Raiders need to stop Chiefs' running game to end AFC West skid
Posted: Thursday Oct 18, 2007 6:58 PM
Oakland, Calif. (AP) -Even a rookie coach can figure out what the Kansas City Chiefs will probably plan this week against the Oakland Raiders.
With big, talented back Larry Johnson, who has had so much success over the years against Oakland, facing a defense that has been one of the league's worst teams at stopping the run, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin is prepared for a heavy dose of No. 27.
"It's pretty easy to figure it out. When they run the ball well, they win for the most part. When they struggle to run the ball, they don't win,'' Kiffin said. "That's true a lot of times, but especially with them so far this season. Obviously, they're going to come in here and hand the ball off against our defense, so we need to be ready.''
That's been the strategy of just about all of Oakland's opponents this season. The Raiders (2-3) have struggled mightily in the running game no matter who they've faced. Whether it's LaDanian Tomlinson last week or Ronnie Brown or Travis Henry earlier in the season, Oakland has been unable to stop anybody on the ground.
And with starting defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Gerard Warren nursing injuries that kept them out of practice most of the week, the task could be even more difficult against a Kansas City (3-3) team that seems finally to be finding its groove in the running game.
The Chiefs have won three of four games after an 0-2 start, topping 100 yards twice in the last three contests and scoring their first touchdown rushing in last week's 27-20 victory over Cincinnati.
"We've gotten a little bit better but we're not where we're supposed to be, obviously,'' Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. "But we're improving. So that's a good thing.''
The numbers could get even better this week. The Raiders are giving up a league-worst 5.6 yards per carry and 144.8 per game, leading to a renewed focus on stopping the run against Kansas City.
"There are two things you need to be: better be sound in your gaps and where you're supposed to be, and you'd better tackle,'' Kiffin said. "We've struggled with both. Those are high school numbers, so it's obviously the biggest emphasis on our team right now.''
The running game has been the common theme in the Raiders' struggles against their AFC West rivals of late. Oakland has lost 16 straight games in the division and it's as simple as looking at last week's loss in San Diego.
When playing division opponents, the Raiders have been unable to run the ball or stop the run. Tomlinson broke out of a season-long slump last week by rushing for 198 yards and four touchdowns.
Johnson, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry, will look to boost his numbers against the Raiders. Johnson has averaged more than 105 yards rushing per game against Oakland in his six career meetings, scoring nine touchdowns in the process.
Johnson could even get some help by the possible return of Priest Holmes, who has missed nearly two years because of neck and spinal injuries. Holmes practiced this week and could play Sunday, giving Johnson some added help.
"As he goes, we go, and he has to keep that in the back of his mind and always know that regardless of the frustrations that is something very important,'' Holmes said. "He's our guy, he's our leader right now and he's the one guy who is heading our running back position.''
Kansas City has won eight in a row in this once-fierce rivalry, outrushing Oakland by 37.5 yards per game and running for 14 touchdowns to the Raiders' five in that span.
Many of the games have been close, with only one of the wins came by more than seven points. But the deciding factor has often been Kansas City's ability to run the ball late in games and take advantage of Raiders mistakes. A win this week would give the Chiefs the longest winning streak ever against Al Davis' team
"Usually when it comes down to the fourth quarter they do something, a foul or something, to hurt themselves,'' Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen said. "It's got to work to your advantage. We've got confidence that we've gone to Oakland and we've won before. I haven't lost to the Raiders since I've been here. I want to keep that going.''
Many players in the AFC West can make the same claim, as Oakland has lost those 16 straight division games since November 2004. And like the numbers against Kansas City, it's Oakland's struggles on the ground that have often been the deciding factor.
The Raiders have been outrushed by more than 60 yards per game during the streak and given up 25 TDs rushing to scoring six.
"We'll definitely clean it up,'' linebacker Thomas Howard said. "We're putting a lot of emphasis in practice on it. We'll get it cleaned up though.''