X-Factors for both the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs, looking ahead to their Week 6 matchup.
Solo possession of first place in the AFC West is on the line for the (4-1) Oakland Raiders, and a division foe has plans to spoil that.
With the Chiefs headed to town, considering what is at stake, this is one of the biggest games the Raiders have had in years. Oakland is also riding a three-game win streak, and getting to 5-1 would be a tremendous start to the season.
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With injuries starting to pile up, it’s becoming more important than ever for teams across the NFL to embrace a “next man up” philosophy.
Or even outside of injuries, in order to avoid being figured out, teams also need unsung heroes to step up and perform.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some x-factors for the Week 6 contest between the Raiders and Chiefs.
September 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) runs with the football past Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (56) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
With Latavius Murray still ailing from a toe injury, he is going to miss his second consecutive game.
That means that for the second week in a row, it’ll be a big opportunity for rookie running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard to step up and perform. And based on how Week 5 went, it should be Richard who gets the bulk of the work.
While neither back impressed on the ground — 23 yards on 9 carries for Washington and 31 yards on 8 carries for Richard — Jalen looked better. And he also was the better pass catcher, hauling in 6 receptions for 66 yards.
The Chiefs defense ranks 29th in rushing yards allowed per game, at 129.5. No Raiders back has stood out statically, but as a group, they rank 9th in the NFL.
Kansas City’s defense is starting to age, with the likes of Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali near their mid-30’s. A young, dynamic player such as Richard is exactly the type of player that can cause fits for this defense.
Add that to Richard’s punt and kick return ability, and he certainly has a chance to make a big impact on Sunday.
The Chiefs offense is interesting, to say the least. It’s an odd mix of conservative and efficient, with intriguing skill players who are capable of making big plays.
Most of the attention deservedly goes to Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, and that is what makes Conley an x-factor.
At the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, there may not have been a wide receiver more athletic than Conley. He was first in the broad jump at a ridiculous 11 feet and 7 inches, with a 4.35 40-yard dash to boot. Not only that, but he lifted more than 75 percent of the wide receivers in attendance, with 18 bench press reps.
That athleticism hasn’t translated into huge success for Conley, now in his second season, but that doesn’t mean he should be taken lightly. Especially going up against a defense ranked dead last in passing yards allowed per game.
What makes Conley a potential problem for the Raiders secondary is that Conley fits the mold of the type of receivers who give Oakland’s secondary trouble — athletes.
October 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Reggie Nelson (27) recovers a fumble by San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) during the first quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Signed in the offseason, Reggie Nelson was supposed to be one of the best players on this Raiders defense. But that hasn’t been the case through five weeks.
It’s been an up and down season so far, seemingly rotating weeks in terms of quality of play. Bad game, good game, bad game, good game, bad game. In Week 6, will it be another good game?
With Maclin, Kelce and Charles coming to town, it certainly won’t be an easy task. But if Nelson can create a turnover or two, like he has in several of the Raiders wins, than Oakland’s chances of winning look much better.
But it’s not just the turnovers that will be needed, it’s just basic, quality play. That means sound coverage, limiting big plays, being in the right position, and no missed tackles.
Nelson could have his hands full on Sunday, dealing with Jamaal Charles, who certainly will get up to the second level early and often, making sure no big plays happen over the top, and also keeping Kelce occupied in the middle of the field.
If Nelson can manage to succeed in all facets, it’ll go a long way in getting this defense trending in the right direction. If not, well, you already know.
Marcus Peters standouts out as the obvious impact player on the Chiefs defense, thanks for his penchant for interceptions. In the trenches, it’s going to be a battle between Dontari Poe and the Raiders stout offensive line. But that rules both of those players out as x-factors.
Look opposite the formation from Peters, and you’ll find Phillip Gaines.
Gaines is now in his third season in the NFL as a third-round pick out of Rice. He is yet to log his first career interception, and has generally been adequate since entering the league.
Typically when there is a star cornerback on the roster, the guy on the opposite side gets picked on quite a bit. While Peters may not be considered a star quite yet, he seems to be well on his way. So far in 2016, Gaines is struggling to hold up, ranking 99th out of 114 CBs, per PFF.
With two number one wide receivers on Oakland’s roster, look for whoever matches up on Gaines, either Cooper or Crabtree, to be targeted heavily on Sunday.
Given what we’ve seen through five weeks, either player is capable of having a big day, regardless of who is in coverage. So putting a subpar or average cornerback on either is a recipe for a big day.
But on the other hand, if Gaines can somehow play well enough to limit the performance of whichever WR he matches up on, than the Oakland offense will likely stall and struggle to put points on the board.
The Raiders passing offense has been their bread and butter this year, so look for them to want to keep that going in Week 6. The performance of Phillip Gaines will be a big factor in whether or not that happens.