Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie

Speaking the Truth: The Missing Piece Has Been Added

The Oakland Raiders saved their season with a victory over the division-leading and then-first place NFL team the Kansas City Chiefs in a hotly contested 31-30 victory.

While much ado has been made of the phenomenal production of Derek Carr and the Raider offense, I would argue that it was the defense that played the better game.

Reggie McKenzie has built this roster through a combination of shrewd draft choices, being very selective with needed free agents, and being able to comb thru the waiver wire and pick up a gem.

NaVorro Bowman was being phased out of the San Francisco 49er organization and requested his release. On Monday, Bowman signed with the Oakland Raiders to fill a void in the roster decimated by injury. At 29 and burdened with a Mt. Everest sized chip on his shoulder, Bowman joins the Raiders with something to prove. While he may have lost a step in terms of speed after a gruesome knee injury and an Achilles injury, his leadership and knowledge fill a void on this team.

Bowman has moved the needle with the young linebackers. Most of them remember the combination of Bowman and Patrick Willis and the havoc it wreaked on the NFL. Flash forward to Thursday, a mere three days after having signed with a new team, Bowman was trusted with the green dot.

For those of you that don’t know, the green dot helmet signifies the leader of the defense and the on-field communicator. Basically, the defensive quarterback. Earning this distinction in three days and going out and leading the team in tackles was a wonderful shot in the arm for a team desperate for healthy linebackers. In what has the makings of another McKenzie midseason splash, the Oakland defense may have come across a crucial piece. Notching 30 points is quite a bit above is average allowed points per game, but as a whole, the team played very sound defense against nearly all of the Chiefs playmakers.

All-Pro stud tight end Travis Kelce has tormented the league with his size, speed, and fiery competitiveness. Thursday night, the Raiders had a plan for Kelce and it led to a rather conspicuously low output. Kelce caught 4/5 targets for 33 yards and one touchdown. His first catch was the Chiefs first touchdown, an out-breaking route which expertly split the coverage of Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman for a ten-yard score. From that point on, minus a few dink and dunks, Kelce was a nonfactor.

Rookie sensation from the University of Toledo, Kareem Hunt came into the contest producing over 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the last six games. While his 18 carries for a mere 87 yards was excellent work put in by the defense, what makes that number even more noteworthy is the fact he had a long rush of 34 yards, coupled with four receptions for 30 yards, he gained just enough to keep the streak intact. But also key to note was the fact that he did not score.

Reggie Nelson and David Amerson were the latest recipients of a Tyreek Hill 1(800) you-burn’d phone call after he got over the top of the secondary for a 64-yard score. However, that would be the last time Hill would find paydirt because as evidenced by the preceding video, the Raiders made it a point to make Hill feel the defense. Hill finished the contest with six receptions for 125 yards and made an impact but not one big enough to win them the game.

When the fourth quarter rolled around, the offense was down nine points, which equaled a need for two scores. Throughout the entire fourth quarter, the defense held the best offense in the league scoreless and paved the way for the White Mamba to come back and leave the Chiefs snakebit in Oakland.

State of the AFC West

Three weeks ago the Chiefs were undefeated, had beaten the Super Bowl Champion LI New England Patriots on the road, and were an offensive juggernaut steamrolling every defense in its path. Since then, having suffered two close losses on the road to both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Raiders, they are now only a game ahead of the Denver Broncos, who they play on Monday Night Football. A loss to the Broncos would make the Chiefs 1-2 in division play, a game ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers and the Raiders, and behind the Broncos in terms of tie-breakers.

The Los Angeles Chargers suddenly look like the team to beat, having won three in a row and beaten the Broncos and Raiders in subsequent weeks. The Broncos have the defense to put them over the top and an offensive line capable of sucking the team’s hopes into a vacuum. The Chiefs have had defensive issues since Eric Berry went down, but with two consecutive losses in a row, teams are now going to attempt to exploit their weaknesses.

The Raiders have just experienced what could potentially be a season-changing victory influential in getting back on track for their postseason goals. While the offense had a fantastic showing, I need to see them do it again against a team that isn’t going to play cover-2 man press. With the leadership that Bowman brings, he can rally the troops and teach the youngsters the way of the elite linebacker. Obi Melifonwu appears to be healthy and on track to return to the active list for the Miami game. Bringing size and athleticism will be a huge plus but a rookie entering the season without a preseason and any real game action is a red flag. All in all after a crazy week in the NFL, the Raiders went from dead in the water and suddenly right back in the thick of things.

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