Five to Watch: Chiefs vs. Raiders

Is this the week the Chiefs win again? The debate rages. Sunday we'll find out what kind of head coach Todd Haley is and how badly the Chiefs' players themselves want to move past the Larry Johnson drama. High-priced players need to start performing.

The Chiefs are a team that does not match up well against the Raiders, especially on the road. After losing a winnable game last weekend at Jacksonville, what makes anyone think they can match last year's win total in Week 10 of 2009?

If the men who are supposed to be the leaders in KC's locker room step up, Sunday night's column should have a different ring to it. If not, you're going to get a dose of the same old negativity, which we're all tired of, including yours truly.

Facing the Raiders at this point of the season gives the Chiefs their best and likely last chance to win a game on the road. The Raiders already defeated the Chiefs once this year, in Week 2, after a last-minute comeback by Oakland's much-maligned quarterback, JaMarcus Russell.

Since then, he's been the same terrible quarterback, other than a brief flash of solid play against the Philadelphia Eagles. Can he replicate that feat against the Chiefs?

Unlikely, because if the Chiefs get a lead, they won't start calling a prevent defense late in the game. That was the case in Week 2, when Chiefs' defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast instructed his players to sit back. Russell then picked apart KC's secondary with no pressure in his face. If that scenario repeats itself, Pendergast should follow Chan Gailey out the door as a coordinator.

The key for the Chiefs in this entire game is attacking Russell. Since the win over the Eagles, he has thrown three interceptions, and has just two touchdown passes all year. The Raiders are foolish for sticking with him, but have no choice because of his price tag. Good or bad, he'll be Oakland's quarterback the remainder of this season and likely in 2010.

If you want a silver lining, Russell's anchor-like contract does bode well for the Chiefs to climb out of the division cellar next season.

But right now, if the Chiefs want to beat Oakland, they must get in Russell's grill. They can't fall for the bootleg fakes the Raiders will call. Kansas City's pass rush has been nonexistent this year, and if things don't change there's no reason to think the Chiefs will log more than one or two sacks Sunday.

In order for that number to increase, Kansas City must blitz linebackers, including Derrick Johnson, and bring pressure up the A and B gaps. If that happens, they've got a chance to limit Oakland's offense and give their own offense the opportunity to gain field position and points.

That's a big if for a defense that has allowed more plays over 25 yards than any other. Even so, I think the Chiefs can beat Oakland Sunday. The cup is half full, at least for a week.

Five To Watch:

1.QB Matt Cassel
- I was impressed with Cassel's fourth-quarter rally against Jacksonville, but he has to start the game that way. He has to take more chances down the field and with the addition of Chris Chambers, maybe he can find that vertical passing game. We've seen enough of the short passing game to know it's not working. Right now the Chiefs are better off at receiver than they have been all season long with Dwayne Bowe, Chambers, Bobby Wade and Mark Bradley. This is the best group they've had in four seasons, so Cassel needs to use all of them to try and make some bigger plays rather than hoping they catch a short pass and break a tackle or two. If the Chiefs can keep doing what they did at the end of the game against the Jaguars, Sunday's outcome won't be in doubt late in the contest as it was against Oakland in Week 2.

2. DE Tyson Jackson - He has eight weeks to show something. A couple of tackles, a quarterback pressure, anything. Right now he's struggling. At LSU, he made plays because the cast around him was able to pressure the quarterback from all angles. In Kansas City, no one gets to the quarterback with any regularity. Even so, the key to the resurgence of KC's defensive line has to fall on Jackson's shoulders. He's had eight games to learn. Now he needs to just pin his ears back and get nasty.

3. LB Mike Vrabel - He's been the official players spokesperson in the locker room since the Larry Johnson fiasco began three weeks ago. Now I'd like to see him step up and pressure the quarterback. Sunday will be his best chance in awhile. He's shown flashes at times this year, but his abilities are not what they once were. That's to be expected, but the position he plays requires him to, at some point, put pressure on the quarterback. Vrabel needs to lead the way. He may only have eight games left in his career.

4. CB Brandon Flowers - Has there been a falloff in his play since his preseason shoulder injury? I don't like the fact he's playing more soft coverage and I don't think he's closing on the ball as well as he has in the past. Flowers' sophomore season has been a disappointment thus far, but maybe against Russell he can grab a pick six. That would set the tone for the final eight games.

5. HC Todd Haley - The job he's done as the Chiefs' spokesman and franchise ambassador has been remarkable. For an inexperienced coach who hasn't received much in the way of assistance from his front office, he has not quit on his team's potential. Haley has taken all the hits this season, stood tall behind the podium and continues to stick to his guns. Even so, I'm still on the fence in regards to his future, but he's showing something in the midst of an ugly season. Does he deserve another year? Probably? Will he get that chance? Ask me in eight weeks.

Week 10 Predictions:

Chiefs 13 @ Raiders 12

Broncos 13 @ Redskins 14

Eagles 19 @ Chargers 37

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