The Chiefs have made quite a statement over the past two weeks, and that statement is that the roster is still a work in progress. Kansas City heads to the desert on Sunday for their final NFC West battle of the season. The Chiefs have raked in four wins from the AFC East, one from the AFC West and two from the NFC West with one more to go in the NFC West.
If the Chiefs are going to get back in the win column, here are the things to watch for on Sunday as they visit the Arizona Cardinals.
1. Stop the run
This will be the top priority each week until the team proves they can do it.
The Cardinals are a bad rushing attack.They are the 31st ranked run team in the NFL. Only the Raiders are worse than the Cardinals are running the ball. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are tied with the Giants as the NFL's worst run defense.
Kansas City is getting attacked at three positions: nose tackle both inside linebacker positions. Teams are stretching them out and finding seams from poor run fits when the Chiefs get their shoulders turned. Opponents are also doubling Dontari Poe to the second level.
The Cardinals don’t have a stout offensive line that can drive block their way to victory against the Chiefs. If the Chiefs come in with the right attitude it’s a week to get healthy against the run. Cardinals running back Andre Ellington, who is dealing with an injury, is their most dynamic player while Marion Grice is another runner who is a threat to hit the home run ball.
2. Play action and bootlegs
Teams are gearing down to stop the Chiefs by stacking eight men in the box. The Rams wrote the book on how to slow down the run game. Teams have been adding in their own twists since then. So this says that teams clearly respect the Chiefs ability to run the ball. Now is the time to make them back off by creating explosive plays. The Cardinals are a fundamentally sound defense but they leave themselves open to bootlegs and play-action passes. Jamaal Charles may need to be a decoy early on in the game.
3. Clearout routes
The Seahawks tried to run multiple screens in their game against Arizona but the Cardinals shut them down with aggression. The Seahawks got smart in the second half and began running clear out routes for their screen game. It left Marshawn Lynch a ton of room to work and burned the Cardinals quickly.
4. The delay
Another option that the Cardinals struggle with is delayed routes. The Cardinals are big on man assignments so if a player looks like they are in pass protection they seem to leave him unaccounted for. The delay has worked to the favor of the opposing teams and is one of the better ways to burn their blitzes.
5. Account for John Brown
The Cardinals found a gem in Pittsburg State alumnus WR John Brown. The third round pick has been a lethal threat for their passing game. Brown is an explosive player who can take the top off the defense and also great YAC producer on crosses and bubble screens. WR Michael Floyd has been more of a possession receiver while WR Jaron Brown has started to become a favorite target of QB Drew Stanton. WR Larry Fitzgerald is a mismatch in the slot, although both he and Chiefs CB Chris Owens have been banged up. Brown is the dagger for opposing defenses.
6. Rattle Drew Stanton
QB Drew Stanton is making the most of his abilities as the Cardinals starting QB since Carson Palmer went down. He wants to get the ball out quickly on his first or second read. He tries to remain calm in the pocket but when an opposing team brings a blitz he starts to throw it high and wide. With pressure he begins staring down receivers and forcing passes into zone coverage. Kansas City needs to take the run game away and attack Stanton.
7. How to run on the Cardinals
The Chiefs will likely find trouble running between the tackles on Sunday because the Cardinals have a stout run defense. Defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Dan Williams and linebacker Larry Foote are solid run defenders up front. Arizona took away the off tackle aspect of the read option from Seattle as Marshawn Lynch had a tough day running the ball. The Rams found success against Arizona with a similar Jet sweep that the Chiefs run with De'Anthony Thomas. The biggest opportunity for success is pulling the lineman and getting out into space or utilizing Alex Smith on some of the read options. The Chiefs will likely need to use their three tight end sets, unbalanced lines, bunch formations and jet sweeps for successful opportunities at running the rock early on. The bootleg and play action success will help them in the second half of the game.
8. Time to find the Chiefs identity
The Chiefs still don’t have an identity as a team. Does anyone know who this team is yet? They need to look in the mirror and decide who they want to become with the season is on the line. There is no room for error anymore. Arizona is a physical football team that will show no mercy. The players have to decide if they are ready for the season to end in four weeks or if they want to play into January.
The Chiefs livelihood is on the line this week. The Broncos beat them up on national TV a week after the Raiders did the same. A roster with pride will find a way to respond. They will not be denied and seize what is rightfully theirs. A mentally weak football team will fade down the stretch. For a good football team there is only one choice.