1) The return of Sean Smith
The struggles of the Chiefs CBs have been well documented (if not exaggerated). Marcus Peters and Phillip Gaines (pre-injury) were playing very good football overall. It's the third spot that's been exploited against two of the NFL's elite QBs. Fleming and Cooper have played on a similar level in that both are able to generally stick with their receivers, but weren't able to locate the football and prevent a completion. Think back to Week 1 vs Houston... was it THAT big of a problem? Fleming gave up eight completions on 11 targets for 85 yards. But the complaining didn't start until the Denver and Green Bay games. Why? No. 1, winning cures a lot of ills. No. 2, an elite QB can make an average CB into the whipping boy of the fan base.
This week, the "true No. 1" CB for the Chiefs is back from suspension. That's the good news. Unfortunately, they also lost Phillip Gaines for the season. So we're back to where we started... two very good CBs, and two average CBs. The difference may be in the QB they are facing. IF Dalton is allowed to play the way he has in the first three games, he may be able to expose Cooper / Fleming. IF the Chiefs defense can expose Dalton as the inconsistent QB he's been over the bulk of his career, we may not notice the third and fourth CBs this week, and that'd be a good thing.
2) Alex Smith's pocket presence
The first half of the Green Bay game is as bad as we've seen QB Alex Smith play. One of his biggest issues was his inability to keep his eyes downfield. It was clear that he didn't trust his protection, and that the pressure (real or imaginary) was getting to him. Unfortunately, this may be the worst possible problem a QB can have. That being said, he did look much better in the second half. And don't tell me it's because the Packers went to a "prevent" defense. They were generally coming with the same blitz and press coverage they brought in the first half.
IF Smith is able to play with some confidence this week, step up into pressure and deliver the ball to his WRs, we can write last week off as a "bad game." If Alex looks "scared" and panics in the pocket again, the Chiefs have a real problem.
3) Andy Reid's play calling
Here's the thing about playcalling: it's an easy thing to criticize when things go wrong on the field. The same play could be brilliant when the team executes it against the right defensive look, and a catastrophe when something bad happens. Take Jamaal Charles' two fumbles versus Denver. If he makes a move and scores in the first half, or he gets one more block and gets the team in FG range at the end of the game, Reid is a genius for getting the ball in the hands of his best offensive playmaker. Instead, Jamaal fumbled both times, and everyone questions what Reid was thinking.
Thus is the life of an NFL play caller. Reid has called some brilliant games in the last two seasons (vs. New England and Seattle last year). He's also had some inexplicable periods of time where he seems to get away from what his players do best. Also frustrating are what appears to be overly conservative, screen-heavy calls, which contribute to the Chiefs league-worst performance on third downs thus far.
If Reid is able to help the Chiefs offense get back on track with a solid mix of running the ball and taking shots downfield, this could be a nice statement game for Kansas City.
4) The Chiefs offensive line
This group will be on the watch list pretty much every week until they can find a consistent lineup that can perform at an average-to-above-average level. Poor OL play is a huge factor in Reid's ability to call effective plays, and of course, it's a big part of why Smith isn't comfortable in the pocket.
Through the first two weeks, it seemed clear that Stephenson, Grubbs and Morse would be the strength of the O and that the right side was concerning. Last week, Stephenson and Grubbs played poorly, and Fisher returned with a strong performance at RT. The only constant has been RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif's struggles. As our own MNChiefsfan pointed out, when LDT gets beat, it's quick and very ugly.
Is this the week that Jeff Allen returns to help at RG? Can Fisher keep improving at RT? Was last week just an off-week for Grubbs and Stephenson? There are certainly more questions than answers on the Chiefs offensive line, and their play is key to the team's ability to win in Cincinnati.