Any Given Sunday: Raiders over Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders WR Henry Ruggs
Las Vegas Raiders WR Henry Ruggs
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs scored 32 points against the Raiders and we're (checks notes) talking about their offense underachieving. I guess this is what life is like as the king.

The Chiefs were successful on just 28% of their 18 pass plays in the second half. They ran the ball six times for 7 yards. They are simultaneously one of the best offenses in the NFL and capable of drying out like that. The Raiders helped by learning from the Baltimore Ravens' game plan on Monday Night Football.

Las Vegas watched Mahomes devastate the Ravens on blitzes. That's something that has held true throughout the years. The split hasn't always been as heavy-handed as it has been in 2020, but Mahomes has always performed better versus blitzes, and that's something we can split out in just this one game thanks to ESPN Stats and Info:

Mahomes versus the blitz
  vs. Raiders 2020 2018-2019
3-4 rushers 72.7 QBR,
5.6 yards per dropback
81.8 QBR,
6.4 yards per dropback
80.1 QBR,
8.0 yards per dropback
5-6 rushers 100.0 QBR,
28.3 yards per dropback
99.4 QBR,
10.4 yards per dropback
90.0 QBR,
8.1 yards per dropback

The Raiders don't blitz very often anyway -- they came into this week blitzing on just 18% of their passing downs per Sportradar, a bottom-five rate in the league -- but they took it to an extreme against Mahomes. Mahomes saw just three blitzes the entire game. He devastated them, as he usually does, but the Chiefs had issues getting vertical against Oakland's zones.

Vegas had some good snaps along these lines where they just happened to get Mahomes on his underneath throws.

Another problem that the Chiefs may be having is that they're simply not a very good running team. We started the year thinking they'd be pretty good after Clyde Edwards-Helaire glided all over the Texans. The Texans, as it turns out, have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL by DVOA. They're 26th, barely with a negative run defense DVOA after a good week against the Jaguars. Now, the Chiefs only ran 20 times in this game, but six runs for 7 yards in a half wasn't really an outlier. Edwards-Helaire hasn't proven ready to deal with the space the Chiefs are creating for him. His Rush Yards Over Expected of -0.15 is one of the 12 worst in the NFL. He has had at least 10 carries in every NFL game and hasn't cracked 4 yards per carry since Week 1.

Listen, the Chiefs will be fine. Nobody is crying any tears for their offense. Their defense has been much-improved this year even after the ass-kicking Derek Carr put on them. But there are some kinks to get worked out before the championship defense begins in January, and these are two of them. With Kelechi Osemele heading to IR as well, they leave with some issues that need to be addressed.

Where the Game Swung

Chart 1

Where the Game Swung
Event Time LV GWC Before LV GWC After Swing
Hunter Renfrow 42-yard catch 10:33 Q4 64.1% 81.9% +17.8%
Henry Ruggs 72-yard catch 2:39 Q2 21.3% 34.1% +12.8%
Maxx Crosby sacks Patrick Mahomes 12:36 Q4 59.7% 70.1% +10.4%
Darren Waller 23-yard catch 2:32 Q3 38.9% 48.3% +9.4%
Henry Ruggs 46-yard catch 8:51 Q1 24.8% 32.7% +7.9%
Travis Kelce 32-yard catch 3:02 Q1 27.8% 20.9% -6.9%

So, full disclosure, it's impossible to write this column two days after the game and not get some idea of the biggest plays in the game on Twitter or elsewhere. I have original ideas in the same way that we all do, by which I mean a lot of them are stolen from people much smarter than me.

But the one play on this list that stuck out to me as under-reported was the Maxx Crosby sack, so let's look at that:

Some respect for Clelin Ferrell! The reason this was such a big sack is because of the down and distance. Third-and-9 at the Kansas City 44 with a six-point deficit is pretty close to four-down territory. The sack made punting an easy decision.

By the (D)VOA

LV 34.0% 10.4% 6.2% 29.8%
KC 23.0% 26.0% 3.5% 0.5%
LV 34.8% 24.7% 6.2% 16.4%
KC 31.1% 31.8% 3.5% 2.8%

Yes, the Kansas City offensive performance does get a bit of an adjustment from playing Las Vegas. Considering Kansas City was No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense DVOA entering the week, I was a little surprised that the numbers didn't make more of a case for the Raiders' offensive DVOA to be even better, but that's mostly about how bad the Kansas City run defense DVOA is and how much the Raiders ran. Vegas had a 4.6% DVOA on 33 runs (14.1% VOA) and an 84.5% DVOA on 33 passes (74.7% VOA).

Vegas Rolls Deep

Derek Carr's NFL career has always been marked by a weird fact: he has a great deep ball and rarely gets to throw it. At times in his career, that has been not having the right receivers in place. At times in his career, that has been about sub-par offensive lines. Eternally in his NFL career, that has been about his own pocket presence and how quickly he transitions away from deep shots. Jon Gruden's offense has done a lot to maximize Carr in the sense that Carr isn't blitzed very often at this point. But it has also mostly turned Carr into a short passer who game-manages most of the time.

