Divisional rivalry games are always more interesting than the garden-variety NFL game, even when the 2-4 Oakland Raiders play the 1-5 Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders and Chiefs have played poorly this season, and those who have been dubbing the game the "Toilet Bowl" are well supported in their assessment.
That doesn't mean that both teams don't have the talent to play much better football than they have this season. The Chiefs have been handicapped by turnovers and their quarterback situation. The Raiders have been handicapped by injuries and a new offensive scheme. The winner of the game may be the team which overcomes its handicap first.
The Raiders could decide to try to exploit the Chiefs' weakness by going after Brady Quinn. That's probably a bad move because Quinn probably has a hard enough time playing good football. Quinn should be able to have a good day against Oakland’s secondary, but he’s not going to carry the Chiefs on his back to victory like Jamaal Charles can.
What should the Raiders focus on?
The Raiders should be most concerned with stopping Charles, who leads the league in yards per game and runs of 40 yards or more. Charles is also averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has probably run against more eight-man fronts than any top running back.
One way to slow down Charles is to score, and defensively the Chiefs have allowed 30.5 points per game this season. Opponents have used big runs (8) to set up passing touchdowns (13) on Kansas City, and the Raiders should try to use the same formula.
Charles is one of the faster running backs in football which makes him deadly in the open field. Even setting the edge in the run game against Charles is not always enough because he will just burst through a small hole and run past a linebacker.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did a good job of slowing down Charles in Week 6 and held him to 40 yards on 13 carries. The Raiders will want to replicate the Bucs' success. Other teams have had success by getting an early lead, but Oakland's offense hasn't shown that it is capable of scoring early and often.
One thing the Bucs did to slow down Charles was to load the box and force Quinn to beat them. The Bucs would bring eight defenders into the box and would often have all 11 within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped.
The other thing the Bucs did was sellout for the run. If the players read the play as a run they allowed the player to react without hesitation. When you are playing a quick running back like Charles the slightest hesitation might be the difference between a tackle for a loss and a touchdown.
With so many defenders in the box and all of them quickly reacting to running plays, the Chiefs simply didn’t have enough blockers to keep the Bucs from flying into the backfield to tackle Charles before he got his feet moving.
One caution is that the cornerbacks can’t bite on the run as hard in case the Chiefs use play action and the safeties and linebackers need to do a good job of tackling by wrapping up. This defense puts the pressure on Quinn to make the plays, which is preferred to letting Charles run wild.
The Bucs also played games in the front seven to make it hard for the Chiefs to get clean blocks. Knowing that Charles likes to run outside, the defensive tackles often attacked the outside and that combined with a pulling guard created gaps for linebackers to make plays.
The Bucs were also able to get penetration, which forced Charles to redirect in the backfield and gave the linebackers additional time to make a play.
Stacking the box, getting penetration and letting the linebackers and safeties be aggressive tripped up Kansas City’s offense, and they were not able to score a single touchdown. Oakland might have more problems with this strategy than the Bucs, but outside of getting three early touchdowns it has proved to be the most effective game plan to slow down Charles this season.
Don't Give Up on the Run
Oakland’s running game hasn’t been able to get on track this season, but they are often a single block or read away from breaking a long run. The Chiefs have been the victim of several explosive running plays this season and the Raiders would be wise not to give up, especially in the middle of the field.
None of the defensive linemen are drawing double teams, which makes it a lot harder on the inside linebackers. The linebackers are getting blocked and struggling to get off blocks and maintain their gap integrity. On this play, the Chiefs have seven defenders in the box and the Bucs have seven blockers.
The Bucs offensive line does a good job of handling Kansas City’s defensive front and there is very little penetration that would disrupt the running back. The running back slips through the line and if not for breaking to the outside early he might have received a block on the safety and scored a touchdown. Instead, he would scamper into the end zone three plays later.
Use the Slot
The Chiefs were burned for a couple of long touchdowns against the Bucs in which Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams just jumped over Stanford Routt and Brandon Flowers. For the most part, the Raiders don’t have the receivers to jump over defensive backs, and it's a risky play. Denarius Moore is great at making acrobatic catches, but he’s not a big guy who is going to outmuscle defensive backs like Routt and Flowers.
The Bucs were actually much more successful using Jackson in the slot and letting him abuse Kansas City’s safeties. On this play, Jackson would run an angle route and split the two safeties after getting past the linebacker.
It’s an easy read for Josh Freeman, because Kendrick Lewis is slow to react and Jackson is running into a lot of open space.
Jackson simply has to duck into the end zone between the safeties for the touchdown. Too easy.
Unfortunately for Kansas City, this was not a unique occurrence. Jackson would draw soft coverage from Eric Berry in the slot later in the game.
Freeman probably threw this ball a little late and Berry had a chance to make a play on it, but he missed and Jackson only had to make Lewis miss to score the touchdown.
Lewis makes a feeble attempt to tackle Jackson and hardly even gets a hand on him before he slips into the end zone.
There will be more opportunities for the Raiders in the passing game if they put Denarius Moore or Darrius Heyward-Bey in the slot and let them work the middle of the field against Kansas City’s inside linebackers and safeties who struggle in coverage.