KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Rivalry week in the NFL doesn’t mean what it used to, but the Chiefs still place a special importance on Sunday’s game at Oakland.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson said every game is important, but some games simply have more hype than others due to the focus of the media and past tradition.
“This is a division game, this is an old school knock-out, drag-out type deal and it’s going to be fun,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be fun going to Oakland.”
Quarterback Alex Smith agreed.
“It’s a big, big week,” he said. “They’re all huge, but certainly this one is unique in that regard — just the history, the rivalry over the years — no question.”
The road trip has personal significance for Oakland native Marcus Peters. The cornerback’s first trip home proved emotional a year ago.
“I was throwing up I was so excited to get home,” Peters laughed.
Yet the importance of the game in the AFC West standings has more meaning to him than the personal connection.
“After last night’s game, the AFC West is wide open,” Peters said, referring to San Diego’s Thursday night win over Denver. “We’re going into it to hopefully get us up here in the ranks.”
While the fire and hatred between the two teams may not burn as white-hot as it did in the past, the competition for the division title and familiarity the teams share increases the emotion, according to coach Andy Reid.
“I think all the AFC West teams are competitive,” Reid said. “I think our guys get fired up to play them and their guys get fired up to play us.”
1. Unleashing Jamaal Charles
The veteran running made his 2016 debut in week four against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Charles made it clear he wants more action against Oakland.
“I’m ready to,” Charles said, “tell them to let the training wheels off me. I know how to ride now, so take them off and let me ride.”
But running Charles from zero to 60 in a blink of an eye is not necessarily the Chiefs’ game plan. Co-offensive coordinator Brad Childress says the team can mix and match their stable of backs to fit their strengths depending on the situation while working Charles in to the lineup.
“We’ll kind of sprinkle him in where we feel like he’s most effective and kind of work him back into the process,” Childress said.
Reid continued to play a wait-and-see approach on how much Charles expects to play.
“As long as there are no setbacks, he’ll probably do a little bit more,” Reid said.
2. Avoiding the Raiders comeback
Oakland averages 28.4 points per game, good for fifth best in the NFL, and their offensive philosophy is not that far removed from the Pittsburgh offense that piled 42 points on the Chiefs in week four.
But much of that offensive output has come late in the game when quarterback Derek Carr and the offense truly shine. The Raiders have scored 57 of their 142 points — 40 percent of their scoring — in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been resilient,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “The guys have fought hard and looked for opportunities to win these games.”
3. Containing Kahlil Mack
The disruptive linebacker picked up 15 sacks a year ago, but opponents have held to just one sack through five games so far this season.
Coach Jack Del Rio thinks “held” is exactly the root of the problem for Mack getting to the quarterback.
“Probably more examples of him being held at the point, that’s probably the biggest thing that stands out,” Del Rio said, “the number of times the opponent is just pulling him down, restricting him from getting to the quarterback. At some point that’s going to balance out, we’ll start getting some of those calls.”
4. Opportunities for Sio Moore
The Chiefs defense picked up just five sacks through the first four games of the season, so the addition of free agent linebacker Sio Moore should enhance the team’s depth while Justin Houston remains on the sidelines.
Moore picked up 7.5 sacks as an outside pass rusher in his first two seasons in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. The Colts acquired Moor via a trade prior to the 2015 season and moved him inside.
The 26-year-old linebacker didn’t fare as well in that role, and the Chiefs hope a move back to the outside helps him recapture his form from earlier in his career.
Could Moore be available to rush the passer after just a week with his new team? He says he’s ready if the coaches call his number.
“I pride on being able to adjust and play wherever my coach needs me to,” Moore said. “If that’s something that is talked about and they need me to do it, then I’ll do it.”
Reid said Moore displayed speed during practice as he acclimated himself to the team. He said there was a chance Moore could play Sunday.
5. Coach Derrick Johnson?
The Chiefs linebacker filled in as a guest on the CBS The NFL Today show during the bye week. The loquacious Johnson performed admirably, and while he said he might consider dabbling in broadcasting after his playing days are over, it’s not the career he covets.
“Maybe, because you know that gives me a little time to be with my kids more because it’s not time consuming like coaching, but later I’ll get into coaching.”
The stint on CBS also reunited Johnson with former teammate Tony Gonzalez.
“It was cool,” Johnson said. “We had some long talks about back in the day. I thought I played three years with him but it was four years, so it was cool.”