WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
A week after a fourth-quarter explosion saw Matt Cassel post his best numbers of the season, the Chiefs face a secondary that picked him off twice in his first game of the season. However, it should be noted that Cassel also threw for 241 yards and connected on a 32-yard, go-ahead touchdown in his first meeting with the Raiders. Will Cassel torch the Raiders as he did the Jaguars a week ago, or will they capitalize for more turnovers?
The one thing that has become clear about the Raiders, even in a dismal season, is that their secondary can play, at least a little. Because Oakland's pass rush has been upgraded with Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis (four sacks apiece), teams prefer to keep the ball on the ground, especially because the Raiders' offense is no threat to put up a large amount of points.
Oakland showed that pass rush in Week 2 against the Chiefs. Was Cassel just rusty, or will he struggle again? The emergence of Chris Chambers last week (two touchdowns against Jacksonville) may help immensely, as Kansas City had no deep threat whatsoever in their first meeting with the Raiders. At the least, Chambers may give Oakland something else to think about, which could open up things for Dwayne Bowe underneath.
The Chiefs also have a new starting right guard (Andy Alleman) and right tackle (Ryan O'Callaghan), both of whom did not even play during Week 2's contest. That could go a long way towards fixing the pressure problems Kansas City had to deal with in the first meeting.
WHEN THE RAIDERS PASS
Is JaMarcus Russell improving? It would be hard for him not to after an awful early-season stretch that saw him complete 40 percent or less of his passes in three of the first four games. Over the last month, Russell's completion percentage has steadily risen, and he even turned in a good game in a win over the Eagles, throwing for 224 yards on 17 of 28 passing.
Based on the last two weeks, that may have been an aberration, however. Russell completed only six passes in a 38-0 loss to the Jets and was sacked five times by the Chargers last week. He has thrown three interceptions over the last two weeks in just 33 pass attempts. Even worse, Oakland's passing game has zero explosion.
Rookie Darius Heyward-Bey is having an awful debut season with just five catches, despite holding his starting spot all year. The Raiders get little production from their wide receivers and instead turn to tight end Zach Miller as their primary target.
Russell had an awful game against the Chiefs in Week 2, but found his stroke by the end, leading Oakland on a game-winning drive that saw him complete passes down the field. Will that carry over? Certainly, Kansas City will present Russell with opportunities, as they have almost every quarterback on their schedule. Last week David Garrard may have played his best game of the year against the Chiefs.
If Russell's improvement is for real and the Chiefs play as they did in Week 2 there were open receivers all game long, Russell just missed them – Oakland might actually move the ball against Kansas City. Hey, every other team has.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
As poorly as the Chiefs have run the ball this season, the one team they had some success against was the Raiders, racking up 173 yards on the ground, easily a season high. It may have been Larry Johnson's best game, as he made several defenders miss that day and ran with power.
Kansas City's success on the ground that day wasn't a mirage, at least where their opponent was concerned. The Raiders have been vulnerable against the run all year long, give up 4.5 yards per carry and have surrendered 13 rushing touchdowns, the most in the entire league.
The Chiefs may find even more success this time around as they will feature three backs – Jamaal Charles, Kolby Smith, Dantrell Savage – who are far quicker and better in the passing game than Johnson. Even backups like Correll Buckhalter and Shonn Greene have excelled against Oakland this season, so if Kansas City's success from Week 2 carries over, we could see a huge game from KC's rushing offense, given that Charles didn't even carry the ball against Oakland in the first meeting.
WHEN THE RAIDERS RUN
What was a strength a year ago for Oakland appears to have completely bottomed out in 2009. The Raiders rank 26th in rushing offense, actually worse than the Chiefs, and none of their backs have broken the 100-yard barrier. While Darren McFadden underperformed as a rookie last season, and has struggled again during his sophomore campaign, even Justin Fargas, a 1,000-yard back last season, is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.
It's puzzling that Oakland's ground game would drop off in this fashion, because they return the exact same starters along the offensive line, save the center. The Chiefs, who were gashed by the Raiders last season on the ground, completely shut them down in Week 2, and most teams have run the ball fairly effectively against Kansas City this year.
The only explanation for the Raiders' terrible running game would appear to be Russell's play. No one fears Oakland's passing attack, so teams are free to cheat up against the run as often as they like. Expect the Chiefs to employ a similar approach, and with a fast safety like DaJuan Morgan on the field, even the Raiders' speed at running back might be a non issue.
While the Raiders dominate with Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski like always, their return units have fallen completely off, like their running game. Johnny Lee Higgins, a talented punt returner, is averaging just 3.7 yards per punt return, and Oakland's kickoff returns are among the worst in the league. Give the Chiefs a slight edge because their coverage units are among the best in the league.
The Chiefs are a mess, but there are no rumors of Todd Haley's imminent firing, as is now the case with Tom Cable. Kansas City has beaten Oakland in Oakland six straight times. Haley is 0-1 lifetime against Cable.
The Chiefs dominated the Raiders on paper in Week 2 and would have won outright had it not been for sloppy play and ill-timed turnovers. Oakland has been completely dominated in four of their last six games and probably won't be as lucky as they were in their first meeting with Kansas City.
Chiefs 17, Raiders 10
The Matchups - Chiefs vs Raiders
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