The Kansas City Chiefs are undefeated for a reason. In getting off to a 5-0 start, Kansas City has played solid on offense with new quarterback Alex Smith and the NFL’s 12th-ranked running game, while holding opponents to a league-best 11.6 points per game.
But when Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton looks at the Raiders’ offense, he can predict what Oakland will try to do in the matchup of AFC West foes Sunday at Kansas City: run the ball.
Kansas City’s biggest weakness has been defending the run, giving up 5.3 yards per attempt – tied for second worst in the league – and 115 yards per game. And the Raiders, with quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the expected return of running backs Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings from injury, certainly have the players to give the Chiefs fits.
Pryor, especially, has done damage to opponents in the four games he’s started, rushing 37 times for a team-best 229 yards.
“It’s obviously a major concern,” Sutton told the Chiefs’ website of Pryor’s running ability. “Terrelle’s a good football player. He’s playing the quarterback position very well, he’s right at around 68 percent (completion percentage). He’s doing a great job of taking care of the football. …
“Any time you add that other dimension, where you can extend a play, escape out of the pocket, and the thing he’s doing a great job of is he’s escaping and extending the play to throw the ball, that’s where he’s making a lot of plays. Obviously, he can take it and run upfield any moment he desires to run, because he’s one of these elite speed guys. He’s a long strider and you don’t appreciate how fast he’s running until he goes by you. Then you realize, that’s trouble.”
For his part, Pryor is excited to have McFadden back. McFadden missed last week’s game, a victory over the Chargers, but was back practicing this week and is expected to play in the game in which oddsmakers have made the Chiefs a whopping 10 1/2-point favorite.
“If I have the sidekick D-Mac with me, we’ll be good to go,” Pryor told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’d love to have D-Mac playing with me. That would take a lot of load off of me and the (Chiefs) will be guessing.”
And, McFadden has a history of running well against the Chiefs. Though 2012 was a down season for him, he twice rushed for more than 100 yards vs. Kansas City last season. In a 26-16 victory in October, McFadden had 29 carries for 114 yards; in a 15-0 win in December, he had 30 carries for 110. That’s a whopping 59 carries in two games.
The Raiders’ best chance to keep the score close or pull the upset would be to repeat that, running the ball with McFadden and loosening up the defense for Pryor’s passing and occasional breakout runs while controlling the clock and keeping the ball away from Smith & Co.
Oakland ranks ninth in the league in rushing, with 130.8 yards per game, thanks to the 1-2 punch of Pryor and McFadden.
Said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen of Pryor and his impact on the Raiders’ ability to run the ball: “He’s a guy that teams have to account for. Whether he’s got the ball in his hands or not, teams have to account for him. So, I thought that helped our run game.”
The Chiefs will try to focus on containing Pryor, and linebacker Tamba Hali might get the “spy” assignment to keep tabs on him. Hali, a Pro Bowler, already has four sacks this season, two forced fumbles and an interception. He can be a game-wrecker. On Sunday, however, he’ll have one eye always on Pryor.
“We want to make sure we can keep him in the pocket and force him to throw the ball,” Hali told KCChiefs.com. “We don’t want him running around.”