Enter Henry Ruggs, who has been healthy in just two games but who devastated the Chiefs in this game and had another long catch in Week 1. Enter Bryan Edwards, a second-rounder who has already received extensive playing time. Las Vegas' deep passing suffered last year with Tyrell Williams' health a major factor. Here's how the rookies have changed life for Carr:

Deep Pass DVOA for Derek Carr, 2019 vs. 2020
Year Deep
Avg Deep
Deep Attempts
per game
2019 90.6% 60.4% 78 4.9
2020 130.5% 66.3% 32 6.4

I must admit, I didn't see this changing as quickly as it has. The Raiders have rapidly improved the receiving structure around Carr, and now they can come from behind just as well as they can maintain leads. That tends to matter when, say, you fall into a 21-10 hole against the Chiefs. The 2019 Raiders fell into that same hole in their first game and didn't score a single point for the rest of the day as Carr averaged 6.6 intended air yards per pass attempt. In this one, Carr averaged 9.1 pass air yards per attempt.

If the Raiders can throw deep again, they became the 2016 Raiders, who probably could have competed for something had Carr not been hurt in the penultimate game of the season. With the Chargers floundering and the Broncos severely wounded, Vegas is absolutely on track to make some playoff noise in a crowded AFC.


10 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2020, 8:15am

#1 by JIPanick // Oct 13, 2020 - 3:15pm

Editorial check: I think you meant the 2016 Raiders in the last paragraph.

Points: 0

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Oct 13, 2020 - 3:22pm

If you ask what happened, and the answer is "They got pressure without having to blitz." that's an answer that works against most teams.

Points: 0

#3 by Perfundle // Oct 13, 2020 - 3:38pm

Mahomes saw just three blitzes the entire game. He devastated them, as he usually does, but the Chiefs had issues getting vertical against Oakland's zones.

Sounds like opponents should start blitzing Mahomes exactly zero times per game.

Points: 0

#5 by mrh // Oct 13, 2020 - 5:03pm

I won't argue about the key plays identified, they were important.  But I think the game turned heavily on three other key plays:

14:06 1Q:  58 TD pass to Hill called back on a hold.  It may have been a legit call, not sure it was "clear and obvious" but my memory may be off.

4:47 2Q:  incomplete deep throw to Hill, pretty obvious DPI goes uncalled, would have given the Chiefs the ball inside the Raiders 5.

4:37 2Q: next play, 3rd and 20, Mahomes scrambled right, held up short of LOS, and threw back across the field on the money to Keizer, who dropped a 1st down.

So instead of starting out up 7, the Chiefs punted and Raiders came back to get a FG.  Then instead of scoring or keeping a drive going, the Chiefs punted and Carr-to-Ruggs for 72 yards happened.  On the subsequent drive Kelce drew an OPI on what would have been a TD to CEH.  I thought it was a good call but frustrating after the missed DPI earlier.

It was a well-deserved loss; the Raiders closed out the game with a solid drive to keep the ball away from Mahomes.  But like all one-score games, it could have gone the other way.


Points: 0

#6 by BJR // Oct 13, 2020 - 5:18pm

I think it was Josh Hermsheyer on Twitter who noted how precipitously the Chiefs 1st down play efficiency has fallen this season from the previous two. Some of that is undoubtedly natural regression towards the mean from an absurdly high level. But there is at least a suggestion that they might be spending too many early downs feeding their rookie RB, instead of letting Mahomes cook.  

Some love for Jon Gruden. I know he's a figure of fun in some quarters for his anti-analytical takes, and his contract remains fairly absurd, but the dude can coach offense. 

Points: 0

#9 by Pat // Oct 14, 2020 - 11:11am

Gruden's contract's not nuts. Honestly, it's other coaches' whose contracts are nuts. You mean to tell me if you're the Texans or Falcons you wouldn't offer Gruden's exact contract for, say, John Harbaugh? I'd offer it to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan even given his limited success there. In a heartbeat. I'd add Pete Carroll there too, except for his age.

The low variation in coaches' salaries is really weird to me, given the obvious large talent variation. Only thing I can figure is that since they work with owners so closely it'd be a bad idea to make a money power move, I guess. Worth noting that teams usually keep coaching contract details very close to the vest.

Points: 0

#10 by BJR // Oct 16, 2020 - 8:15am

Yes, I really should have said the contract looked nuts at the time of signing (Gruden having not coached for over a decade, and effectively allowing him GM powers). But it looks a lot less nuts in hindsight

Points: 0

#7 by Raiderfan // Oct 13, 2020 - 10:26pm

Really great article, but way too short.

Points: 0

#8 by stoste // Oct 14, 2020 - 5:58am

Yep, enjoyed this but thought it would be longer.

Points: 0

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