The Chiefs head into a Monday Night Football matchup against the Washington Redskins with a lot of confidence, a 3-0 record and some players on pace for huge statistical seasons.
Washington is coming off of a big win against the Raiders to get to 2-1 and look like a dangerous team with a good defense and variety of offensive weapons. The Chiefs will need to protect the quarterback, keep their top playmakers involved and clean up some of their mistakes in order to avoid a letdown this week and stay unbeaten.
Here are a few things we’ll be watching for on Monday night. As always, feel free hit the comment section and let us know what you’re watching for.
1) Tyreek Hill vs Josh Norman
The Chiefs No. 1 weapon thus far has been Kareem Hunt, overshadowing the many contributions of Tyreek Hill. Hill is still on pace for 1,300-plus yards and 8 TDs receiving to go along with his contributions in the run game and returning punts. This week, Hill has another opportunity to show that he’s a No. 1 WR by going against one of the best CBs in the league.
Josh Norman, like Marcus Peters, tends to stick to one side of the field on defense. In fact, he has a lot of similarities to Peters. Norman has outstanding ball skills and reads the QB well. He’ll give up some cushion, but recognizes routes and closes quickly.
Nobody can run stride for stride with Hill, and he will take the free yards when they give up too much space to defend against his long speed. With the amount that the Chiefs move Tyreek around, it won’t Norman on Hill on every down, but when these two go head to head, it’ll be exciting to watch.
2) Chiefs patchwork OL facing another good pass rush
The Kansas City offensive line started strong against an average New England front, but struggled at times against an aggressive Philly defense and two top edge rushers from the Chargers. With LT Eric Fisher ailing and C Mitch Morse out again, this Chiefs line isn’t near full strength. Perhaps we should also be concerned about RT Mitch Schwartz, who struggled with Melvin Ingram’s speed in Week 3, giving up two sacks. Washington’s front seven, featuring Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan, presents similar problems on the edge, with 5.5 combined sacks between them in the first three weeks.
The Chiefs offense has been inconsistent thus far, hitting on some big plays, but giving up too many sacks and stalling at times. Better protection should lead to longer drives and even more explosive plays. Watch to see if the offensive line is able to right the ship against Washington.
3) Chris Thompson: Matchup problem?
There was a lot of talk all offseason about the Chiefs run defense, and how to fix it. Bennie Logan was a big part of the equation along with the return of Justin Houston and Allen Bailey. Overall, the Chiefs are giving up 111 yards per game, for a 4.3 average so far, as compared to 121 yards/4.4 average in 2016. So, statistically, they are a bit better but teams can still move the ball on the ground against KC.
This week they’ll face an offense with a running back by committee that includes Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine, along with an emerging big play threat in Chris Thompson.
Thompson can do a bit of everything at RB and returning kicks, but he creates the biggest matchup problem in the passing game. Last week against the Raiders, Thompson had six catches for 150 yards including a 74-yard touchdown. He’s averaging a Kareem Hunt-like 8.6 yards per carry and 17.8 yards per catch so far this season. The Chiefs linebackers and safeties will have to be solid in coverage and tackling to contain Thompson this week.
The best coverage backers for KC include DJ who has arguably slowed down a bit this season, and KPL who is nursing an injury. The safeties will have their work cut out for them on Monday, so keep an eye on Chiefs safeties Eric Murray, Daniel Sorensen and Ron Parker. With a guy like Thompson, they’ll need to recognize screens and routes out of the backfield and stop big plays before they happen.
4) Chiefs offense: Full of options
As our own Kent Swanson pointed out, Andy Reid has been fantastic utilizing option plays thus far in 2017. The Chiefs offense has brought in elements of college spread offenses with their own spin and unique personnel groups. With Hunt, Hill and Kelce, they have three elite playmakers that defenses need to account for on every play. They don’t just line them up and go at the defense and try to win one-one-on matchups. The use of misdirection, and run-pass options puts defenses in un-winnable situations.
Not to mention the route combinations, which have long been a strength of the Chiefs head coach. Just look at this play from Week 1, and put yourself in the place of the defense. How do you go about stopping that?
Watching week one tape again and this play is still crazy. Conley is wide open too here. Bunch sets to both sides + Kelce = open field. pic.twitter.com/9gl5VBgUdM— Chiefs Central Prod. (@ChiefsCentral) September 28, 2017
Of course, this Chiefs offense has flaws, but when they combine pre-snap misdirection, option plays, complex route combinations and big time playmakers, they have the ability to cause problems for any defense in the league. Look for the creativity to continue this week against a good Redskins defense.
5) How do the Chiefs handle being No. 1?
In Week 1, I talked about the Chiefs rallying around their underdog status to beat the Patriots. Now at a convincing 3-0, Kansas City is showing up at the top of nearly everyone’s power rankings. Sometimes, teams get overconfident and have a come back to Earth game. There could be a let-down game that essentially offsets the great win at New England, and returns the Chiefs to the pack in the NFL. Good teams win the games they are supposed to, but lose to the best in the league. For each game they win when not expected to win, they’ll lose a game they shouldn’t lose. Great teams don’t let up against anyone.
If they can continue to do what they did to get to this point, and even improve, they’ll win this week, perhaps easily. But they can’t let up or get complacent against this Redskins team that is plenty capable of taking advantage.
6) Can KC put together a clean game?
If the offensive creativity is the good news so far in 2017, the bad news has been the amount of penalties against KC. This is one category we talk about every week, and yet the Chiefs remain the league leader. This team would be much better and more efficient if they weren’t giving up over 100 penalty yards per game, extending opponents drive and shortening their own via penalty flags.
Defensive holding has been an issue with 10 flags, along with four pass interference calls, each an automatic first down. The Chiefs have also been flagged 10 times for offensive holding, negating some positive plays. One could justify a few holding and interference calls as the cost of doing business for a team that plays as aggressive as the Chiefs. They can certainly focus on fundamentals to avoid being in the position to have to hold in order to prevent a big play. The four unsportsmanlike / taunting penalties are ones that can absolutely be eliminated.
In addition the constant rain of flags, sacks are a bit of a problem as well. The Chiefs are giving up four sacks per game, many of which are avoidable. As the Chiefs offensive line gets healthy and can get enough reps together, they’ll improve picking up stunts and cut down on sacks allowed. When Smith has confidence in the line, he’ll hopefully avoid the happy feet sacks that could easily be checkdowns or throwaways.
Cleaning up some of these negative plays could be key in turning this Chiefs team into one that finds ways to win each week into one that dominates opponents and is a true contender over a full season.