As the days ticked by with the Oakland Raiders preparing to host the Kansas City Chiefs in what is the highest stakes game for the Silver and Black in the better part of the decade, I reached back into the past for my partner for Thoughts from the Other Side.
Long time readers of Thoughts from the Dark Side will remember our old friend Ryan Brown who wrote for MVN's Home of the Chiefs. He agreed to answer my questions about what he things about the rise of the Chiefs and the coming renewal of this storied rivalry in a game that may have playoff implications.
Thoughts from the Dark Side: How in the world are the Chiefs in first place? Do you see them continuing on the hot streak?
Ryan Brown: It's simple - we run the ball for over 200 yards a game, and we don't turn the ball over. Remember when the Yankees were winning games because they "shortened the game?" The same principle applies to the Chiefs. We keep the other team's offense off the field (like the Colts' game), and we don't make any mistakes.
Every game, Matt Cassel makes at least two "WTF?" passes. He either airmails the receiver, throws into double coverage, or skips the ball off the turf. Last year, those WTF passes were landing in the arms of the opponents. Now they're landing on the ground or out of bounds.
Secondly, this is a very well-coached team. I joked with my buddies that defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel should be getting MVP votes. He's turned Derrick Johnson into a threat, Glen Dorsey into a force in the run-stop game, and we have the second-best cornerback in the AFC, behind Asomugha, in Brandon Flowers (Revis sucks. If he didn't play in New York, you would never hear of this guy).
It's fun to watch this team again. A powerful rushing attack, a bend-but-don't break defense, and few penalties and turnovers. Watching good football is something we haven't seen in Kansas City for a while.
Can we continue this hot streak? Since the only way we could have a weaker schedule is if we played the Oakland Raiders circa 2002-2009 every game, why not? These next two games (at Oakland, at Denver) will be very telling. I would be happy with a split, but if the Chiefs won both or lost both, I would not be surprised, either.
TFDS: Whats you impression of the AFC West as a whole?
RB: It's a good thing the NFC West is putrid, or the AFC West would be getting hell from the talking heads and sports pundits across the country. I think everyone expected San Diego to run away with the division (myself included), but I thought that either KC or Oakland would be fiesty. I didn't expect this, though.
Opening Night (Monday Night Football, the new Arrowhead) was amazing in Kansas City. It also set the tone for the rest of the season. The Chiefs played good defense, ran the ball, and didn't give the ball away. San Diego marched up and down the field until Matthews fumbled, then Rivers went into "dick mode", and the team imploded. They've never been the same.
Oakland is legit, and since you guys emasculated Denver two weeks ago, the Broncos are done. They have no identity, they can't stop ANYONE, and they have been crushed by injuries.
TFDS: What do the Chiefs have to do offensively and defensively in this game?
RB: It's no secret what they want to do on offense: Run the ball. Then run the ball. Then run some more. If Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones get 40+ carries, the Chiefs will win. If Oakland wants to win, they need to do what no other team has dared to do yet - make Matt Cassel beat you. Load up nine guys in the box, and say "All right, bring it". Remember in the old Tecmo Bowl game, when you would call your opponent's play on defense, and the ball carrier would just get destroyed? That's what Oakland has to do against the Chiefs' rushing game. Matt Cassel is the worst quarterback in the AFC West in the past five years who's first name doesn't start with "Jamarcus". He's never had to win a game before single-handedly - this might be the week he has to try to.
Defensively, the Chiefs are going to do the same thing. I say this with all the respect in the world, but the Raiders' receivers don't scare me defensively. I know they have all-world speed, but Flowers, Brandon Carr, Eric Berry and Javier Arenas have played against Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates this year. There isn't anyone on the Raiders that compares to any of those guys (no, the Chiefs don't have anyone like that either...relax, Raider Nation). With the exception of Johnson, who torched the Chiefs late, the team has held the receivers from having a big game.
TFDS: Who are the x-factors for the Chiefs on either side of the ball.
RB: If Dexter McCluster is healthy, then I believe Oakland is going to get a RUDE introduction to a folk hero in the making. "Fast" simply does not begin to describe McCluster. "Supersonic" is more like it. Remember in the movie "Spaceballs", when they go to "ludicrous speed"? That's McCluster. He runs so fast, he's going to go plaid.
