This Sunday, almost everyone involved in the AFC West will be waiting all day for Sunday night. That is because the division’s most historic rivalry will be renewed between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders. Both teams have five wins on the season, and sit a half game apart in the standings.
Kansas City has now won back to back games for the first time this season. Can they extend the winning streak to three games? Meanwhile, the Raiders are looking to bounce back after they were caught sleepwalking on the road against the Giants. Staying aggressive, while remaining under control and not pressing, will be a major key to keep an eye on for both of these teams.
What are the top five headlines to watch for entering Sunday’s affair? We will list those, as well as keys to victory for each team. Let’s kick it off.
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Top Five Headlines
Mahomes Vs Carr
Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr have faced each other multiple times now. Overall, they are not built the same. Their play styles are both different and built to win in a variety of ways. However, there is one similarity that is evident between the two quarterbacks right now.
That would include how Mahomes and Carr each respond to pressure from the opposing pass rush. This will be a crucial point to watch on Sunday night, as the passers can grow frustrated quickly. Mahomes can become inaccurate early once pressure is felt. He holds a 65.1 completion percentage under pressure this season. However, Mahomes’ bad throw percentage is currently the highest of his career for a single season (20.7 percent). For Carr, he does not often feel pressure before it is too late. Once that ensues, he gets in his own head and becomes fixated. Carr’s completion percentage under pressure is roughly 67 percent. But similar to Mahomes, his bad throw percentage has increased this year (16.9 percent).
Both opposing pass rushes are hot right now. Urgent decision making and better ball placement all around will be heavily monitored. There are many items to watch for both Mahomes and Carr on Sunday. Yet, the handling of pressure is going to be vital for each quarterback.
Who’s More Fundamentally Sound?
It has been so difficult to defeat the Chiefs in recent seasons. Mostly, they would have usually had to have beaten themselves before the opponent had any opportunity to pounce. Some of that is still existent this season. The Chiefs have simply just shot themselves in the foot more often.
This is not any different for the Raiders. Las Vegas appears to let things snowball if turnovers, penalties or miscommunication occurs. This has been mostly cleaner under interim head coach Rich Bisaccia. However, the Raiders gifted too many short fields or points to the Giants last week, while New York did not truly have to work hard for it. Two horrible interceptions by Carr and a lack of focus on crucial downs and distances stunted any chance at gaining momentum.
One thing to watch for will be penalties. In terms of penalty calls that were accepted against them, Kansas City has the fifth highest figure in the league (62), whereas the Raiders are tied for the seventh highest figure (59). Not only have penalties stunted momentum for both teams, it has killed too many drives and taken away opportunities to score or prevent points off of the scoreboard.
Finally, turnovers have been an issue for the Chiefs all season long. They did not commit one last week against Green Bay. Kansas City still has 19 giveaways on the season, though. Vegas has only eight giveaways on the season. But, Carr has quietly thrown an interception in most games (six of eight contests with at least one interception). Each defense is opportunistic and has registered 10 takeaways each.
Lack Of Resources
When you think about it, both of these teams are built congruently right now when you look at the pass catchers. Both Travis Kelce and Darren Waller are respectively in the top five of tight end rankings. Nonetheless, the receiver depth is severely lacking on each the Chiefs and the Raiders. In Kansas City, it is only Tyreek Hill and a bunch of replacement level guys behind him.
For Vegas, the only receiver who has shown any level of consistency is Hunter Renfrow. Yes, they had to cut ties with Henry Ruggs III due to unfortunate reasons. And Willie Snead was granted his release. However, the only other receivers remaining on the Raiders roster have barely combined for over half the amount of catches that Renfrow has. His 45 receptions leads the team.
There may still be hope for certain guys with both Kansas City and Las Vegas. For example, Josh Gordon and Byron Pringle could be a unique size mismatch for the Chiefs offense if they can get it going. The Raiders have also been more pleased with Bryan Edwards in year two compared to year one of his career. Moreover, he is working to fine tune his chemistry with Carr.
The lack of resources on each side are holding the offenses back. A lack of impact additions, a lack of development from players and a lack of trust gained from the quarterback to most of these receivers has never stood out more. Which pass catching group will show more life on Sunday night?
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Will Kansas City Alter Red Zone Offense?
