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Five things to watch as the Chiefs play the Lions

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The Chiefs will travel to Detroit for the first time since 2011, and there is plenty to watch for during the matchup.

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Week 4 is underway!

For the fourth consecutive week, the Chiefs will play an unbeaten team. While one of their games resulted in a tie, the Detroit Lions have beaten two quality opponents in the Los Angeles Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles as they head into their toughest matchup yet.

I have five things to watch for as you watch the game:

1. The cornerbacks vs. the Lions receivers

Los Angeles Chargers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Chiefs cornerbacks are a point of concern this week. After playing pretty well in Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders and for most of the Week 3 game, their weaknesses became glaring again in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens. First, Kendall Fuller was unable to defend a desperation jump-ball throw to receiver Seth Roberts that would have resulted in a turnover on downs. Then, another frantic heave on third-and-long should have at least been knocked down by cornerback Charvarius Ward — but he failed to use his lengthy frame and allowed receiver Willie Snead to come down with the ball.

These two plays were the main reason the Ravens were even in the game down the stretch. The cornerbacks will now be facing a much tougher corps of wide receivers. The Detroit Lions have Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones — both big-bodied receivers that can come up with a contested catch as well as anyone. They are the best receivers the Chiefs have faced so far this season. Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford will not be shy about throwing to them in tight coverage — so Fuller, Ward and Bashaud Breeland need to step up to the challenge of breaking those passes up.

Look for the Lions to attack deep and test the Chiefs coverage skills. If the unit shows the same inability to get their hands on the ball that they did in Week 3, this game could turn into a shootout.

2. The pass protection

Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The Chiefs will be without starting left tackle Eric Fisher for the foreseeable future — and Cam Erving has not been as disastrous as most would have thought while replacing him. He gave up some early pressure against Baltimore — but he started to settle in and held his own for the rest of the game. He will be facing another challenging edge-rushing group this week in Detroit. Defensive end Trey Flowers — the former New England Patriot — leads the Lions’ pass-rushing group and is familiar with going against the Chiefs offensive line. He was able to accumulate five total pressures in last season’s AFC Championship game — including one sack.

Flowers was also able to produce three pressures in the 2018 regular-season matchup. He is joined by the team’s sack leader so far in 2019: edge rusher Devon Kennard.

While the rush from the edge looks dangerous, the Lions’ may be strongest on the interior. They have a rotation of former All-Pro Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Pro Bowler Mike Daniels and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson. The group is probably stronger curbing the run than rushing the passer — but in either phase of the game, it will be a challenge for the Chiefs’ young interior offensive linemen Austin Reiter and Andrew Wylie.

Watch to see how the offensive line handles this strong unit. One advantage that the Chiefs may have is defensive line coach Brendan Daly — who should be familiar with Lions head coach Matt Patricia and his thought process. They coached together in New England for four seasons — and Daly may have been able to help the offensive line prepare for what to expect.

3. Defensive execution

Baltimore Ravens vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

There have been instances this season of the Chiefs defense looking similar to the 2018 version of the unit. Before you overreact and blame the new coaching staff, it needs to be understood that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his assistants have deployed successful game plans so far this year. The failures seem to stem from the execution of the players. I touched on the cornerbacks not being able to break passes up above — but it is more than just that.

Arrowhead Pride defensive film analyst Craig Stout had a great tweet-thread this week showing some examples. I singled out one play that highlighted some tackling issues.

The defensive coaches can put the players in the correct positions — but it’s all for not if the players cannot execute their responsibilities. Besides that play, some nit-picky examples include rookie safety Juan Thornhill coming in on a blitz on fourth-down. He came in fast and in great position — but was unable to take down quarterback Lamar Jackson, who proceeded to throw for the first-down conversion. Safety Tyrann Mathieu had his best game as a Chief against the Ravens — but there was at least one instance of a potential interception he could not haul in. A pass breakup is a pass breakup — but the defense cannot let those opportunities go to waste if they want to play up to their potential.

Look to see if the defense improves its tackling, if the secondary looks more comfortable defending passes and if potential turnovers can come into fruition to get the Chiefs offense an extra possession.

4. Playing in a dome

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs will be playing their first regular-season game indoors since Patrick Mahomes took over as the starting quarterback. The effect a dome has on the play of the game may be a bit overstated — but the last time Mahomes played indoors, he uncorked what may still be one of his most impressive throws.

Before that preseason game, the previous time Pat played a game in a dome yielded some insane statistics.

Look for the passing offense to be at full force in Week 4. The removal of weather conditions will not only benefit Mahomes’ throwing ability — but also the speed of his dangerously fast receiving corps. The deep ball threats of Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins should be on full display. While the Lions secondary has performed well so far in 2019, a hamstring injury that forced Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay to leave their Week 3 game may significantly hurt their chances at slowing down the Chiefs’ blazing hot offense.

5. The running back group

Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The Chiefs offense has been so good that the lack of a running game has barely been a point of discussion. The Chiefs are 23rd in the NFL with a yards-per-carry rate of 3.8. The previous low for a Chiefs team led by head coach Andy Reid was 4.2. The lack of effectiveness in running the ball has been downplayed because the injuries the unit is facing don’t seem to be bringing down the offense’s productivity as a whole.

Starting running back Damien Williams won’t play for the second game in a row this week. Running back LeSean McCoy will be available.

Their injuries have opened up an opportunity for second-year running back Darrel Williams — and he took full advantage of it. He averaged 7.8 yards per touch on 14 touches, and had the Chiefs longest run of the season with a 41-yard rush. His top speed on that run was one of the fastest in the league during Week 3.

With Damien Williams trending towards another inactive week, it looks like the Chiefs will be in good hands with the rise of Darrel “The Barrel” Williams as a complement to Shady McCoy.