Three Key Matchups: Chiefs vs. Raiders

Brendon McCullin
KC Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs. Photo Credit: Ian Mortan – Under Creative Commons License

Kansas City had the bye week to lick their wounds from the thrilling 54-51 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams. They’ll only have a couple of days, however, to get over the shocking release of star running back of Kareem Hunt.

The Chiefs cut ties with the second-year Toledo product after TMZ Sports released a video of a February incident showing Hunt shoving and kicking a woman.

In a statement, Kansas City said that they were releasing their leading rusher because he was “not truthful.”

The turmoil casts the game in Oakland in a completely different light. Instead of quickly moving past a “no shame” loss, they now have to try to stop the negative mojo from snowballing.

What else needs to happen for the Chiefs to notch a double-digit win season? Coming out ahead in these three matchups would help

Spencer Ware vs. Super Bowl Aspirations

Until Friday, Ware was a nice weapon that Kansas City could employ in spot duty. With Hunt’s release, he becomes the primary ball carrier.

Hunt is currently fifth in the NFL with 824 yards and has scored 14 touchdowns. Ware has 124 yards on the season, although he has caught 14 passes.

The Chiefs new starter isn’t a completely unknown commodity. In 2016 he led the team with 921 rushing yards. What he’s not is the home run threat that Hunt is.

Andy Reid‘s pass-happy offense has a habit of forgetting about the run even in the best of circumstances. Without Hunt, Big Red’s inclination might be to lean even heavier on Patrick Mahomes‘ right arm.

Ware doesn’t have to be Hunt. He does, though, need to provide enough of a burst on the ground to keep his head coach from abandoning the run game altogether.

He didn’t ask for it, but part of the hopes for Kansas City’s Super Bowl aspirations now fall squarely on Ware’s shoulders.

Andy Reid vs. Jon Gruden

In other weeks, the coaching face-off would’ve been a fun angle to talk about in the AFC West showdown. Instead, the concerns for Reid have little to do right now with his opposition.

At Sports Al Dente, we typically keep the focus on the players, but the shared history of the two head coaches is fascinating.

The pair were both assistant offensive coaches with the Green Bay Packers under Mike Holmgren. Both left the frozen tundra, separately, to coach in Philadelphia — Gruden as Ray Rhodes offensive coordinator, and, later, Reid as Philly’s head coach. (And, yes, that is Steve Mariucci between them.)

Both have had the title of “offensive genius” attached to their name. As head coaches, the pair faced off in the NFC once upon a time while Gruden was in Tampa Bay. “Chucky” has actually had Big Red’s number, going 4-0 against his former coworker.

Even though Reid is five years older than Gruden, he’s proven to be the more adaptable of the two. The Chiefs head coach has continued to add new wrinkles to his version of the West Coast offense. He’s also shown a willingness to trust young players.

In his first year back on the sidelines from the broadcasting booth, Gruden has frequently looked like he’s in catch-up mode. He’s catching Reid’s team at an opportune time from the Raiders standpoint, as Kansas City deals with the Hunt fallout.

This season, Oakland’s prodigal son head coach might need an advantage like that to continue his mastery over Reid coached teams.

Dee Ford and Justin Houston vs. Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker

Even though the Chiefs defense gave up a boatload of yards and points to the Rams, they didn’t actually play terribly. Thanks to a strip-sack from Houston, they even put points on the board.

In fact, if the offense hadn’t given Los Angeles 14 points, the defense would’ve done enough to have gotten the victory. That’s the theme for defensive coordinator Bob Sutton‘s defense — just don’t give up more points than Kansas City’s offense can score.

Ford has been playing well all season and leads the team with nine sacks. Houston struggled through some injuries and has been up-and-down, but as that play against the Rams showed, he can still be dangerous coming off the edge.

Miller, the Raiders’ first-round pick who took over for Donald Penn on the left side, has shown flashes of being a quality starter but has also looked like a rookie more often than not. Parker, the team’s third-round pick out of North Carolina A&T, also ended up taking over for Penn on the right side when the veteran was injured.

It might be good for Oakland’s future having the two rookies grow together as bookend tackles. This week, however, they face a challenge trying to keep Ford and Houston away from Derek Carr.

The Raiders need to score, a lot, to beat the Chiefs. Their young tackles have to hold up against the KC pass rush for Gruden’s offense to keep pace. On the flip-side, Kansas City’s defense would like nothing better than to get rid of the memory of the Los Angeles loss by taking it out, with malice, on Oakland.