Over the last calendar year, the Kansas City Chiefs defense has turned a big corner. They have only allowed 18.2 points per game since Week 11, 2019, third best in the NFL during that span. Their 28 takeaways over that stretch are also third best in the league. But, an ugly blemish stands out in their lone loss since this time last year.
The Las Vegas Raiders came in to Arrowhead Stadium and put up 40 points on the scoreboard. It was an eight point victory, 40-32, for the Raiders first victory in Kansas City since 2012. Derek Carr came out of his comfortable check down shell, catching the Chiefs defense off guard. Today, we want to look back on that loss and highlight what went wrong for the Kansas City defense. In addition, we will list key personnel matchups to watch for, as well as how the Chiefs can make sure that does not happen again.
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What Went Wrong?
Rivals of the Chiefs in the AFC West constantly have said when building their squads, that you cannot slow down Kansas City. You can only hope to race with them. The Raiders made it clear that they wanted to add speed to the offense this season. They did just that by selecting Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama with the 12th overall pick in last April’s draft. Nelson Agholor has also helped Carr in the vertical passing game.
Quite frankly, the Chiefs were not well prepared for these two wide receivers. They left Ruggs III isolated one on one, not respecting his versatile and dynamic style. Safeties were caught with their eyes watching Carr. He froze them in their tracks.
The Chiefs attempted to utilize their blitz packages, which usually gives Carr trouble. Yet, the Raiders offensive line was stout and the quarterback had all day to launch it deep. Kansas City would eventually decrease their blitz attempts as the game went on. However, Josh Jacobs and the ground attack salivated with their chances of going up against deeper safeties and the lighter boxes in the second half. When Carr needed to make a play, he would hit the quick passes and the Chiefs could not get a stop. This kept the ball out of Patrick Mahomes‘ hands. As a result, Kansas City had little chance to comeback.
Career Day For Carr
While this type of play is something the Raiders have been wanting more of, it has not consistently resulted in games during the rest of the season. According to Benjamin Solak of the Draft Network, Carr threw the ball deep on six of 31 pass attempts in that win over the Chiefs, good for 20% of his throws. Though in his other eight games in 2020, Carr has only attempted 22 deep passes, which is 9% of his attempts. The Raiders were saving that type of attack for a big game, obviously. Ruggs III has been used infrequently and Agholor has been up and down since then. The question will be, is how much will they change from that game plan that they entered with going into Week 5?
The Spags Special
So how can the Chiefs make sure that disappointing result does not happen again? Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo must do what he does best. That is disguising looks in pre-snap and throwing creative looks at the opposing quarterback. We saw how Carr became hesitant and confused against this Kansas City Chiefs secondary in two games against Spagnuolo the year before. The quarterback threw two ugly interceptions at Arrowhead Stadium last year.
On one play, Tyrann Mathieu baited Carr into a vertical throw. The defensive backs passed off the out route, and Mathieu ran the receiver’s route for him. Later on, Carr thought Bashaud Breeland would ride upfield with a receiver on a slant route. Breeland stood his ground in his zone, and Juan Thornhill jumped the route for a pick six. We have seen it before from Spagnuolo in games where Kansas City has needed it most. Odds are, he will bring his best to the table against Carr in order to avoid a sweep against the Raiders.
Matchups To Watch For
Charvarius Ward Vs Henry Ruggs III
This was an opponent that gave Charvarius Ward fits early in the season. The deep shots were leaving Ward in the dust. Overall, the cornerback has shown an ability to be sticky with vertical routes down the field. His positioning in one on one situations, with the ball in the air, has largely gone unrecognized. He is also coming off of two impressive games from before the bye, against the Jets and Panthers.
On the other side, we have mentioned Ruggs III as a perfect example of what the Raiders wanted to infuse into the offense. However, he has been used in an unclear way, and Carr has struggled to find him consistently. With his yards after the catch ability, ball skills and explosiveness the Chiefs will need to take better angles to him in space. They cannot get caught with their heads in the sand against the Alabama receiver once again.
Kansas City Pass Rush Vs Vegas Offensive Line
No team in the NFL has more money sunk into their offensive line than the Las Vegas Raiders. According to Spotrac, they are paying their entire blocking unit just under $57 million this year. That is $8 million more than the next highest team, regarding the offensive line. Vegas has allowed just 14 sacks on the season, tied for sixth best in the league. They stymied the Kansas City pass rush in Week 5, allowing just one sack, three quarterback knockdowns and five hurries on 20 blitz attempts. Overall, the Chiefs have 18 sacks in the other nine games on the season. In order to prevent big plays, Kansas City has to get home and get to Carr on Sunday night.
Be on the lookout for the FPC Chiefs game preview article on Friday. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.