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Morrow vs. Kelce one of 3 key matchups for Raiders

The Raiders hope to complete a season sweep of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, although they are bracing for the Chiefs’ best punch, knowing the Super Bowl champions are still smarting from the 40-32 loss the Raiders handed them at Arrowhead Stadium last month.

Here are three key matchups as the 6-3 Raiders attempt to close within a game of 8-1 Kansas City atop the AFC West.

LB Nicholas Morrow vs. TE Travis Kelce

Cory Littleton did not practice this week while going through COVID-19 protocol after testing positive last week, and his status for Sunday is still in question. That leaves Morrow, who played the best game of his Raiders career last week in relief of Littleton.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs after making a catch during the 1st quarter ...
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs after making a catch during the 1st quarter of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Heidi Fang

The stakes are decidedly higher this week. Kansas City offers an array of offensive weapons that the Denver Broncos, last week’s opponent, do not possess.

One of them is Kelce, the best tight end in the league. He’s sixth in the NFL with 769 receiving yards on 58 catches.

Morrow plays strong-side linebacker when Littleton is healthy and typically comes off the field on passing downs in favor of an extra defensive back. But he has played 227 snaps in pass coverage and more than held his own. He had a season-high 45 pass cover snaps against the Broncos and came up with two pass breakups. While Morrow gave up five receptions the seven times he was targeted, he held those receivers to just 12 yards after the catch.

That will be the key against Kelce, who has 359 yards after the catch. It is inevitable Morrow will surrender receptions to Kelce, who most certainly be a focal point of the defensive game plan no matter who draws his cover assignment. Morrow can minimize Kelce’s impact by tackling him immediately after a catch is made..

S Johnathan Abram vs. QB Patrick Mahomes

The Raiders attacked Mahomes from all angles in the first meeting last month, and it resulted in Mahomes playing his worst game of the season. Mahomes subsequently suggested he was a bit tardy in his decision making, holding onto the ball too long and exhausting options as a result.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) fires up the crowd during an NFL football g ...
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) fires up the crowd during an NFL football game with the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, at Arrowhead Stadium, in Kansas City, Mo. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @benjaminhphoto

Expect the reigning Super Bowl MVP to be more decisive in the rematch, even if it means opting to take off running when he sees open real estate.

Abram will be front and center in making sure Mahomes doesn’t exact revenge with a dominant performance. Expect him to carry out a multi-layered role as a pass rusher, spy on Mahomes and deep-level pass defender.

Abram’s versatile skill set makes him a perfect candidate to pull off the assignment. He is growing into a dynamic blitzer, but is also skilled and savvy enough to keep pace with Mahomes as a spy and lend help in coverage. Don’t be surprised if Abram is in position to create some turnovers.

OG Denzelle Good vs. DT Chris Jones

Jones is the NFL’s eighth-ranked interior defensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus. That includes a pass-rush grade that is second only to Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald.

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris ...
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones (95) during the first half of an NFL game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (Heidi Fang /Las Vegas Review-Journal) @HeidiFang

Jones primarily lines up over guard in the Chiefs’ 4-3 defensive scheme, so he will consistently be matched against Good, who will be starting at left guard in place of the injured Richie Incognito.

On paper, this is a bad matchup for the Raiders, who will certainly give Good as much help as possible, with center Rodney Hudson lending a hand with double teams.

But as dominant as Jones is in the pass rush, he is not nearly as good as a run defender. He ranks 45th among interior defensive linemen in that category. The Raiders, who have rushed for 572 yards over the last three games, will undoubtedly try to take advantage of that,

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com.

Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter

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