KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The daunting possibility of taking a three-game losing streak into their bye week is what the Raiders face when they take the field against the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
To avoid that, the Raiders (2-2) will have to overcome much more than Patrick Mahomes and the 4-0 Super Bowl champions.
As their losses the last two weeks to the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills showed, they have to avoid their propensity to shoot themselves in the foot at key moments and overcome a defense that hasn’t played to its potential after an offseason of upheaval and minimal work together.
It is a formidable task to be sure.
Here are three matchups that will help to determine if they are able to get back on the right track.
Maxx Crosby vs. Mitchell Schwartz
Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher typically gets all the praise, and rightfully so. He is consistently among the top tackles in the NFL protecting the back side of Mahomes.
But Schwartz has quietly developed into a high-end performer in his own right. His ownership of the right side of the offensive line means Mahomes gets premium protection across his front five.
In spite of the team-leading three sacks, Crosby’s impact and production have fallen off after last year’s breakthrough rookie season. Crosby is the 84th-ranked defensive end, according to Pro Football Focus. His total of only four quarterback pressures and three tackles in four games is proof of that.
The Raiders need Crosby to get untracked. The timing could not be better than against Chiefs.
His speed and tenacity could be pivotal in trying to corral and hinder Mahomes. The challenge will be balancing the need for a fierce pass rush with the need to not allow Mahomes to get outside the pocket and make plays on the run with either his arm and vision or legs.
Denzelle Good vs. Chris Jones
Good has been a lifesaver for the Raiders, first while filling in for Trent Brown at right tackle and now Richie Incognito at left guard. Against the Chiefs, he will be called on to raise his level of play to deal with Jones, a game-wrecker on the interior of the defensive line who is capable of disrupting the Raiders’ run and pass game.
Jones is grading out as the 13th-best defensive tackle in the NFL, according to PFF. His 91.5 pass rush mark on a 100-point scale is the best in football. He is able to bully interior blockers with his strength but also beat them off the ball with his quickness.
Good is a decent athlete, and that will certainly help. But he has to maintain balance and leverage and stand up to Jones’ strength and tenacity.
Rodney Hudson, the Raiders’ veteran center, will also have a say in this matchup. The Raiders figure to double-team Jones to better deal with him.
Johnathan Abram vs. Travis Kelce
Abram is being asked to do a lot for the Raiders both in run and pass coverage. And in spite of some tackling issues against the Patriots, he has been a bright spot handling several difficult assignments.
It won’t get any easier for Abram, who is expected to play a major role in slowing the Chiefs, sharing the responsibility of covering Kelce, the All-Pro tight end, with linebacker Cory Littleton.
There is no doubt Abram can run with Kelce. But Abram can’t allow Kelce, a savvy veteran, to take advantage of his tendency to be overaggressive.
Kelce is going to get his receptions, but Abram can play a big role by negating him at key points with his coverage ability. Just as important, Abram will need to get Kelce, who is dangerous with the ball in his hands, to the ground immediately after a reception, thereby limiting his yards after catch.