The Kansas City Chiefs have vaulted out to a 5-0 record to begin the 2013 NFL season. Week 6 brings hated rivals, the Oakland Raiders, to town to test their mettle. The Chiefs will once again ride the back of their vaunted defense against an Oakland offense that has at times been quite effective under quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
On paper, this appears to be a game Kansas City will dominate.
But the underlying statistics show the Raiders have more than just a slim glimmer of hope. Oakland has an offense that loves to use up the clock. The Raiders rank seventh in the league in time of possession per drive. The Chiefs are in the top half of teams in time of possession per drive.
Two teams that are effective in eating the clock playing each other generally results in a low-scoring game. Low-scoring games are subject to freak-occurrence turnovers and the lead or momentum shifting on a silly penalty.
Given the Raiders' speed at the skill positions and quarterback, the last thing the Chiefs want to do is leave this game open to a missed tackle or busted coverage late in the fourth quarter.
Here's my take on what the Chiefs need to do to put this game in the win column.
Defer to the Second Half
Obviously this depends on the coin toss, but if at all possible, Kansas City wants the Raiders with the ball right at the beginning of the game when the crowd is most hyped-up and vocal.
Anyone who has ever been to Arrowhead Stadium can tell you it can be an incredibly loud place, especially when a hated rival like Oakland is in town.
The Chiefs want to come out on defense, have the crowd be disruptive, and set the tone early. Put the Raiders on their heels right out of the gate. Oakland's defense on average surrenders a full 12.6 yards more per drive than Kansas City's.
Let the Raiders put themselves behind in the field-position game, and wait for them to make a mistake.
Pick the Right Moments to Attack on Defense
A lot of the turnaround on the Chiefs' defense this season can be attributed to their new attacking style of play. Though it may defy conventional wisdom, Kansas City may want to dial that back a bit against the Raiders.
The reason is simple. With the up-the-field attacking style the Chiefs like to use, it is easier to break run contain for a mobile quarterback. The same principle applies to the halfback draw play on 3rd-and-long.
Terrelle Pryor is extremely fast, certainly faster than Michael Vick at this point in his career, and he's larger and tougher to bring down than Vick in the open field.
Pryor has shown a tendency to drop his eye level when he recognizes pressure, though, so the Chiefs may want to exploit this.
In the diagram, the Chiefs are using their defensive ends to attack the outside edge of the Oakland offensive line.
This creates two benefits. One, it widens the gaps between the tackles and the guards, and two, it allows them to set up in outside run contain with a simultaneous flat zone. The strong-side defensive end should scrape the tight end as he releases into his route, bumping him off his route as well.
Nose tackle Dontari Poe and the linebackers, with the exception of Derrick Johnson, labeled "MLB" in the diagram, attack each of the interior gaps in an attempt to sack Pryor. Johnson (again labeled "MLB") flows to the play side, keeping the quarterback in front of him. The safeties play a Cover 2 shell with the cornerbacks in press-man coverage underneath.
The weakness in this zone blitz is that it leaves the tight end, halfback and fullback free. With the zone structure and the appearance of a six-man pass rush, the quarterback is going to look to his hot read immediately. The hot read should be negated by the contain stunts of the defensive ends, and if not, the quarterback should be in full-on scramble-for-his-life mode given the interior pressure.
Don't Get Too Greedy
Fans, and even this writer, have been concerned about Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith's ability to drive the ball down the field.
Against a Raiders defense that is giving up a lot of yardage and not generating turnovers, this isn't the game to test the vertical routes.
Alex Smith has made a career of being the efficient, safe, "take what's there" guy. If Oakland is willing to give the yardage, the Chiefs should be willing to take it.
The Chiefs have shown a penchant for settling for what teams offer them this season, and it has served them well to date. There's an old saying, "Dance with the one that brought you," and it applies here. You don't have to get creative to beat the Raiders, so why tip your hand when you have the Denver Broncos waiting down the line? Take the short, steady yardage, and do the most that you can with it.
No Wasted Points
In Week 5, Kansas City made four trips to the red zone and came away with one touchdown. The Chiefs did get three additional field goals, but you can't leave 12 points on the field week in and week out and expect to beat teams consistently. The league is just too competitive for that.
The Chiefs need to learn how to close out drives on offense and stop having to rely on the defense and special teams to score for them. Over 40 percent of their total points have come from defense and special teams this season. That's simply an unsustainable figure.
The offense, which moves the ball very well between the 20s, has to learn to finish with touchdowns.
While I think the Chiefs will win this game fairly easily, Kansas City's problems with run contain cannot be stressed enough. The Raiders are still a very fast team. Though they lack talent at many positions across the board, they do have speed and can make a team that gets careless pay. The key for the Chiefs is going to be playing focused, fundamental football—and to not get caught looking ahead.