Chiefs ride suddenly stingy defense as Raiders visit
After he was asked the standard questions about the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes and the scourge of COVID-19, Raiders coach Jon Gruden finally lit up when someone questioned him about the vast improvement of the Kansas City Chiefs defense.
"I think that's the best question I've heard," Gruden said.
He proceeded to list off all the pertinent stats: The Chiefs are second in scoring defense, fifth in total defense. "They take the ball away. They blitz you. They come from everywhere," he said. "They've been real stingy with everything I've seen."
Here is the most important number, though: The Chiefs are 4-0 for the fourth consecutive year, and thanks largely to that suddenly dominant defense, they have a chance to put a stranglehold on the AFC West five games into the season when they face Las Vegas on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium for the first of their two regular-season meetings.
"I give (Steve) Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator, a ton of credit. You have no idea what he's going to come up with next," Gruden said. "It's a great scheme. It's very diverse. Tyrann Mathieu is one of the guys that really makes it go."
The star safety has plenty of help. Defensive tackle Chris Jones was tied for the AFC lead in sacks before missing last week's game with a groin injury; he is expected back this weekend. Frank Clark is a proven pass rusher, Juan Thornhill has become a premier safety. And cornerback Bashaud Breeland will return from a four-game suspension Sunday.
Put those pieces together and you have the only NFL defense that, despite so often being overlooked by Mahomes and their high-octane offense, has yet to allow more than 20 points in a game this season.
"Competing against our offense all training camp, a lot of these guys have been getting work against the best offensive players in the league," Mathieu said. "I just want those guys to stay motivated and continue to get better and stay hungry."
If nothing else, Las Vegas (2-2) should provide a balanced test this week. Derek Carr directs the 13th-rated pass attack and running back Josh Jacobs leads a rush offense that is tied for 15th in the league.
They scored 34 points in each of their first two games before dropping games against the Patriots and Bills.
"It's kind of fun, the competition part of it," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "I think they're playing really good football right now and very strong. They're going to bring it for four quarters and that's how they roll."
NEW NAME, SAME RIVALRY
Raiders-Chiefs has long been one of the NFL's bitter rivalries. The teams have met 122 times since their days together in the AFL, and the animosity has been there regardless whether the Raiders played in Oakland, Los Angeles or now Las Vegas.
"I think it's the Raiders against the Chiefs," Reid said, "and it wouldn't matter where they were housed at. It would still be the Raiders and the Chiefs. That's how I look at it."
The Chiefs had their game against the Patriots pushed to Monday when Cam Newton tested positive, and two more New England players have since been placed on the COVID-19 list. One of them is defensive back Stephon Gilmore, who had a face-to-face exchange with Mahomes after the game that has led to some concern in Kansas City.
"The NFL talked to our team. They are in constant communication," Mahomes said. "(Chiefs trainer) Rick Burkholder reminded the guys after the game. I think as long as we listen to those protocols we can keep from having any outbreaks."
The Raiders, meanwhile, put defensive tackle Maurice Hurst on the COVID-19 list earlier this week.
BIG PLAY POTENCY
One thing missing from the Chiefs offense this season has been game-breaking plays, but it's not for lack of trying. Defenses are simply refusing to let Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Co. beat them deep downfield, forcing Mahomes to throw passes to underneath receivers and outlets rather than pushing the ball downfield.
"We're still fast, we can still catch, we still have all that," Hill said. "Sometimes teams just play not to give up the deep shot."
HOUSE OF HORRORS
Arrowhead Stadium hasn't been kind to Carr over the years. He has lost all six starts there in his career, becoming one of only eight QBs since the merger to lose that many road games in a single stadium without a win.
"It will never be easy," said Carr, who has nine turnovers in those games, leading to a miserable 63.2 quarterback rating. "We haven't won there in some time as an organization. We need to get a win there."
The Raiders have struggled to stop anyone this season, allowing three of four opponents to score at least 30 points. It's been a recurring problem since coordinator Paul Guenther arrived in 2018. The Raiders rank 31st in points allowed and yards-per-play and last in sacks and takeaways. The pass rush is tied for 29th in sacks (four) and pressures (26).
"It's never good enough," Gruden said. "Your pass rush is never good enough. And right now, ours is not good enough."
WHAT — Las Vegas Raiders (2-2) vs. Kansas CIty Chiefs (4-0)
WHEN/WHERE — Noon Sunday, Arrowhead Stadium
TV/RADIO — CBS (KCTV 5, Comcast Cable channel 3, HD 803)/WDAF FM-The Wolf (106.5 FM)
OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 13
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Raiders 2-2, Chiefs 2-1
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 67-53-2
LAST MEETING — Chiefs beat Raiders 40-9 on Dec. 1, 2019, in Kansas City
LAST WEEK — Raiders lost to Bills 30-23; Chiefs beat Patriots 26-10
AP PRO32 RANKING — Raiders No. 16; Chiefs No. 1
RAIDERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (15), RUSH (T15), PASS (13)
RAIDERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (21), RUSH (25), PASS (20)
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (5), RUSH (9), PASS (6)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (14), RUSH (28), PASS (3)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — The Raiders have lost their last seven games at Kansas City and five straight in the series. ... Las Vegas QB Derek Carr has a career rating of 63.2 at Arrowhead Stadium and lost all six starts there. ... Carr set the franchise record with his 151st career TD pass last week, breaking the mark held by Hall of Famer Ken Stabler. ... Raiders DE Maxx Crosby has three sacks the past two weeks. ... Las Vegas' Jason Witten joined Tony Gonzalez as the only TEs to reach 13,000 yards receiving. ... K Daniel Carlson has made three FGs from at least 50 yards. The last Raiders kicker with more in a season was Sebastian Janikowski with four in 2015. ... Las Vegas has converted 52.9% of third downs, tied for the second-best mark in the league. ... The Raiders have lost five fumbles the past two weeks, including three by Carr. His 27 lost fumbles are the most in the league since his rookie season in 2014. ... Las Vegas has scored a TD in the final two minutes of the first half in every game this season. ... Raiders RB Josh Jacobs has been tackled for a loss on a league-worst 12 carries out of 83 attempts (14.5%). He was tackled for a loss on just 16 of 242 carries (6.6%) last season. ... The Chiefs have won a franchise-record 13 consecutive games. Their 10-game regular-season win streak dating to Week 10 of last season is the second best in club history. ... The Chiefs have won 28 of their last 30 games against the AFC West. They are 50-14 against all AFC opponents dating to 2015. ... Kansas City is the only NFL team to allow 20 points or less in every game. ... The Chiefs are trying to start 5-0 for the third time in four seasons. They are the first with four straight 4-0 starts. ... Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes needs 13 TD passes in the next eight games to become the fastest to 100. Dan Marino did it in 44 games. ... Mahomes has thrown a TD pass in 14 straight games, the longest current streak in the NFL and second longest in Chiefs history. ... Chiefs TE Travis Kelce needs two catches to pass Dwayne Bowe (532) for the second most in club history. ... WR Tyreek Hill has TD catches in each of the first four games. The only Chiefs player to do so in five straight games was WR Chris Burford in 1962. ... Chiefs K Harrison Butker needs six points to pass Gonzalez (462) for the fifth-most points scored in franchise history. Rookie P Tommy Townsend set the Chiefs' single-game record by averaging 60.8 yards on four punts Monday night against New England. ... Fantasy tip: Carr and Mahomes may have limited opportunities by a shortened game as both teams lean on their clock-draining run games against porous rush defenses. On the flip side, that could mean big games for the Raiders' Jacobs and the Chiefs' Clyde Edwards-Helaire.