Raiders-Chiefs: Matchups to watch

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Raiders-Chiefs: Matchups to watch

KANSAS CITY -- In one of the more stunning developments in the 2011 NFL season, all four AFC West teams are still alive in the division title race.Consider this game, then, a de facto elimination game. Because while the 6-8 Chiefs' best hope is for a multi-team tie at 8-8, the 7-7 Raiders' most clear-cut path to the playoffs is to win out and hope for Kansas City to beat Denver in that season finale.First things first, though. The Raiders lose to the Chiefs, and Oakland is essentially eliminated from the division race.The return game of this division rivalry has a much different look than the first. Both teams will start different quarterbacks this time around in Carson Palmer and Kyle Orton, Darren McFadden was actually hurt in that first game and the Chiefs are playing for a new interim coach in Romeo Crennel after Todd Haley was shown the door last week.
And while the Raiders defense has been lit up like, well, both a Christmas tree and a Menorrah of late, the pressure is on Oakland's offense to step up and take the game out of its defense's hands.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Saturday morning from Arrowhead Stadium:Raiders running back Michael Bush (29) vs. Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (56).TALE OF THE TAPE
Bush: 6-1, 245, Louisville, fourth season
Johnson: 6-3, 242, Texas, seventh seasonBush averages 5.8 yards every time he carries the ball against the Chiefs.Johnson's 119 tackles ranks 10th in the NFL.Surely their paths will cross early and often. And whoever gets the better of those battles and imposes their will should tilt momentum in his team's favor. The Chiefs are focused on Bush."Well, hes big, he runs hard, he's fast, and when you get him to the second level, he's extremely hard to tackle," said Kansas City interim coach Romeo Crennel. "He can catch also. I forgot to mention that. He's the total package."At least, he has been when he's faced Kansas City.In six career games against the Chiefs, Bush is averaging 82.8 rushing yards per game and in his last two games against them, he has a combined 236 rushing yards on 42 carries, including the 137-yards-on-25-carries afternoon he had in last year's season finale on January 2 at Arrowhead Stadium. He's also caught six passes for 43 yards against the Chiefs in his career."I personally like playing in their stadium," said Bush, who is 159 yards away from a 1,000-yard rushing season after replacing Darren McFadden on Oct. 23. "Their fans are always loud and against you and hostile, and I love it."It's the same team we faced last year, the same team we faced a couple of weeks ago, and we just got to slow down 91 (Tamba Hali) and 56 (Johnson) and get them to play our game."Bush was limited this week in practice with a sore shoulder.Other matchups worth watching: Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer (3) vs. Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) -- The last time Palmer faced the Chiefs, really, he had no business being on the field. It was in that Oct. 23 game at the O.co Coliseum and Palmer had just been acquired from Cincinnati in a Tuesday trade. The most football he had seen in the fall up to that point was after tailgating at his alma mater in USC.And yet, Palmer was thrown into the game, trailing 21-0, and proceeded to throw three interceptions, including a 58-yard pick-six to Flowers."It was like he was just trying to play backyard football," Flowers said."I was very surprised (he played). I know how hard it is to play quarterback in this league. For him to just go in so quick, not knowing all the plays and the speed of the receivers, you know, you can't get that down in one or two days. It's going to take at least a week, so I was very surprised he came in the first time."SInce then, Palmer has seemingly settled into the role, even as his overthrows of Denarius Moore and Chaz Schilens against Detroit on Sunday were costly.Palmer completed 80 percent of his passes (32 of 40) for 367 yards and a touchdown without an interception in the Raiders' 28-27 loss to the Lions."I thought we did a good job last week executing," Palmer said. "Guys did a good job fighting to get open, pass protection against a really good defensive line was great. That's what I expect and that's something that we just need to grow off of and keep getting better offensively, keep finding ways to get completions, keep finding ways to sneak some run yards here and there and reverses and screens and misdirection-type things."The Chiefs defense, though, presents a unique challenge."Both corners are really good, really physical, fast," Palmer said. "Their safeties are rangy. And then 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."The magic of video also had Flowers singing praises."They look more polished," said Flowers, who also picked off Kyle Boller in that 28-0 Chiefs victory in October. "Carson Palmer (has) had time to get his timing routes down with the receivers. You could see they're really starting to jell as an offense and you can tell the chemistry is starting to come along, rather than when Carson Palmer played the first time."Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer (68) vs. Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali -- OK, so, you've heard about Hali in each of the previous two matchups to watch. That's how disruptive a force the 6-3, 275-pounder can be in a game.Heck, he took a shot at Palmer's knee in this first meeting this year, the first time Palmer dropped back to pass, on the first snap Palmer took as a member of the Raiders.Players have long memories and the 6-8, 315-pound Veldheer's weekly challenge is to defend his quarterback's blind side from the opposing team's most fearsome pass rusher. Hali and his 12 sacks, which rank eighth in the NFL, is simply Veldheer's most recent assignment."He is a very gifted player," Raiders offensive coordinator Al Saunders said of Hali. "He has tremendous quickness, he has a variety of pass-rush moves. Some guys are generally inside rushers or they're bull rushers or they're swim rushers. He has all the tools. And 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 inside sometimes. He has a great knack and he is just a tremendous effort player."Hali has forced two fumbles in his last two games and has four sacks in his past four games against the Raiders.

McKenzie focuses Raiders' 2017 draft on defense, beefs up secondary

McKenzie focuses Raiders' 2017 draft on defense, beefs up secondary

ALAMEDA – Raiders general manger Reggie McKenzie made nine selections in this weekend’s NFL draft. That was a requirement given the state of his roster, featuring a stacked offense and a Swiss-cheese defense. It has holes.

