This might be one of the toughest games to predict for the Chiefs this season. Playing on the road against a pretty good Dallas Cowboys team, it could certainly go either way. So, what better week to add a prediction for each thing to watch for this week?
The Chiefs appear to be the better team overall. Both teams are talented, but haven’t played up to their potential at times. Last week, we saw strength-on-strength, this week it’s strength-on -weakness as both teams are better offensively than defensively.
Here are a few things to watch for Sunday afternoon, as always feel free to weigh in the match-ups you’re looking forward to when the Chiefs go to Jerry World.
1) The Chiefs run defense vs Zeke
Yes, Ezekiel Elliott is eligible to play this week after all. The Chiefs run defense is the source of nearly all the worry surrounding this team right now. I think it’s simple: they can stop the run in the base defense, not in the subpackages. If the Chiefs play more of their base 3-4 this week, they’ll contain the Cowboys rushing offense. If they come out in dime on first down, Dallas will run for 200+. I’ll also repeat: the Chiefs don’t HAVE to be great against the run in order to win games. Against the Cowboys, however, it wouldn’t hurt to be at least decent.
Prediction: Cowboys rush for 150 yards or more while Chiefs Twitter and AP comments explode (meanwhile, the Chiefs will still in a position to win the game, perhaps by multiple scores)
2) A healthier Chiefs offensive line vs Demarcus Lawrence and the Dallas front seven
Demarcus Lawrence represents a legitimate threat as a pass rusher with 10.5 sacks already this season, but the Chiefs offensive tackles are good enough to keep him from wrecking their plans. Mitch Schwartz received rave reviews for his performance against Von Miller last week, I feel comfortable saying he’ll be up for the challenge against Lawrence.
On the injury front, Mitch Morse returned last week, and it appears that Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will have a shot to play this week. If Parker Ehinger is back as well, this would be the first time all season that the Chiefs have lined up with their entire starting offensive line intact (though, it seems they are content with Bryan Witzmann at LG for now). Don’t underestimate the impact of these guys getting healthy upfront for the playoff run. It might be tempting to overlook the struggles of the guys up front because the Chiefs offense has been generally productive. They can be more consistent, improve their run game and dominate opponents when they get a better push from the interior of the offensive line.
Prediction: The Chiefs (also) run for 150+ yards this week behind LDT and Morse, Lawrence gets a sack, but doesn’t dominate.
3) Changes in the KC OLB rotation
Tamba Hali is back, but Dee Ford won’t play. Justin Houston is questionable, but we can assume he’ll be out there. Tanoh Kpassagnon is starting to get into the rotation, and Andy Reid indicated they would gradually continue to increase his snaps. Where will the pass rush come from this week, and who will be setting the edge for the KC defense?
Both will be important against Dak Prescott. He can make plays from inside and outside the pocket. Zeke can dominate in the screen game, so discipline from the OLBs will be key. With Hali and Houston on the edges again, the Chiefs might have the right combination to control the edges. Watch to see if Hali is his old self again, and if KPass starts to show signs that he can be a factor.
Prediction: Tamba plays and gets a sack, Houston continues his strong season with a few big time plays. KPass will become a bigger factor after the bye week.
4) Kareem Hunt or Tyreek Hill, which one blows up?
We’ve mentioned it a few times, the Chiefs top three playmakers are what makes this offense go. Last week, it was Kelce dominating the Broncos (again), while Hill and Hunt were quiet. This week, watch for Hunt to get going again against a defense that’s not quite as stout as some of the others he’s seen recently. Tyreek Hill had two near-misses last week: one Alex Smith deep pass that didn’t have enough air under it, and one punt return called back for a penalty. Hill will be hungry this week, and I doubt that any of the Cowboys defensive backs will be able to keep up with him.
Prediction: Hunt gets another 100+ yard game, AND Tyreek Hill scores a long TD (or two)
5) Play action might be the key to a big day on offense
If you were calling a defensive game plan for Dallas against the Chiefs, you might just try and sell out to stop Kareem Hunt. You might look at the Denver and Pittsburgh games and think they can load up the box and contain the frontrunner for the rookie of the year. If they do, the Chiefs would be wise to make them pay by the use of the good ‘ol fashioned play action pass. Alex Smith is one of the best QBs in the league on play action, and has been deadly accurate down the field this year. Kareem the Dream was absolutely dominant early in the season but has been running into walls in the last few weeks. If that continues this week, I hope to see the Chiefs offense taking advantage of a cheating defense and burning them with play action passes deep. By the way, the Cowboys are among the worst teams in the league at defending play action.
Prediction: All of the Chiefs biggest passing plays will be off of play action.
6) The team that wins third down might win the game
The Chiefs are the worst team in the NFL right now on 3rd and long. They are known to be a bend-don’t-break defense, but that doesn’t work if you can’t get off the field on third and long. With playmakers like Justin Houston and Marcus Peters, this team can be opportunistic and dangerous in obvious passing situations. They’ve given up far too many big plays, especially on third and fourth down.
The Cowboys offense is not a quick strike unit, they are methodical, and can control the clock. It’ll be critically important to limit the 10-play drives where Zeke and Dak wear down the Chiefs defense. The Chiefs offense can control the tempo by getting a lead early, and forcing Dallas to play from behind. The Chiefs defense needs to do their part by limiting big plays and forcing punts.
Prediction: The Chiefs defense does just enough to contain the Cowboys offense, especially in passing situations.
7) Coaching is key
Bob Sutton has been the scapegoat for Chiefs fans looking for answers when the defense gives up big play after big play. Andy Reid has been the hero at times this season with game planning and playcalling that has many others in the league copying him. Just when you think he’s on point, he calls an unnecessary trick play or gets too conservative when he has a chance to bury a team. This week, we’ll be watching to see what adjustments the Chiefs coaches make to the emerging patterns of this season. There is now film out there that shows how the Chiefs can be beaten. Can the coaches self-scout on the fly and make changes that seem obvious to many observers? Or will they stick with what they’ve been doing and prove us wrong for doubting them?
Prediction: Reid and Sutton use the same game plan we’ve come to expect, but it works a little better this week. Any more significant adjustments come over the bye week.