Tony Moeaki is the real deal, too. Yes, yes, I know - another Chiefs' tight end named Tony. At least he didn't choose #88. But he's turning into Cassel's favorite target - mostly because Cassel can't hit anyone consistently beyond 12 yards. But on any 3rd-and-7 or more, Cassel is going to look for Moeaki. Count on it.
Defensively, watch out for Berry and Arenas, but for different reasons. Berry is still learning - which is fan-speak for "he tends to get roasted like a marshmallow" from time to time. Berry is a force in the run defensive scheme, but he's looked lost in pass coverage...a lot. Arenas had a coming-out party last week against that miracle win against the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo kept throwing and throwing and throwing at him - and he only gave up two receptions, despite being targeted 13 times. Those two receptions were for 12 yards. I'll take that from a rookie.
TFDS: What are you impressions of the Raiders so ar this season?
RB I will pay the ultimate compliment here. For the past 5-6 years, ever since the Chiefs have been in the dregs of the NFL, I always looked forward to the Oakland game because I considered it an easy win (Oakland probably thought the same thing about the Chiefs). Now - yikes. I'm not sure what happened with Al Davis (I'm guessing kidnapping, and that's a cardboard cutout of him in the booth during games), but the team looks....good.
The defense is tough. There are few holes to pick on, which you couldn't say in the past. Usually, the Chiefs could (and would) run all over Oakland - even in the glory days of Dick Vermeil, the team would still run for 200+ yards a game. Now with rookie McClain (he's a game changer) and that defensive line, you can't do that. Toss in Asomugha, and there goes half your passing area. What do you do?
Tom Cable seems to be handling the team with aplomb, and with a steady hand - something that was woefully short on the Raiders' sideline the past few years. The Raiders aren't a cakewalk anymore, and that pains me greatly to say it.
*> bonus game prediction <*
RB: Chiefs win, 23-20. Even with all my compliments towards the Silver and Black, you didn't think I would pick against the Kansas City good guys, did you?
>>Rivalry bonus question<<
What is your favorite memory of th Raider-Chief rivalry?
RB: I would love to invoke the name "Marinovich" here - especially when they showed Todd's parents in the stands every time he did ANYTHING. It was reminiscent of the Jacksonville game the Chiefs played two weeks ago. They kept showing Todd Bouman's SMOKING HOT wife every time she did anything - including upsetting the Arrowhead karma by gesturing to the crowd with an "in your face!" gesture after a touchdown. After the game-changing pick-six Bouman threw, we didn't see her anymore.
However, I will go with September 6, 1998. Opening Day at Arrowhead Stadium. Derrick Thomas has been pulverizing Jeff George all day. Left tackle Pat Harlow is scheduling therapy and updating his resume on the sideline, and he may never have filled out a W-2 again after this game.
Kansas City jumps out to a 23-0 lead, and then Oakland scores a garbage time touchdown and converts the first two-point conversion of the season. The Chiefs stall on offense, and punter Louie "The Assassin" Aguiar drops a beauty of a punt inside the five-yard line. On first down, the Chiefs stuff the run. On second down, Derrick Thomas NARROWLY misses a sack in the end zone on an incomplete pass. On third down, the team starts asking for noise from the Arrowhead faithful.
I was in the stands that day. I was about 18 rows back on the lower level, and nearly in line with the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs asked for noise, but it wasn't necessary - the crowd was already on their feet. If Hurricane Katrina and the F-5 tornado from "Twister" had a baby, it wouldn't have been this loud. Then...it happened.
DT raised his hands over his head and put them together. He was calling for the safety. The crowd went nuts. It was primal. We were going to will the Chiefs, Thomas in particularar, to sack Jeff George and get our safety. I truly believe that Derrick Thomas could have done ANYTHING at that moment. Cured cancer. Invented a time machine. Dragged George up the goal post and impale him on the top. Nothing was out of the question.
During all this, I had a moment of clarity. Surely, I thought, the Raiders aren't stupid enough to pass on this down, are they?
George called out his cadence. Harlow's pants filled with brown liquid. The ball was snapped. Harlow didn't move. I mean it - he was statue-still. Thomas had an easier sack than Sean Austin at the end of "Rudy". George took the snap, saw Thomas, and just crumpled. DT got his safety, I lost my voice for three days, and the evil Raiders were conquered once again.
I can't wait for Sunday.