Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three Chiefs-Raiders matchups to watch Thursday, 5:25 p.m., at O.co Coliseum.
Chiefs NT Dontari Poe vs. Raiders RG Austin Howard
Tale of the tape:
Poe (92): 6-foot-3, 346 pounds, third season, Memphis
Howard (77): 6-foot-7, 330 pounds, fifth season, Northern Iowa
Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano cut his teeth as an offensive line coach, and has spent many days coming up with ways to slow talented linemen. He knows good rushers when he sees them. And, when Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe was mentioned on Tuesday, respect was written all over his face.
“He’s a real handful,” Sparano said. “He really is.”
Austin Howard must know that as well. The converted tackle is up against his toughest challenge of the season, playing a spot where he still looks uncomfortable at times. He has struggled as a pass protector, with two sacks, three hits and 15 hurries allowed.
Howard has the intelligence and athleticism to excel, but the transition to the interior line has been slower than many expected.
“That is not an easy conversion,” Sparano said. “You can put a Band-Aid over the thing at times by putting a player in there for two games, but to play a season like that, it’s a hard conversion to make. He’s done a good job that way. He’s progressively getting better.”
He must be at his best on Thursday, because it’ll be hard to give him much help against Poe. The third-year pro has been destructive, with 31 tackles, five sacks and three more tackles for losses, incredible numbers for a nose tackle. The Poe problem is compounded because the Raiders must invest extra manpower in slowing edge rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. That makes it hard to offer much help on the interior.
“It’s hard to block him in a one-on-one situation that way, and when they get you singled up, he (he can rush around you in both directions). You’ve got to do a good job of closing the space on him and really, I think it’s critical that against players like that that you try to win on your first step – early – because if you play a player like that cautiously, he’s going to get you on your heels and that’s not a good thing.”