefs make their yearly postseason push
By Rocky Magaña
The Chiefs are coming off a much-needed win in New England. Despite the issues around consistency and ill-timed mistakes, there were bright spots: guys who showed flashes of what this team could be.
Here are three guys to keep an eye on down the stretch:
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Edwards-Helaire might not be an every-down back, but he still possesses excellent vision, as was exhibited when he took a screen pass for 48 yards in the first half of last Sunday’s game against the Patriots and set up the Chiefs’ first touchdown on the day.
For the Chiefs to maximize Edwards-Helaire’s impact, they should consider using him in two-back formations next to Isiah Pacheco, and leverage RPOs (run-pass options), where Pacheco’s running option is paired with Edwards-Helaire running a wheel or rail route out of the backfield.
The Chiefs should also consider lining Edwards-Heliare up in the slot where he can run quick hitters that are designed to get him the ball in space.
TE Noah Gray
Gray does a good job at getting open as a receiver, but he is an even better run blocker. Despite this, Gray is being utilized as an inline tight end at the lowest rate of his entire career, lining up inline on just 40.2% of his snaps.
I think the Chiefs should reverse this and utilize him primarily as an inline tight end. This will not only give the Chiefs a good blocker in the run game, but it will also allow him to run rub routes and utilize slam releases (where the tight end initially engages as a blocker before shedding his man and running upfield).
The Chiefs should also consider stacking Gray on the outside with Edwards-Helaire, where they can throw a bubble screen to Edwards-Helaire, using Gray as a lead blocker.
WR Richie James
James has been working his way back since suffering a knee strain in the second game of the season, but now that he is healthy, there is an opportunity for him to insert himself into the lineup.
2022 was James’ most productive season to date, compiling 579 yards receiving. It was the heaviest slot usage of his career (he ran 84.6% of his routes out of the slot).
With Skyy Moore on injured reserve, it makes sense to keep Rashee Rice and Justin Watson on the outside and work James inside where he is less likely to face press coverage and can use his athleticism to create separation.
Production from within
These three guys are not the first names that come to mind when you think about the Chiefs offense, but their cumulative impact could be enough to pick up a few first downs and keep the chains moving in crucial situations.
Just think about a bunch formation with Rice, Edwards-Helaire and James – with Gray running a rub route to free a guy up over the field.
THE ROUNDUP: 5 Chiefs links you should have already clicked on
Fortunately for the face of the Chiefs (and the NFL), $50,000 is a mere drop in the bucket.
To be honest, I actually think they like each other (you know, before and after the game).
Old Chiefs beat writer Randy Covitz returns to remember the late, great Ed Budde.
The Chiefs’ QB1 knows how to keep his linemen happy.
This may very well be the key to the Chiefs once again winning the AFC… and Super Bowl.
DID YOU KNOW?: Eat, sleep, Kelce’s 1,000 yards
Future Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce enters Christmas Day with 924 yards on the 2023 season, meaning he needs just 76 more for what would become eight straight seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards. It’s always worth the reminder: No other tight end in NFL history has ever recorded more than three straight seasons of 1,000 yards or more.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll be back in subscribers’ inboxes after Monday’s game to break it down. Happy holidays to you and yours, and if you enjoyed this newsletter, click here to subscribe! For a limited time, take 25% off your Arrowhead Pride Premier subscription with the code GOCHIEFS25.