Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three Chiefs-Raiders matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at Oakland Coliseum.
Chiefs LT Donald Stephenson vs. Raiders DE Lamarr Houston
Tale of the tape:
Stephenson (79): 6-foot-6, 312 pounds, second season, Oklahoma
Houston (99): 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, fourth season, Texas
Lamarr Houston is in an on-field funk. The Raiders defensive end has just one sack in six weeks. He hasn’t set edges as well and hasn’t been as disruptive in the passing rush recently.
Houston considers his Thanksgiving effort against Dallas the worst of his professional life. He was better against the New York Jets, although he still made an uncharacteristic share of mistakes. Houston continues to work his way out of this skid and back to strong play.
“That’s just Lamarr, and how he goes about his business,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “He didn’t like the way he played on Thanksgiving, so he came back and he was much more diligent in his assignments, and he’ll reap the benefits of that like he has in the past.”
Houston has a real chance to turn things around on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Top-tier left tackle Branden Albert is likely out with a knee sprain, leaving backup Donald Stephenson to protect quarterback Alex Smith from Houston’s attacks.
That’s no easy task, further complicated by Houston’s motivation. He wants to re-energize a tired defense with game-changing plays that could upset the 10-3 Chiefs.
“I just want to stay inside the defense, yet make as much of an impact as possible from my position,” Houston said. “It doesn’t really matter who I’m up against. I feel like I can beat any left tackle out there. I have the skills and I’m working to earn respect from opposing teams with my play on the field.”
Houston has earned the Chiefs’ respect. He didn’t have a sack against Kansas City earlier this year – when Albert was in and out with injury – but he had two hurries and two quarterback hits.
He’s had good games since, but he hasn’t had the consistency he prefers. He’s been asked to do a ton this season, with little time for respite. He’s already played 853 snaps this season – he set a career high with 878 last season – as a primary defender against the run and pass.
The Raiders expected him to rebound after a few off games, starting with Sunday’s AFC West contest against Kansas City.
“As you go through a season, you’re going to have some ups and downs,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “You’re going to have some games where you don’t play as well as you do in others. I thought he made progress in the Jets game. … But I’m pleased with where Lamarr is at. He’s got to continue to work and continue to play and he will. I think he’s done a great job for us this year and I expect for him to finish out the season strong.”