Bryant Could Key End of Chiefs Dominance Over Raiders

Martavis Bryant Oakland Raiders Kansas City Chiefs

It’s no secret the most hated Oakland Raiders rival of all – the Kansas City Chiefs – have dominated the series over the past decade. But the addition of new wide receiver Martavis Bryant could help change that. Here’s why.

As fans are aware, the Oakland Raiders traded down in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft dropping form the 10th overall spot to the 15th overall selection in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals. This exchange netted the Raiders and additional 3rd round and 5th round pick. They would go on to trade the 3rd round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for wide receiver Martavis Bryant.

Reports were circulating that the Steelers wanted to move Bryant after the wide out fell out of favor for various reasons, including missing the entire 2016 due to a season long suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has shown an Al Davis like eye for talented players who have some issues off the field. This new acquisition may take the Raiders offense and as well as quarterback Derek Carr to another level in the 2018 season.

The biggest direct challenge facing the Raiders this season will be the Kansas City Chiefs. They have been a thorn in Oakland’s side for some time including edging them out for the AFC West divisional crown during the 2016 season. Overcoming their divisional rivals dominance will be a tall task but one made more likely with the Raiders upgraded coaching staff.

Kansas City has really owned this rivalry recently winning six of the last seven meetings. The Raiders sole win during that stretch came last season in Oakland winning during a thrilling 31-30 Thursday Night Football affair. Even with the 31 points scored and 505 yards of total offense, the biggest issue the offense has had facing the Kansas City defense was still prevalent, 3rd down efficiency. The Raiders offense went 6 for 13 (46%) in their win and combined 11 for 26 (42%)in their season series last year. How will they change this and how does Bryant factor into the equation you ask, let’s jump into the tape to find out.

Kansas City went to a 2-man call on anything over about five yards on 3rd down. The Raiders offense didn’t seem to make an adjustment for it. The routes called did not attack man coverage and the receivers were not able to create separation on their own.

Play calling will obviously be corrected with the new coaching staff but the new receiver personnel will play a role as well. When I went back through the tape of the tape of the Chiefs defense facing the Steelers offense, some interesting adjustments showed up.

The biggest adjustment I saw was the respect Kansas City paid to Bryant’s speed. They did not want to press him and played off coverages. This alone will open some passing lanes that can get that third down percentage up.

Pittsburgh did a good job from a preparation standpoint to stack their receivers and utilize motion to prevent that press coverage. The 10-yard cushion Bryant is given leaves about half of the route tree practically undefended. It will be a combination of game planning and personnel that shifts the balance of power, though the presence of a true deep threat cannot be understated.

The Chiefs did not feel threatened and really attacked the Raiders short passing game. They played their cornerbacks in off coverage on early downs knowing the receivers could not eat the cushion. They then ran Buzz defenders under the receivers attempting to intercept those throws while having their defensive linemen get their hands up.

Having Bryant in the lineup will change this dynamic. Teams will not be able to squat on his routes out of fear of him running right by them. This will also in turn open the field for other players like fellow wide out Amari Cooper who had 11 receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns in that game. Defenses will not be able to roll coverage over to Cooper’s side of the field and should lead to many more impressive game stats lines.

That off coverage opens up some easy yards as well. Most offenses will have some kind of “check” system in place or install some form of quick throws based on their pregame film study. If a defense shows a tendency to play off of  opposing receivers they will have quick hitting throws like hitches or bubble screens.

“Taking what the defense gives you” isn’t always exciting but it can be very effective. As Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards likes to say: “You can’t go broke taking a profit.” An offensive coordinator will take this 7-yard gain on 1st down any time a defense is willing to give it to them.

Bryant is a bigger wideout at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, meaning he is not the easiest guy for a cornerback to get on the ground. He also plays with every bit of the 4.42 forty-yard dash time he ran at the combine. A single broken tackle could turn into a foot race for the end zone, and that is a race Bryant will quite often win.

That doesn’t mean the Raiders are only going to be throwing screens or running reverses like they did with former Raider receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Bryant is a complete player and will be a perfect weapon to attack that issue of the Chiefs trying to jump the Raiders underneath routes.

This was Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown running the “Slant and go” but it is the perfect illustration for attacking the Chiefs aggressive defense. Gruden is not going to miss opportunities or overlook tendencies the way former coaching staffs did. If Kansas City plays a similar style defense against the Raiders this season, expect to see plenty of double moves called.

Adding a big bodied deep threat to their offense will cause issues for opposing defenses. Teams will not be able to focus their attention on shutting down Cooper and will be forced to defend the entire field. Quarterback Derek Carr will have the best group of targets and best game plan designers he has had in his career. We should see him improve on his 2016 MVP caliber season form which bodes well for the teams playoff chances.

Oakland has not won the AFC West since their Super Bowl run in 2002. During that span, the Broncos and Chargers have won it five times and the Chiefs have won it four – including the last two seasons. If the Raiders are to get back on top of their division, defeating their hated rival will be a necessity and Martavis Bryant may just be the weapon that makes it happen.

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