Attempting to describe the majesty of what football just offered us is no easy task. An outrageous AFC West barn burner ensued between two teams entering this game on opposite ends of the spectrum. The then 2-4 Raiders came in desperately searching for a win and any scent of optimism. The Chiefs, despite coming off their first loss of the season, looked like the clear-cut best team in the NFL through the first six weeks of the 2017 campaign.
Thursday night proved a big moment for Oakland and Kansas City. Often, these spotlight portions of an NFL season call for the best players on either team to assert themselves. Thursday night, both teams got just that from their quarterbacks. Alex Smith and Derek Carr went toe-to-toe in a high-scoring affair for the national audience, and for the icing on the cake, both benefited from dynamic performances from their most dangerous pass catchers.
The 2017 season has been unlike any other in the career of Alex Smith. A newfound aggressiveness and pinpoint precision litters the veteran quarterbacks play this year, two aspects rarely present during his years in Kansas City. Smith came into Week 7 with the NFL's best completion rate when throwing into tight windows (less than one yard of separation) of 54.2 percent.
Hill went for over 120 yards on just six catches. It was clear the Raiders respected Hill's deep speed, as their cornerback gave him an average cushion of 7.2 yards off the line of scrimmage. It didn't matter. Hill still won his matchups with his simply unreal ability, most notably on a 64-yard touchdown.
The Raiders' attempts to neutralize him in the deep game went unrewarded. Hill reached 21.6 MPH on his long score, the third-fastest time among all ball carriers this season. He also averaged 3.3 yards of separation on his targets and made a few eye-popping catches along the sideline. The development into a fully-fledged wide receiver, after spending his rookie year as a gadget player, is complete.
The duo of Smith and Hill did everything in their power to make sure the Chiefs won this game and further cement their top spot in the AFC power rankings. Unfortunately for them, the Chiefs defense was unable to hold up their side of the bargain and they ultimately were outdueled by the tandem on the other sideline.
Derek Carr played in this game after returning in Week 6 from a one-game absence with a transverse process fracture in his back. Against the Chargers last week, Carr didn't quite look himself, but that was a distant memory Thursday night. The Raiders quarterback threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns and led the team on a game-winning drive for the ages to close it out.
What was most notable in Carr's progression in returning from his back injury was a more aggressive mindset, always needed when attempting to claw back for a win. Carr came into Week 7 averaging just 1.8 deep attempts per game but uncorked 11 deep balls against the Chiefs. He registered a 97.2 passer rating on those throws.
Additionally, Carr showed his best work when the Chiefs wanted to put the heat on him. Critics of the Raiders star passer often assert he struggles under pressure and benefits from playing behind an offensive line that allows the lowest pressure rate in the NFL. For one night, at least, that critique did not hold water.
On plays where he was under pressure, Carr completed eight of his 14 pass attempts for 144 yards with a 92.6 passer rating. The Chiefs don't often blitz, and only sent extra rushers on 17.3 percent of their pass rush plays, but they paid the price when using it. Carr completed eight of nine attempts against the blitz for 117 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was the game-winner to Michael Crabtree. It was a career highlight brand of game for Carr, just weeks off a back injury.
Quarterbacks always get the spotlight, especially when they come up big in a primetime moment. Yet, Carr couldn't have enjoyed the night he did without the sudden re-emergence of Amari Cooper.
No player in the NFL was stuck in more of a depressing slump than Cooper heading into the week's slate. Drops, mistakes and disappearing acts defined the third-year wideout's 2017 season. It's hard to say any player has busted a slump with more authority than he did Thursday night, either.
Cooper saw a career-high 19 targets against the Chiefs and owned a 42.7 percent share of his team's intended air yards. Kansas City attempted to put him in tight coverage all night, something he's struggled with this year, giving him a mere four yards of cushion off the line. The version of Amari Cooper we saw Thursday night could not be defeated by any forms of defense, however. The Raiders wideout averaged a whopping 2.94 yards of separation on his targets and was right back in dominant form.
Cooper taught us a lesson in trust. It's difficult to analyze a player who we know is good at football when they're offering up poor games over multiple weeks. Eventually, these players have a way of coming around. Cooper did that and more. Even more so than us observers, the Raiders have to feel immensely more comfortable knowing they can trust their dynamic young playmaker once again.
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