There is still a feeling surrounding the Chiefs offense that they need to run the ball more overall. Certainly, there is some truth to that. One spot where it needs to be heavily emphasized is in the red zone, nonetheless. Kansas City has only scored a touchdown on a measly 57.14 percent of drives that reach the red zone. That ranks tied for 18th.
Throws behind the sticks have become happenstance for Kansas City’s offense down there. That is better than forcing throws into tight man coverage. At the same time, it is leading to a dumbed down offensive attack by the Chiefs. Running the football in this area is where guys like Darrel Williams and Derrick Gore can instill their physical nature. Bouncing off of tacklers and leaving them behind in the dust has not been given any consistent chances from the play calling. In a monumental primetime road division game at the Raiders, the Chiefs must be more willing to flip the switch in the red zone with more rushing opportunities.
Will Raiders Move Methodically?
There is merit to putting trust in Carr in this game. He is one of the league’s best deep ball passers this season. Furthermore, the Raiders QB has been a tremendous leader for Las Vegas all season long. Coming through when his team needs him most has been occurring at a higher rate this season.
On the flip side, we know how quick it can be before Kansas City starts to press. The Chiefs have not proven that they can climb out of a large hole in a good while. Possibly, we may see the Raiders attempt to work more methodically on Sunday night.
Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake both look refreshed, determined and resolved. Each running back can make defenders miss or break tackles. Do not forget about the power they can impose as well. Las Vegas does not want to come out and lull themselves to sleep. Though, the Chiefs defense can quickly be worn down by long drive after long drive.
Keys To Victory
For the most part, the Chiefs offensive line has been stable this season. It appears that Lucas Niang (ribs) and Mike Remmers (knee) will miss this week’s game, however. Right tackle is likely to be filled by Andrew Wylie. While Wylie is a decent fall back option, he will need help with chips and doubles by others when facing Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. That Raiders pass rush duo has wrecked games all year long. Kansas City cannot allow them to take the game over.
Mix Up Run Play Calls
Running the ball more was somewhat touched on by the Chiefs last week. Honestly, it was not very convincing. Despite the effort to chew clock, run play calls became too predictable. Switching it up with more misdirection, or different calls like gap or duo could lead to more chunk gains. This is especially true when most defenses are not playing the Chiefs with much run responsibility currently.
Continue To Increase Pressure
This Chiefs pass rush is red hot right now. Frank Clark is playing the best he has in a long time and getting in the opposing quarterback’s heads. Chris Jones is back to dominating from the inside. Additionally, Melvin Ingram looked just fine in limited snaps last week. We have said it and seen it the last few weeks from Kansas City’s pass rush. The more heat they bring the bigger the pay off. Do not slow it down against Carr and the Raiders.
Force Feed Waller
Constantly forcing pass after pass to Darren Waller is nothing new. But in this case, the Chiefs have increased their Cover 2 coverage lately. Mina Kimes of ESPN pointed out how Kansas City has increased their play of Cover 2 to 31.5 percent over the last month. That number was at 23.5 percent earlier in the season. This may not be the best strategy against Waller, however. His size, attack at the catch point and ability to bounce off tacklers could wear down Kansas City. But against Cover 2, the Raiders should allow him to work in space quickly, if the opponent continues to leave greater surface areas available to be exploited.
Double Team Hill
More and more teams have doubled Hill when facing Kansas City lately. The Raiders do not do that with a ton of opponents. Moreover, Vegas may not quite have the speed to hang one on one with Hill. Not only has the Chiefs best wideout seen more tight coverage lately, his speed has been largely neutralized. The Raiders should not hesitate to get out of their comfort zone and place two guys on the guy who Mahomes trusts the most.
Sell Out To Stop Run
We mentioned this last week for Green Bay. As crazy as it may sound, stopping the run so often and eliminating it as an option for the Chiefs offense should be priority number one right now. Mahomes has shown some improvement over the last couple of weeks in a couple of areas. Yet, Kansas City has still only scored 33 points in back to back wins. Stopping the run and forcing Mahomes and his receivers to connect time and time again is not leading to high point totals currently. The Raiders must be able to place Kansas City in longer downs and distances if they are going to win.
Be on the lookout for our FPC Chiefs game reaction article following Sunday’s contest. 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.
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