The last time the Kansas City Chiefs played the Jacksonville Jaguars — just the season before last — the Jaguars were 2-6, and the Chiefs were 6-2. The Chiefs had an average offense and a stout defense. The Jaguars had a below-average offense and defense.
Things have changed quite a bit since then.
Here are five things to keep an eye on during the game:
1. To blitz, or not to blitz?
On Monday, the Denver Broncos blitzed Patrick Mahomes quite a bit, hoping to shake him up and render him ineffective. According to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, the Broncos were running some blitz packages the Chiefs had not seen on film. It worked for a while — that is, until the Chiefs had time to figure out what the Broncos were doing, and Mahomes got himself settled down.
Could this be a formula the Jaguars might attempt? It’s possible. The Jaguars don’t tend to blitz a lot, so they could see this as a way to catch the Chiefs off-guard and rattle Mahomes the same way the Broncos did. But if we believe what the Chiefs constantly say — that Mahomes is a super-quick study and doesn’t tend to make the same mistakes twice — whether or not it would work is open to question.
Either way, one battle to watch will be between Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. — their best pass rusher — and Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
2. To Tyreek, or not to Tyreek?
Now that Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey — like San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin before him — has decided to make Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill an object of trash talk this week, you have to wonder if the Chiefs will take advantage of this situation. It would be pretty tempting for chess-master Andy Reid to simply use Tyreek Hill as a decoy to keep Ramsey — easily the best cornerback the Jaguars have — out of the picture, which would provide openings for other Chiefs receivers. It’s not as if the Chiefs don’t have some other ones that are pretty good, too.
On the other hand... Ramsey isn’t quite all that, either. And Ramsey is clearly under-informed about Hill’s ability as a wide receiver. We could easily see Reid decide to just let them settle this matter between themselves.
if you don’t see Hill getting a lot of targets early in the game, Reid has probably decided to make his chess move. But if that happens, you should still expect Hill to get a big catch late in the game.
After all... it’s no fun to use Hill as a decoy if you can’t spring him as a surprise later.
3. To tackle, or not to tackle?
You don’t need me to tell you the Chiefs need to improve their tackling. We’ve all been talking about it all week. Especially against Denver on Monday night, the Chiefs defense seemed to be unable to get anybody wrapped up and on the ground.
Do they need to get this cleaned up? Absolutely. It would go a long way towards improving the Chiefs run defense.
But we should remember that it’s pretty easy to lose sight of the fact that the other team gets paid to play, too. Players like Royce Freeman of the Broncos, Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers and James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers tend to break a lot of tackles when they’re playing teams besides the Chiefs, too.
Here you might be tempted to point out that since Leonard Fournette has been ruled out of Sunday’s game, we might not see as much of this problem against the Jaguars. But don’t kid yourself: T.J. Yeldon is no slouch. The Chiefs need to pay attention to that guy.
And wrap him up.
4. Can Eric Murray continue to improve?
This season hasn’t played out quite like we expected. Back in June, the Nerd Squad’s Matt Lane wrote that Eric Murray could be a player to watch at safety this season. But back in June, we all thought he’d be trying to take a spot alongside the All-World Eric Berry, instead of Ron Parker — a player the Chiefs released after last season.
Still, slowly but steadily, Murray has begun finding his way — and against the Broncos, had his best game of the season, with five tackles and an athletic interception. If he can continue to improve, it’s possible that he could keep the job when — and if — Berry returns to the field.
Let’s keep an eye on this young man.
5. How will the weather affect this game?
At this writing on Friday morning, forecasters expect rain at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon — not just rain, but thunderstorms. And there’s likely to be a lot of rain in Kansas City before Sunday even arrives, making the condition of Arrowhead’s natural-grass surface even more of a concern.
How will this affect the passing game on which the Chiefs have depended thus far this season? How will it affect the size and enthusiasm of the home crowd, on which the Chiefs defense so often depends?
Much will depend on the amount of rainfall — and right now, it’s looking like there will be a lot.