With a 6-6 record, the Las Vegas Raiders are currently on the outside looking in when talking about the AFC playoff picture. Last week’s loss to the Washington Football Team dealt a devastating blow to the Raiders’ postseason aspirations. Needing the win to keep pace with the other wild card hopefuls of the AFC such as the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, and division rival Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders failed to get the victory and fell back further in the playoff race.
To say that this week’s game is a “must win” may be an understatement. The Raiders absolutely need a win in order to keep a wild card spot within reach, but getting that victory will be no cakewalk. The Raiders will travel to Kansas City to face the suddenly white-hot Chiefs, a team that is looking to further its lead in the AFC West.
After the first seven weeks of the season, the Chiefs had a dismal 3-4 record and were sitting at the bottom of the AFC West. Even more notable was that the Chiefs did not look like the Chiefs everyone has come to know with QB Patrick Mahomes behind center.
Then a switch flipped, and Kansas City rattled off five straight wins, including a 41-14 blowout win over the Raiders in Las Vegas. That winning streak, combined with the stumbling of the rest of the teams in the division, has propelled Kansas City to the top of the AFC West and the team is looking to close in on its sixth-straight division championship.
Needless to say, the Raiders will need to bring their A-game and put on a better showing than they did during their first matchup with the Chiefs if Las Vegas wants to keep its playoff hopes alive. Let’s take a look at a few key storylines that could impact the game.
Putting on the Pressure
The Raiders boast arguably the best pass-rushing tandem in the NFL with the likes of DEs Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. That fearsome duo has been wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks all season long. Ngakoue currently has eight sacks, which ties him for 13th most in the league. Crosby, while not registering the amount of sacks of the other top-tier pass rushers, still leads the league in quarterback pressures with 76 per PFF, 16 more than the next defender.
The defenses that have had the most success against the Chiefs over the last few years are the ones that have been able to apply pressure with their defensive front while dropping everyone else back into coverage. The Raiders will try to replicate those defenses that have been able to slow down Kansas City by unleashing their fearsome pass rushing duo. Crosby and Ngakoue must be able to shed their blocks and get to Mahomes in a hurry. With time, the Chiefs quarterback is one of the best in history.
Much has been made about the play of Mahomes. He currently ranks in the top-five in both passing yards and passing touchdowns, the kind of stats that certainly most teams would kill for. His turnovers are up, however, and the explosive plays that Kansas City has relied on over the last few years have not been as numerous in 2021.
However, even a slumping Patrick Mahomes is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and the last thing the Raiders defense should do is take him lightly.
“The one thing you see is the ability to get the ball out quick,” Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said Wednesday. “Where maybe a year ago it was longer extended plays… where I think they’re executing very well right now. They are very, very efficient.”
“They are picking and choosing the times to take the big shots and plays. They are very well-rounded. They’re executing very high… they’re operating pretty well right now.”
Overcoming the Injury Bug
The Raiders have bit hit with a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball over the last few weeks.
Offensively, Pro-Bowl TE Darren Waller missed Las Vegas’s Week 13 matchup against the Washington Football Team due to injury and has been ruled out. He missed practice all week and will miss his second-straight game.
RB Kenyan Drake, who injured his ankle in the loss to Washington, was placed on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season. Both of these injuries are damaging to a Raiders offense that lacks major playmakers at the receiver position. Waller is one of the best tight ends in the league while Drake, a prized free agent pick up this past offseason, had proven invaluable as a pass catching running back. The absences of both are sorely missed.
Defensively, the Raiders will be without DE Carl Nassib and LB Patrick Onwuasor, who have both been ruled out. LB Denzel Perryman is officially doubtful and appears set to miss the matchup with the Chiefs. Perryman is among the league leaders in total tackles on the season.
The Raiders signed veteran linebacker Will Compton to help offset some of these injuries but even with his addition, the Raiders coaching staff must be feeling nervous. The Chiefs have an explosive offense that can go for a big play in an instant so missing key linebackers is a huge blow for this Las Vegas defense.
To supplement these injuries, the Raiders will have to lean heavily on young players such as LB Divine Deablo and EDGE Malcolm Koonce. Both rookies showed promise against Washington and the Raiders hope these two can stay hot against the rival Chiefs. Overcoming injuries is all part of football and if they want to slow down the Chiefs, the Raiders will have to embrace the “next man up” mantra and trust their young players in major defensive roles.
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