Over the past two games, the Raiders’ run defense has been shredded by the Cowboys and Jets.
On Sunday, it will have to stop Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs.
It’s a matchup that doesn’t look promising.
Charles is the NFL’s third-leading rusher with 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Chiefs love to use Charles to batter defenses. He’s averaging 4.9 yards per carry and is coming off his biggest game of the season, a 150-yard rushing day vs. Washington in a 45-10 victory. Six times this season, Charles has 90 or more yards on the ground.
In the first meeting between these teams back in October, Charles had 128 yards from scrimmage in a 24-7 Kansas City victory.
So, if the Raiders (4-9) have any hope of knocking off the Chiefs (10-3) Sunday at O.co Coliseum, the defense is going to have to shut down Charles and force the Chiefs to go to the air.
Yet the Raiders defense – after a strong start this season – has begun to come apart. With key injuries and a thinner crew, the defense has allowed 287 yards rushing over the past two games. That’s an average of 143.5 per game, after holding opponents to 99.1 yards per game over the first 11 games.
And, in losing three straight games, the Raiders "D" has been much weaker in the second half of potentially winnable games against the Titans, Cowboys and Jets.
“I do think the defense is worn down, but we have to go out and we have to tackle and we have to do the things we have to do to be able to get off the field,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told the media this week. “It’ll be something that we’ll continue to work on.”
The Raiders defense has been particularly ineffective in stopping opponents on third downs. Over the past three games, opponents have converted 24 of 44 third-down plays, a 54.5 percent rate.
But stopping Kansas City Sunday may be difficult because of a number of factors aside from Charles and the running game. The Chiefs, having lost three in a row, rebounded with a win last week and can clinch a playoff spot with a victory or tie Sunday. Plus, they’ve won eight of their past 10 games in Oakland and lead the NFL with a plus-15 turnover margin. The Alex Smith-led offense may not be flashy, but it gets the job done. The former 49ers quarterback is completing nearly 60 percent of his throws and has three times as many touchdown passes as interceptions (18 to 6), with some dangerous wideouts in Dwayne Bowe (49 catches), Dexter McCluster (46) and Donnie Avery (35).
While the Raiders offense will have its own challenges Sunday – the Chiefs defense is the No. 4 scoring defense in the NFL (just 17.2 points per game) – Oakland may not stand a chance if it can’t stop Charles and Smith from controlling the game and putting together long scoring drives.
Allen this week says his team has changed its practice schedule this week to a slower pace to focus more on communication and assignments to both improve its performance and allow more rest for his defensive unit.
“We’ve changed things up a little bit,” Allen told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group this week. “Hopefully that gives them a little bit of a boost.”
Oddsmakers have made the Chiefs 4½-point favorites.