Last week, the Oakland Raiders defense was able to force San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers into mistakes. They capitalized on those mistakes and it propelled them to victory. This week will be a different story. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is a game manager. He takes care of the football and does not take too many chances. The challenge for the Oakland defense will be to force Smith into uncomfortable positions.
With Smith, what you see is what you get. He is protective of the ball and takes what the defense allows. He does not force throws or even test defenses down the field. This season, he has seven touchdowns to only three interceptions. However, over the last two games he has tossed all his interceptions. He has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game and his average yards per completion is just 6.5. He is not going to beat himself; the Raiders defense will have to put him in position to make mistakes.
“I’ve been around Alex for a long time,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “He’s great. He’s an even better person than he is a football player. He does a good job of throwing the football where the coaches want him to and taking what the defense gives him. We need to make sure that we challenge in coverage, that we’re tight when we’re supposed to be tight.”
Tarver's calling card as a defensive coordinator is bringing pressure and it has served the defense well this season. Smith provides a little more of a challenge because he has some ability to run. Because of that ability to run, combined with his cautious approach passing, the Raiders must be disciplined and capitalize on opportunities. Defensive end Lamaar Houston has been terrific this season applying pressure. When the pressure is constant, it disrupts. Safety Charles Woodson and cornerback DJ Hayden both took advantage last week with interceptions. Woodson also returned a fumble for a touchdown.
If the Raiders want the chance to disrupt Smith, it starts by slowing down running back Jamaal Charles. The Raiders played Charles exceptional last season, holding him to 14 carries for 14 yards in two games. This season, Charles is hurting team on the ground and as a pass catcher. He already has 28 receptions, seven less than the 35 he had all of last year. Because Smith is so willing to check down in order to protect the ball, Charles has been the benefactor. So not only will the Raiders defense have to account for Charles running the ball, but they will have to watch him out of the backfield as a receiver.
“He’s very explosive”, Tarver said of Charles. “He can go to the house whether he’s running the direct stretch cut run that they’re running or putting his foot in the ground and going at the back side, so your defense has to be good on the front, back and middle of the play. You’ve got to get off of blocks and make sure he stays where we want him to say. It’s a lot easier to say and harder to do. That’s where we need to go not only with him but with all of their backs and their quarterback. They’re good runners.”
Linebacker Kevin Burnett and Nick Roach will be responsible for keeping Charles in check. Both have played very well for the Raiders this season. Defensive tackle Pat Sims will also play a huge role in this game, using his size to clog the middle and keep the linebackers free to pursue the ball carriers. This game will be another very good test for the Raiders defense.
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