The Oakland Raiders host the Kansas City Chiefs at O.co Coliseum in an NFL Network Thursday Night Football match-up. The Week 12 meeting is the first between the two clubs in 2014. The Raiders, still searching for their first win of the season, will face a 7-3 Chiefs team that has won its last five.
"They've won five in a row. They're a good football team, a well-coached football team, a good team, a physical team, a team that can possess the ball for long periods of time," said Raiders Interim Head Coach Tony Sparano. "They do a tremendous job keeping the ball on third down. This will be a game – one of the few games right now that we've played in, to be quite honest with you – where we'll be taxed. When I say that, I mean sometimes you can go into games and on paper you have an advantage in different areas. In this game here, we're going to have to play well in every phase of the game, obviously, which we have to do every week. Their special teams, their return game is very good, and that can be a real factor in this football game. They're an explosive team and they play real good defense, obviously, with two good rushers out there – one guy that's got a ton of sacks. They've got a great front – a big, physical bunch of guys. They get after you pretty good, and I know their defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and he brings a lot of different exotic pressures. He's from [New York Jets Head Coach] Rex [Ryan]'s school there and they'll come after us. They'll challenge us a bunch there."
The Chiefs are ranked 4th overall in rushing offense and 1st overall in passing defense. The Raiders long-time AFC West rival will present challenges on both sides of the football, as well as on special teams.
Defensively, Kansas City is tied for third in the league with 30 total sacks. One player, LB Justin Houston, has 12 sacks. He is aided by LB Tamba Hali and NT Dontari Poe, who have five sacks each.
Take a look back at the Raiders vs Chiefs rivalry, regular and pre season, in pictures.
"Very talented. They have talent everywhere," said QB Derek Carr on the Chiefs defense. "They play very hard. You can tell they are very well-coached. They don't just leave guys open, they don't just blow coverages. It shows. They've won five in a row now. They are on a good streak. The first thing that pops into your mind though is how much talent they have on that side of the ball."
The Raiders offense is preparing for a defensive line and a linebacking corps that has been extremely successful. "They've been playing well together for a long time," said OL Khalif Barnes. "Anytime you have a good defense, first of all with good players, and they've been together for a long time, they know how to work off each other. They know how to communicate, basically without saying anything. They run to the ball well. The Steelers have been like that for ages. When you get a team like that, that has been together for a long time and they know each other in and out, that's what kind of makes them good."
TE Brian Leonhardt, who is often in a blocking role, knows he will have to play sound in order to stop the Chiefs pass rushers. "They're a couple of the best linebackers in the league and definitely in the passing game, they show up all the time," said the second-year player out of Bemidji State. "They're getting sacks. They're all over the place, so the biggest thing is being able to stop their linebackers from them showing up and that's going to be the challenge this week."
Poe leads the attack up front for Kansas City, but Houston and Hali on the edge make the Chiefs defense incredibly tough to combat. "He's a real handful, he really is," said Coach Sparano on Poe. "What's hard is that when you have a player like that in the middle and then you have two edge rushers on the edge like they have, you get into some single match-ups. It's hard to put two people on a player like him when you have Tamba [Hali] and you have [Justin] Houston outside. Those guys are – that's really a tough deal. He gets freed up and he has speed and power for a big man. So you've got to do a good job of closing the space on him and really, I think it's critical that against players like that that you try to win on your first step – early – because if you play a player like that cautiously, he's going to get you on your heels and that's not a good thing."
Oakland has struggled getting its offense into a rhythm and staying on schedule. This week will be difficult against a defense that has kept each opponent to 20 points or less during its five-game win streak.
While the offense has been unable to produce, the Raiders defense has kept the team in games over the last several weeks. "[They are] playing tough football, playing good football," said Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid. "[Defensive Coordinator Jason] Tarver's got the defense playing well. It doesn't take you long when you turn on the film. There's a very small margin between winning and losing in the National Football League, we understand that."
The defense will need to continue their good play against an efficient quarterback in Alex Smith. Smith has completed 66.3 percent of his passes.
The Chiefs QB is not letting the Raiders record fool him; he knows the Oakland defense has been playing good football. "It's a little deceiving when you look at their record and you look at these games and their chance to win a big majority of them and then playing really well against some good offenses," said Smith. "You look at what they did last week against San Diego and really shutting them down for the most part and flying around. They do it a lot on defense. They throw a lot at you from a quarterback's perspective and give you a lot to handle. And [they're] tough up front and a pretty veteran group in the secondary."
Coach Reid also recognizes how well the Raiders defense has been playing. "Their speed. Their speed and quickness," said Coach Reid. "You've got to be on your toes, now, when you play them, because Tarver, he's going to bring people from all over the place. He's gotten us before, so we know the deal. You've got to be on you're A-game."
Rookie LB Khalil Mack has caught the eye of the Chiefs offense on film. "He's playing really, really well," said Smith. "He's playing at a high level. He's very disruptive for a rookie. He's physical. He's beaten guys one-on-one, really tough to handle up front coming off the edge. Good player at this point, he has been pretty impressive to watch on tape."
One of Kansas City's most notable offensive assets is RB Jamaal Charles. Raider Nation remembers him well from last year's match-up in Oakland. Charles continues to be impressive. He has rushed for 692 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season. The Raiders defense will have to focus on stopping the run.
"First off, we have to stop the run," said DT Justin Ellis. "They're going to run the ball right at you and they're going to figure out if you're men or boys. They're going to figure out quick. That's our main thing, we have to make sure we stop the run first and from there we can try to handle Alex Smith."
Coach Tarver believes, however, that if the Raiders defense focuses on themselves, they'll be able to handle the challenges of Charles, Smith and their other receiving weapons. "Kansas City does a good job running and passing the ball. They've improved, they have a good scheme," said Coach Tarver. "What we're concerned about is ourselves. We need to continue on our progression, which is setting edges, using our hands, continuing to improve techniques and fundamentals inside and outside. You asked specifically about the inside guys; they're improving in what they do. We're improving in how we work together. We need to stay on our progression and keep getting better, play-in and play-out. This team has some explosive players that we need to keep in the cage."
What is frightening about the Chiefs offense is that they've managed to win five straight games, and seven total, without a single touchdown pass to their wide receivers.
"They do a good job of throwing to the guy that is open and running their progressions," said Coach Tarver. "I've been fortunate enough to be around that type of offense and they do a good job, whoever is open, they throw them the ball. That's what you should do. We know that. I don't put much stock into that. They have good players and threats. We're going to work to match them up. It's going to be exciting on Thursday night."
Thursday Night's game will be the first primetime game for the Silver and Black since the preseason. Carr also hopes it's the Raiders first win. "Man. It would be awesome. I'm still waiting for it, but I'm working for it. I'm not just waiting for it to happen," said Carr. "It'd be great. It'd be great for our fans, it'd be great for our team, for our coaches. That's what I get excited for, that's what I play for. I want to see everyone else smile. I want to see our fans happy. I want to see our coaches happy, my teammates happy. I want to see everyone smile and that's what makes me excited. I don't do it for myself. I'm very excited for the opportunity. Hopefully we'll get the win so I can see all my friends smiling."
Coach Reid and the Chiefs know records are thrown out the window in a division rivalry, under the lights, and in the Black Hole. "When you go to the Black Hole, you better be ready," said Coach Reid. "We know that. That's a given, and this is a great rivalry that's far exceeded my time as a head football coach in this league, so we understand that these are two competitive football teams when they play each other. The records, you just throw the record out."
Catch the game on NFL Network or locally on CBS 5, listen on 95.7 The GAME, or follow along on Raiders.com, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.