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Focal Points: Raiders at Kansas City

Last week was a crucial matchup for the Raiders but this week it is do or die. If they lose this game, they are out of playoff contention. In fact, there is still a chance the Raiders could fall to the bottom of the AFC West. So how they perform this week could ultimately place them from worst to first.

Keeping hope alive

This game is the only hope for both of these teams. Whoever loses is out (with the exception of a far-fetched wildcard scenario for the Raiders). While winning is not a guarantee either, it is the only chance they have. The Raiders’ chances are slightly better but in losing, their chances are equal. Both of these teams will be literally fighting for their playoff lives. With everything at stake, everything will be left on the field. Both will be looking to keep their hope alive while killing the dreams of their bitter rivals. That is the level of intensity I expect to see. It may really come down to who wants it more.

Oh, by gosh, by golly, it’s time for Veldheer versus Hali

Raiders’ left tackle Jared Veldheer has had a great season for the Raiders but he is about to meet up with his nemesis. Veldheer has matched up against Chiefs Pro Bowl defensive end Tamba Hali three times in his short career and all three times, Veldheer had a bad game. Last season Hali had 3.5 sacks combined in the two meetings (2.5, 1). On top of those sacks he beat Veldheer for several pressures and hits. Several other times when Hali was not getting the quarterback it was because Veldheer was holding him or being called for a false start or another such penalty — all results of Hali having a dominant day. Veldheer has been named a “Buster” in all three meetings as well. Hali just has a way of bringing out the worst in Veldheer. But at some point Veldheer is going to turn the tide back. He stopped NFL sack leader Jared Allen’s consecutive sack streak at 11, so he is perfectly capable. This battle will be one to watch on Saturday. Watch for how much time Palmer has to throw but also watch for the yellow hankies.

Unfriendly reunion

Few people know the Chiefs better than Al Saunders. He had two stints in Kansas City as assistant head coach (89-98) and offensive coordinator (01-05) for a total of 15 years with the organization. He will return to Kansas City for the first time as a member of the Oakland Raiders’ coaching staff. This is an unforgivable sin as far as those in Kansas City are concerned. As an offensive consultant for the Ravens last season, Saunders traveled to Kansas City in last year’s playoffs for the first time since he left in 2005. His Ravens knocked the Chiefs out of the playoffs with a resounding 30-7 defeat.

This is a different team on the field along with a different coach since last season. Kyle Orton has taken over for the injured Matt Cassel and Romeo Crennel has assumed the head coaching position for the fired Todd Haley. But the venue is still quite familiar. Saunders coached there eight times a season (ten if you count preseason) as well as a few home playoff games for fifteen years and once per season during his six seasons with the Chargers for a grand total of 133 games in that stadium. His overall record at Arrowhead stadium is 95-38 which is pretty good. Granted 125 of those were as the home team, but we are still talking about someone who could impart information upon his players that few people could. He is just 3-5 there as a visitor which shows you the difference between a friendly Arrowhead Stadium and a non-friendly one.

Shouldering the burden

Darren McFadden has been out half of this season and it appears he will not return unless the Raiders make the playoffs. That is a bit of a catch 22 considering they may not make the playoffs in part due to not having him available. In his absence Michael Bush has been a workhorse. He has carried the ball almost exclusively. This workload has been greater since rookie scat back Taiwan Jones also went out with injury.

Up to this point, the closest thing Bush has had to an injury has been some seriously sore muscles the following few days. But last week he hurt his shoulder and is a little banged up. It isn’t supposed to keep him out but it could affect his typical bruising style.

Luckily for Bush, the Raiders will finally get Taiwan Jones back. Jones is the change of pace back the Raiders have been lacking with McFadden out of the lineup. Bush will no doubt welcome a bit of the load taken off of him and Jones is probably itching to show the skill set that got him drafted out of Eastern Washington. Look for Jones to carry the ball 5-10 times in this game along with a more rested and far more effective Michael Bush because of it.

The long and the short of it

Raiders’ offensive coordinator Al Saunders mentioned on Thursday that the Chiefs are very good at limiting the long pass from opposing teams’ offenses. He is correct as they have allowed just six passes over 40 yards all season. This would suggest the Raiders will play a more West Coast style offense this week.

This is not a style for which Carson Palmer is known. However, with the injuries in the receiving corps of late, the Raiders have had their air attack grounded anyway, so it has been a style he has been forced into deploying.

The Raiders have the tools to do this. Denarius Moore returned last week and is another week healthier. Darrius Heyward-Bey has become quite adept at quick slants and comebackers and can usually pick up some good yards after the catch as well. Last week, TJ Houshmandzadeh got the most extensive work in the Raiders’ offense since he arrived. He caught six passes for 52 yards. And Louis Murphy has long been a solid possession type receiver.

The funny thing is that now the Raiders have all the tools necessary to execute a good grind it out, dink and dunk offense, but the quarterback best suited for that style is Jason Campbell. This game will be a real test for Palmer in that regard. The one aspect he brings to any offense is the ability for big plays downfield. He will now need to be more efficient. Last week he threw for 367 yards, much of which was on short passes. But he also only threw one touchdown pass which came thanks to a great bit of running by DHB. If Palmer can do anything similar to what he did last week, the Raiders have a good chance. The Chiefs have a better defense than the Lions but a far worse offense. The two should cancel each other out.

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