The Chiefs’ playoff scenario can be simplified to this: Win and it’s all good. The AFC West title, the conference’s top seed and home-field advantage get wrapped up with a win against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
Keys to victory
1. Contain Cook
Raiders tight end Jared Cook tortured the Chiefs’ defense in the early December game in Oakland. Cook led the Raiders with 100 receiving yards. He caught seven passes on eight targets, including a touchdown reception and the Raiders’ longest reception of the game (29 yards). His work in the middle of the field helped open the door for wide receiver Jordy Nelson (10 catches, 97 yards) on the outside.
2. Sustain drives
The Chiefs’ offense had four possessions on which they held the ball for four plays or fewer before giving it back to the Raiders by punt or turnover. That includes a fumble on their first play from scrimmage in the first quarter. Not counting their final possession of the fourth quarter which ended with the clock running out, the Chiefs had 11 total possessions. Four of those failed to gain 15 yards.
3. Third-down defense
The Raiders converted 75 percent of time on third down (9 of 12) in their earlier meeting with the Chiefs. In the second half, the Raiders had just one possession that didn’t last at least six plays and gain at least 43 yards. That one possession came as a result of a fumble at the end of a 17-yard run on the first play of the drive. The Chiefs must get their defense off the field when facing third downs.
4. More variety in passing game
More than half of the completions in the first game by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes were to tight end Travis Kelce. For that matter, the tight ends, Demetrius Harris and Kelce, combined for 15 catches (out of 23 completions) and 207 receiving yards (of 295). Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill had just one catch for 13 yards. Getting minimal production from wide receivers makes it tougher to move the ball consistently.
Jon Gruden served as an offensive assistant along with Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Green Bay during the early 1990s. This season, he returned to the sideline for the first time since 2008. He came up in the West Coast offensive system and he carved out a niche as an offensive-minded coach and quarterback guru. He’s had three different quarterbacks earn Pro Bowl selections (five total selections) during his tenure as a head coach. His offenses utilize a high volume of personnel groups often using multiple tight ends and a fullback.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson is in his second stint as offensive coordinator with the Raiders, his first coming in 2013 and 2014 (Derek Carr’s rookie season). Olson also had a stint as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterbacks coach under Gruden, among several other stops.
He spent last season tutoring Rams quarterback Jared Goff. This season, the Raiders’ passing game has centered around tight end Jared Cook, who has been the team’s leading receiver. Running back Jalen Richard ranks third in receiving yards.
Oakland’s version of the West Coast offense, which relies heavily on timing and rhythm, has struggled on third down. Carr entered this week having been sacked on third down more than any passer in the NFL this season.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is in his first season in that position after having come from the Cincinnati Bengals to join Gruden’s staff. Guenther’s defense began the week having allowed the second-most points per game (28.8) of any team in the NFL.
A former assistant under current Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Guenther brought an aggressive base 4-3 one-gap scheme along the line of scrimmage, with linemen looking to penetrate. He’ll utilize a variety of pre-snap looks to disguise his defense from play to play and keep the opposing quarterback guessing about when the blitz is coming.
Often, the defensive backs drop into quarters coverage. The Raiders have failed to get consistent pressure on the passer. They rank last in the NFL in percentage of times they’ve succeeded in pressuring opponents this season (23.3 percent), according to ESPN.