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Raiders go from defending a statue to Patrick Mahomes

Updated September 14, 2019 - 4:58 pm

OAKLAND, Calif.

Such is life in football:

Within six days, an NFL defense will break down film and prepare for opposing quarterbacks as different as the social media platforms of Antonio Brown and Bill Belichick, devising one game plan to aggressively attack a Ford Fiesta and another to avoid being embarrassed by a Tesla Roadster.

The Raiders impressed against the slow-moving version in Week 1 of this season.

Now, they get the one with unearthly horsepower.

Making things difficult on Joe Flacco and the Broncos helped produce a 24-16 victory Monday night, but having to manage Patrick Mahomes and the visiting Chiefs on Sunday is another level of impediment altogether.

You’re going from containing a statue to chasing Superman, albeit a somewhat gimpy version after Mahomes tweaked an ankle in a season-opening win at Jacksonville.

Where, by the way, he still threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns, so, yeah, there is that …

“(Mahomes) is great,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He can make any throw, he’s proven right- or left-handed, looking or not looking, so you understand the problem that everybody has dealing with them.

“You want a scouting report on Kansas City? It’s speed, and that’s all you need to say. Speed on special teams, speed on defense and speed on offense. They have tremendous speed, and they make you defend every inch of grass.”

The Raiders were gassed defensively a bit in the fourth quarter against Denver, allowing a late touchdown, but otherwise played at an efficient level that included enough chippiness to make you believe coordinator Paul Guenther’s side is not only better than last season but also actually believes it.

A team that managed just 13 sacks last season had three Monday.

But applying enough of an edge rush to force Flacco into stepping up in the pocket and doing the same to Mahomes is ebb and flow different, because the latter hardly produces the sort of negative results of most quarterbacks fleeing opposing feet.

Where most take a sack, Mahomes often avoids it.

Where most ditch a pass incomplete, he hits streaking wide receivers (or football’s best tight end in Travis Kelce) for drive-altering gains.

Where most might attempt a short run, Mahomes at any point can take it the distance.

In other words, the Raiders will have, in six days, gone from defending a guy nobody is worried about when on the move to the guy everyone is scared to death of in such an instant.

Pick your poison

There is no plan for when Mahomes departs the pocket. You can want to stop him but usually aren’t fast enough.

His mindset is unlike a majority of NFL quarterbacks, because where they look to limit damage and possibly settle for a short gain before sliding to safety, the league’s reigning MVP looks to extend everything.

In a worst case scenario for the Raiders on Sunday, Mahomes will bide himself time and Kelce will, as he seemingly always does against Oakland, be running free.

He had 12 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the Bay Area last season and has accounted for 304 receiving yards in the last three meetings between the teams, all Kansas City victories.

So a decision must be made: You can either try to keep up on the scoreboard, rightly assuming that Kansas City will move the ball and reach the end zone, or do your best to control the clock and keep Mahomes and Kelce and all the other weapons off the field.

A younger Derek Carr might have seen such as a direct challenge and chosen the former as Raiders quarterback.

Not so much now.

“Three years ago, I’d be out there trying to throw haymakers every play,” said Carr, who was terrific in completing 22 of 26 passes for 259 yards and a score against Denver. “Now, I’ve played so many football games and they come down to the wire so many times. There are no 20-point plays. There are no nine-point first-down throws. You just have to play your game.

“(Kansas City) is going to come in here with most of their firepower, all the talent in the world. (Mahomes) is always striving to make his game better than what it is, and that’ll probably drive him because he’s wired that way. … We have our work cut out for us.”

It’s not easy slowing that Tesla Roadster.

More Raiders: Follow at vegasnation.com and @VegasNation on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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