WR Chaz Schilens makes the touchdown grab at Kansas City in 2010 Week 17. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in a division rivalry game that will play a large role in the final AFC West standings. The Raiders sit at 7-7 and the Chiefs are 6-8 with two regular season games to play. After falling to the Chiefs in Week 7 at O.co Coliseum, the Raiders want to take home a victory from Arrowhead Stadium.
The Raiders will have to contend with a loud, hostile environment in Kansas City. "I was there for 15 years, a lot of years in Kansas City with Marty [Schottenheimer] and Dick Vermeil," said offensive coordinator Al Saunders. "For the opponents, it is a difficult place to play from a noise standpoint and now they've restructured the stadium and it seems like it comes down on you even more. I was with Baltimore last year and we played there in the playoffs and the noise hasn't changed."
The last two games will play a crucial role in the playoff hopes for all the teams in the AFC West. "It's big," said LB Kamerion Wimbley. "I'm excited and I think the guys here will be fired up to play and we know that we still have a chance to make it into the playoffs. It's a tight race in this division so we're going to go out and give our best effort."
The players know what kind of environment they're heading into and the significance of the match up. "It's huge," said G Stefen Wisniewski. "The place is really loud, the crowd's going to be into it, and it's going to be a physical ballgame the whole time."
The offense and defense are excited to face the Chiefs and fight for a playoff berth. "It's big for the NFL and it's big for us," said WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. "The NFL set it up just right where you have two division games at the end of the season so we have to be ready to go."
Rivalry games are always intense, but a division match up near the end of the season in a playoff race has added passion. "It's great, especially with everybody in the hunt like we are, each game means a little more and a little more," said SS Tyvon Branch. "And for one of those games to be a rivalry game is big for us."
The team is excited and prepared for the tough match up. "It's what the NFL is all about, it's exciting," said TE Kevin Boss. "It's playing for a playoff berth against a rival such as Kansas City, one of our biggest rivals, so it's exciting."
Although the Raiders played the Chiefs earlier in the year, they will be facing a team with a new defensive-minded head coach, a new quarterback and a squad that beat the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers last week. "They're coming off of a big win and they have a strong defense," said Boss. "It's a must-win game for us so we're going in with that mindset."
The Chiefs defense held the Packers offense to 14 points under the direction of defensive coordinator turned interim head coach Romeo Crennel. "Very physical, very tough, stubborn against the run, very stubborn against the pass," said Head Coach Hue Jackson on the Chiefs defense. "They're good; Romeo's one of the best coaches in this league on defense, he does a great job. Again, that's the National Football League. Last week it was a different opponent, this week it's the Chiefs, a team within our division and they'll be prepared to play against us and we'll be prepared to play against them so let's do it."
QB Carson Palmer believes the Chiefs defensive success against the Packers was the result of execution at all the positions. "[They] covered the receivers, got pressure on the quarterback, and there was little to no run game," said Palmer. "They had a couple nice plays here and there, but they tried to throw the ball on them and it was a tough day. Both corners are really good, really physical, fast. They're safeties are rangy and they've got Tamba Hali on one side and a bunch of good pass rushers around him. So, it's just a really good unit top to bottom."
Chiefs LB Tamba Hali leads the team in sacks and is part of a stout Kansas City defense. "Tamba Hali has done a terrific job," said Coach Saunders. "He's got 12 sacks and the other guys up front are helping him a lot. They get a lot of help from their linebackers. This last week they changed their scheme as much as they just changed some of the things they were doing up front and put a little bit more pressure on the quarterback. They're doing a terrific job, they're very athletic and they're very fast."
Coach Saunders talked about what makes Hali such a dangerous player. "He's a very gifted player. Steve Wisniewski would say it's because he went to Penn State, but we think it's because of his physical gifts," said Coach Saunders. "He's got tremendous quickness; he's got a variety of pass-rush moves. Some guys are generally inside-rushers or bull-rushers or they're swim-rushers and he has all the tools. They do a good job of placing him in a lot of different places. He plays on the weak side, he plays on the strong side, he'll play on the inside sometimes but he's got a great knack and he's just a tremendous effort player. All those things I think really add up to why he's been so successful for them."
The younger Wisniewski will work hard to limit the effectiveness of Hali in a big game for the Silver and Black. "It's a huge game," said Wisniewski. "You kind of have a little two game playoff here, you have to win them both and we need a little bit of help to get in the playoffs. We're looking at it like a do-or-die situation with our backs up against the wall and we have to fight these guys for four quarters and get a win."
The Raiders defense will face an offense led by former Broncos QB Kyle Orton. "I think what they've done is simplify their offense and given him a chance to have success," said Coach Jackson. "Kyle has a big arm; he can throw it. And they have some targets to throw it to; they have a big physical offensive line. I think they're going to still lean on the running game because I think that's how the team is built. But he's a guy that can throw the ball. He's smart and he knows how to get the ball to the open guy."
The Chiefs offense also has three running backs they can lean on throughout the game. "But this is a team that you still have to go in and this will be a challenge for us with the run game," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "They do a lot of things with [Dexter] McCluster, but they really have a three-headed monster back there with [Thomas] Jones, [Jackie] Battle, and McCluster. They are going to try and establish the run. They are going to try to get it on the edge with McCluster they have got the ability to go to the wildcat like they did to us in the red zone in the last game. But we have got to come out, stop the run, and then we have got to be very disciplined in our coverage, and step it up a notch and really hold ourselves accountable to make up for last week."
The Raiders defense is ready for the challenge. "This is a big game for us," said Wimbley. "Any time we go and play KC it's going to be a hard fight and we're looking forward to it. They're going to be ready and we know that."
The defense wants to prove themselves this week in Arrowhead Stadium. "It's a big rivalry game so I'm excited," said Branch. "We're coming off of a tough loss so we're excited to get back out there and prove ourselves again."
Coach Jackson knows what the Silver and Black needs to do in order to be successful. "I think we got to go in there focused and play Raider football," said Coach Jackson. "Which is we can't turn it over, we have to get turnovers, we have to do a great job on special teams, and then we have to finish consistently every play. Whether it's a play that's two yards or whether it's a play that's twenty yards, we got to play consistently for four quarters and finish the game."
The Raiders understand what is at stake in this game against the Chiefs. "I don't think of it as a rivalry game; I just think of it as a game we have to win," said T Khalif Barnes. "That's basically how we're looking at it - we have to win this game."