In winning a 36-20 game at Kansas City three weeks ago, the Chiefs became the first team in football to launch a successful attack on Raider cornerbacks Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes since Haynes joined the club in 1983.
And at the Coliseum on Sunday, the Chiefs tried for an encore before 55,133, going after Hayes and Haynes again. But this time they fell short, 19-10, when the Raiders curbed their passing attack with a new defensive scheme.
Offensively, the Raiders were no more lethal here than they had been in Kansas City. The difference was almost totally in the Raider defense, which assigned safeties Vann McElroy and Mike Davis to help Hayes and Haynes double-cover Kansas City's wide receivers.
In both Oakland and Los Angeles, this has been a man-for-man cover team during most of the Al Davis era, winning its Super Bowl rings that way when other pro teams favored zone defenses, as most still do. But in general, the Raiders covered man-for-man only on short passes Sunday, when they didn't regularly require Hayes and Haynes to track their opponents all over the field.
Or as McElroy said: "It's a new defense we put in after (losing at) Kansas City. The main thing is, we're moving our safeties around now. On underneath passes, Mike and Lester still had the same (man-to-man) responsibilities. But I was helping both of them on deeper patterns."
Specifically, in the club's new alignment, McElroy found himself in position to make the two big plays of the game for the Raider defense--a mighty end-zone hit in the first quarter, when he smashed an apparent touchdown pass out of the hands of Kansas City receiver Stephone Paige, and an interception in the fourth quarter--the game's only turnover.
The score was 16-10 and Kansas City was moving toward what could have been the winning touchdown when McElroy intercepted a pass by quarterback Bill Kenney, who, on that play, was trying to keep things alive with a third-down pass to Paige at a scary moment for the Raiders with 1:30 to play.
"Our corner (Hayes) had him short, and I had him deep," McElroy said. "Mike Davis was also (in position) to intercept, but he was nice enough to let me have it."
McElroy's third-down blow to Paige's body in the first quarter, when he ran into the Kansas City receiver with his head, was perhaps the game's keynote play--shaking up not only Paige but the rest of the Chiefs. It appeared to be a sure touchdown before McElroy raced up and smashed the ball away at the instant of the catch, forcing Kansas City to go for a field goal.
"I'm covering deep," he said. "I was helping the corner on a deep pattern. In the defense we used at Kansas City, I wouldn't have been there to do that."
The Raider free safety was thinking of a former teammate, safety Jack Tatum, when he bumped Paige.
"Tatum was on our bench today," McElroy said. "He used to get it done with his forearm--but he weighs 220. I'm only 200 (more likely 190) and I've got to lead with my head."
The Raiders otherwise played their usual defensive game against the Chiefs with well-timed hits by linebacker Rod Martin, defensive ends Howie Long and Lyle Alzado, nose guard Bill Pickel and others. But they did the same at Kansas City Sept. 12, when they were blown out of Arrowhead Stadium. The difference here was their new defense.
It only faltered once. On a first-down call in the fourth quarter, the Raiders elected to blitz Kenney on a play that automatically required Haynes to single-cover Kansas City receiver Anthony Hancock, who was open by hardly an inch when the pass got there for Kansas City's only touchdown. The play spanned 41 yards.
"That was the only time (the Chiefs) beat our corners," Martin said. "We've got the best corners in the league."
Alzado, speaking for Long, said Kansas City injuries made the work easier for the Raider offensive line.
"The Chiefs lost their two starting offensive tackles in the first quarter," Alzado said. "That would hurt any team--especially when one of them is (left tackle Matt) Herkenhoff. He's the guy who solidifies their line."
But Alzado agreed with Martin, McElroy and the other Raiders that the new defense was decisive.
"We confused them (the Chiefs)," Alzado said. "It used to be that we could just line up and beat everybody. But if we have to confuse them, we can."