You have to know this isn’t a first for the Raiders, deciding how best to oppose an undeniable advantage of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Among the Top 100 players recently announced by the NFL to celebrate its All-Time team were defensive lineman Buck Buchanan and linebackers Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier, champions of Super Bowl IV and the type of monsters few horror films could match.
“Those guys,” recalled Raiders owner Mark Davis this week, “are why my dad drafted players like (offensive linemen) Art Shell and Gene Upshaw.”
Times might be different than when Al Davis ran things, but the hurdle is no less daunting than when countering the Chiefs in the mid-1960s and the early ’70s.
The current obstacle: Patrick Mahomes.
It doesn’t appear he’s going anywhere for some time.
Your move, Las Vegas.
Catch him if you can
Mahomes is the NFL’s weekly example of an electric current charging across a 100-yard field. The Kansas City quarterback is set to lead his team against the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
It’s not so much about protecting a quarterback — although that helps — as it was against the likes of Buchanan and Bell and Lanier.
Rather, it’s about getting to one.
Which, when it comes to Mahomes, can feel hopeless at times.
In four career starts (and wins) against the Raiders, he is 82-of-135 passing for 1,194 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception.
Gulp, is right.
“Obviously, the Chiefs are the team we haven’t been able to beat in the division lately,” said Davis, whose team is 2-12 against Kansas City since 2013. “It’s one of the reasons we drafted edge rushers (in Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby) last year. We need more of them. We need another guy up the middle against Mahomes. We need linebackers to hold the edge. We need guys who can cover (Chiefs tight end) Travis Kelce and all their speed outside.
“Patrick Mahomes is unlike anyone else — he’s the monster now — and we need to improve all our phases of defense to deal with him.”
Davis is convinced the Raiders are closer than most imagine, the team holding two first-round draft picks in April and a projected $80 million in cap space for recruiting free agents to the bright lights of Allegiant Stadium and Southern Nevada.
They’re also high-sky on safety Johnathan Abram, a first-round pick who was limited to just one game as a rookie this past season due to injury.
But the AFC West dominance of Mahomes so early in a career (he’s 24 and in just a second season as the full-time starter) must have the Raiders and Chargers and Broncos thinking of other such supremacy.
Yeah, them again.
Tom Brady and the Patriots have won 11 straight AFC East titles.
Eleven straight years of being guaranteed at least one home playoff game.
It’s certainly not foolish to suggest that if Mahomes remains healthy and the Chiefs continue to surround him with the game’s best tight end in Kelce and a 4×100 meter Olympic relay team running go-routes, Kansas City could create such separation in the West.
“Before Kansas City, I played for Cleveland teams that went 1-15 and 0-16,” said Chiefs center Austin Reiter. “I’ve seen both sides of it. And I can tell you that building the right culture and belief system is the most important thing, even more than talent.
“Each year is different. You never know what might happen to (a roster). Once this Super Bowl ends, it’s back to square one. I will just say we feel very good about the future with (Mahomes) as our leader.”
Need to score, too
It’s not just defense. If you’re slow to build a stout one against Mahomes, you’ll need to outscore him. But until the Raiders officially play their hand regarding quarterback Derek Carr and if he’s really the present and future, evaluating how likely that is becomes nearly impossible.
So here’s the deal: Jon Gruden as head coach/Raiders czar and general manager Mike Mayock need to draft really well and then identify and sign the type of free agents able to counter Mahomes.
Might work. Might not. It’s the only option.
But even if the Raiders do so and create the sort of culture Reiter spoke about — winning helps tremendously — they still might over the next several years be staring at an Everest-type mountain to catch and surpass the Chiefs.
“They’re just tough,” Davis said. “Their offense is incredible. I believe (Gruden and Mayock) will build a defense to get the job done. The second total disintegration of our team under me came when we brought back (Gruden) as coach in 2018. We changed a lot of things with our roster. But now, I believe we’re close to making this thing sustainable and competing for the division and playoff runs.
“No question, our goal and next step is to win the division and get a home playoff game, which is critical. Right now, that means beating Kansas City. I believe we’re close. I really do.”
This, we really do know: That electric current charging across a field isn’t going anywhere.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.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.