Del Rio’s Gambles Help Carry Raiders Into 1st Place

OAKLAND (CBS/AP) — Whether it’s going for the win with a late 2-point conversion instead of kicking the safer extra point or passing up easy field goals for fourth-down attempts, Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio has been consistent so far this season.

If he has a chance to put the game in quarterback Derek Carr and the offense’s hands, he will do it. So far, those bold moves have mostly paid off and are a big reason the Raiders (4-1) head into Sunday’s game against Kansas City (2-2) tied for first place in the AFC West, and seeking their first four-game winning streak in 14 years.

“I’ve said this before, it just gives us confidence,” Carr said. “I don’t know if it makes us feel any certain type of way but it definitely gives us confidence that he trusts us in fourth-and-2, fourth-and-short, backed up, 2-point conversions. He trusts us to execute.”

Carr has validated that trust often this season. He connected with Michael Crabtree on the game-winning 2-point conversion in the opener at New Orleans, and has thrown two more TD passes to Crabtree on fourth down.

The latest of those came when Carr threw a 21-yard pass on fourth-and-3 for the go-ahead score in last week’s 34-31 win against San Diego.

“It’s just based on what I think is best for the football team to give us the best opportunity to win, Del Rio said. “Everything we do is about that.”

One reason for Del Rio’s risk taking has been that his offense has significantly outplayed the defense, which is allowing 7.0 yards per play, which would be the worst mark in the NFL since the merger.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith downplays those struggles, pointing out that Oakland has faced quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers.

“They’ve played some good offenses,” Smith said. “That’s kind of inflated that. They’ve been in some good battles though. They’ve been in a bunch of close games, so they’re certainly battle tested.”

Here are some other things to watch:

CHARLES’ COMEBACK: The Chiefs figure to get a big boost on offense with running back Jamaal Charles expected to play a significant role for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee in Week 5 last season. Charles had two carries two weeks ago in Pittsburgh before the bye and expects to carry a full load against the Raiders.

“I feel like I’m ready,” he said. “I told them to let the training wheels off me — I know how to ride now. Take them off and let me ride.”

REUNION GAME: After spending the previous three years in Kansas City, Raiders cornerback Sean Smith gets to match up with some of his former teammates. After a slow start to his career in Oakland that included getting pulled in the season opener, Smith has stepped it up. He has allowed nine catches on 19 targets the past three games after giving 10 on 12 targets the first two weeks, according to Sportradar. He also has already matched his career high with two interceptions.

“I started out kind of slow. I had to make some adjustments, some tweaks here and there,” Smith said. “It was nothing serious, nothing that couldn’t be fixed.”

HOMECOMING GAME: Playing at Oakland has special meaning to Chiefs second-year cornerback Marcus Peters, who grew up in the city cheering for the Raiders. Peters, the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year, had an interception in his first NFL game at the Coliseum — one of his league high 12 since entering the league last year.

“He’s aggressive, a playmaker, great hands, great ball skills as a DB,” Carr said. “Anytime a corner has great ball skills, you have to be careful with those 50-50 chance balls.”

SEARCHING FOR SACKS: After getting 15 sacks last season, Oakland’s Khalil Mack is having a harder time bringing down quarterbacks this year. He has just one sack through five games, although he does have 14 additional quarterback pressures, according to Sportradar. The Raiders also believe Mack has been hindered by teams getting away with some holds.

“That’s probably the biggest thing that stands out, the number of times the opponent is just pulling him down, restricting him from getting to the quarterback,” Del Rio said. “At some point that’s going to balance out, we’ll start getting some of those calls.”

BYE SUCCESS: Kansas City coach Andy Reid always has his team ready to play after the bye. In 17 seasons as coach of the Eagles and Chiefs, Reid’s teams have a 15-2 record in their first game after the bye.

© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed


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