He spent significant draft capital trying to upgrade the middle of his defense especially, adding three defensive backs, two defensive tackles and a fifth-round pick in Marquel Lee who will compete to start at middle linebacker.

He needs a few immediate impact players on the defensive group headlined by first-round cornerback Gareon Conley and second-round safety Obi Melifonwu.

“How much do I think I can get out of this group? I hope a lot,” McKenzie said Saturday after the NFL draft was complete. “They’re all going to come in and compete. We’re signing guys post-draft also. We’re going to give them all the opportunity to compete with the veterans that we already have on board. We hope that out of it all, the competition part of it, the cream rises and we have a very good 53-man roster.”

McKenzie follows a draft board thoroughly constructed through hundreds of scouting reports and cross checks, and extensive evaluation at combines and pro days. He trusts it. It has certainly treated him well before, which productive hauls in 2014 and 2015 especially.

While he lost out on some likable players taken before his slot, McKenzie believes the Raiders added quality and depth in previously lacking position groups. He stuck with size and athleticism at times over college production and, as always, beefed up both the offensive and defensive lines.

“I think the way it fell, we got a lot of players, at the end of the day, it looks like we needed,” he said. “We felt like we got a lot of good players with high talent levels from top to bottom. Some are going to be more raw than others. We’re going to have to see down the line, more so. I think talking to the board, you said, ‘Job well done.’”

McKenzie also focused on fixing a lackluster pass defense with speed. Conley can be a shutdown cornerback outside or in the slot. Melifonwu is a heavy hitter who can play both safety spots and is expected to contribute as a rookie. The secondary must improve to prevent big plays and help Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin get after the quarterback.

“You have to have speed to play the game the way it’s going now,” McKenzie said. “You have to be able to play in space. You have to be able to match up. We took all of that into consideration when we brought these players in. To the players that you mentioned, Obi and Conley, both of those guys have great range, speed, very athletic. So, they make tackles in space. That’s one of the things that we looked at. Make sure short to medium plays don’t turn into big plays. I think they will help in that scenario.”

Here’s a full list of Raiders draft picks:

Round 1 (No. 24 overall): CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Round 2 (No. 56 overall): S Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut
Round 3 (No. 88 overall): DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
Round 4 (No. 129 overall): OT David Sharpe, Florida
Round 5 (No. 168 overall): LB Marquel Lee, Wake Forest
Round 7 (No. 221 overall): S Shalom Luani, Washington State
Round 7 (No. 231 overall): OT Jylan Ware, Alabama State
Round 7 (No. 242 overall): RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Round 7 (No. 244 overall): DT Treyvon Hester, Toledo

 

Raiders 2017 UDFA tracker: McKenzie adds safeties, mining for more gold

Raiders 2017 UDFA tracker: McKenzie adds safeties, mining for more gold

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have had great success mining gold from undrafted free agency. Jalen Richard and Darius Latham were kings of last year’s crop, which was six strong by season’s end. with Seth Roberts and Denico Autry other examples of undrafted free agents done good in recent years.

Can Raiders scouts find more helpful pieces from those left out of the NFL draft? Time will tell on that one, but finding the right undrafted players is something the team takes seriously. Scouts revel in undrafted players who make it in the league.

“It’s very rewarding,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “If we sign him as a free agent, we may have had him on the board as draftable, but getting guys post draft, that helps you down the road. To maintain a consistent winner, you have to hit on some of those guys. You have to. The way that the contracts are these days, you have to have some of those type players to help you win football games year in and year out.”

The Raiders will search for those players into Saturday evening to fill the 90-man roster. McKenzie secured some of his top targets with four seventh-round picks, though several more have signed with the club. Here’s a list of those who have signed with the team thus far:

-- OL Jordan Simmons, USC: The hulking offensive lineman signed with the Raiders, he announced on social media. Simmons stands 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds, and will turn pro after being denied a sixth year of college eligibility. The talented guard had an injury-riddled career.

-- WR Isaac Whitney, USC: Whitney is yet another undrafted Trojan to join the Raiders roster. He announced the signing on social media. He didn’t have many college stats, but is fast with the size the Raiders prefer in outside receivers.

-- WR Keon Hatcher, Arkansas: Hatcher will reportedly join the offseason receiver group in hopes of taking a roster spot. He had 44 catches for 743 yards and eight touchdowns in his final college season. (Houston Chronicle)

-- WR Ishmael Zamora, Baylor: The Bears official website reported that Zamora will sign with the Silver and Black. He had63 catches for 809 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. He was suspended three games for abusing a dog in an incident that was caught on video. 

-- S Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma: The Raiders need safety depth, so it was smart of Thomas to sign in Oakland. He was a three-year starter and a team captain. (Houston Chronicle)

-- S Anthony Cioffi, Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights’ official Twitter account reported a four-year starter in college will give the pros a try in Oakland.

-- DT Jordan Wade, Oklahoma: The 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle will join the Raiders. (SoonerScoop.com)

-- TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon: The Ducks didn’t have a single player drafted, but Brown will join the Silver and Black. The tight end announced a signing on Twitter. He had 33 catches for 426 yards and five touchdown.

-- DT Paul Boyette, Texas: The Raiders continue adding volume at positions of need, including this 298-pound run stuffer. 

-- S Rickey Jefferson, LSU: Yet another safety joins the mix, according to LSU's football Twitter account. There will be a battle at that position all offseason as the Raiders try to sort out which players work best in their system. 

 

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