This week, the Kansas City Chiefs have a lot on the line against another contender in the Green Bay Packers. The defense faces a challenging task, even against a backup quarterback.
As always, the outcome may hinge on the Chiefs offense's ability to get back on track. There are some encouraging signs that the team is starting to embrace a youth movement, injecting some life into a frustrating season. We'll see if they can take the next step forward on Sunday.
Here are a few of the players that could be trending in this matchup.
Sack Nation: Many of the struggles on the defensive side of the ball start with the inability to affect the quarterback. But in recent weeks, we've seen signs of life from the Chiefs' pass rush. Frank Clark played one of his better games against the Giants, looking healthier and showing up in his old role as "the closer." Chris Jones has been more disruptive as his wrist recovers and he gets more reps on the inside along with Jarran Reed. The newest addition to the roster, Melvin Ingram, could help take things to the next level by providing a little extra pressure on the EDGE. Against a rookie quarterback, these guys could set the tone for the entire game, and it could make all the difference.
Willie Gay Jr.: The second level of the Chiefs defense appears to have a playmaker. The young linebacker has an interception in each of the last two weeks, and he brings a level of athleticism and energy that has been missing in recent years. With Aaron Jones and Randall Cobb, the Packers present some unique matchup problems with quick passes in the flats and over the middle. Willie Gay's ability to close and make tackles will be critical to limiting yards after the catch. He could also bait Jordan Love into a mistake or two in coverage, keeping his streak of turnovers alive.
Derrick Gore: After scoring his first NFL touchdown and looking explosive in his debut against the Giants, Gore may command a more significant role starting this week. His vision, cutting ability and short-area quickness were on display in limited action. Could Derrick Gore be the complement to Darrel Williams that we hoped Jerick McKinnon would be? He should get another chance this week, and with the way the Chiefs offensive line run blocks — they should feed him early and often against the Packers.
Others trending in the right direction this week: Nick Bolton, Lucas Niang, Rashad Fenton, Mecole Hardman
Daniel Sorensen: It might be the most predictable thing we see every week. At some point, Sorensen will blow a coverage, leading to a big play and leaving his teammates, fans and commentators dumbfounded. The entire justification for having guys like Sorensen and Ben Niemann on the field is the idea that they are veterans who know the defense and get where they need to be, even if they aren't the most athletic. But, thus far in 2021, Sorensen appears to be responsible for the most mental mistakes and missed tackles in the Chiefs secondary. If he's on the field, he's a target for offenses, even those with rookie quarterbacks looking for easy completions.
Noah Gray: It's still early in his rookie year, but we have yet to see Gray's playmaking ability that was all the rage in training camp. We thought he'd be a chess piece for a creative offense to use in several ways, or at least a No. 2 tight end that could get open when Travis Kelce was the focus. Gray has been a non-factor with only two catches for nine yards thus far this season. Jody Fortson became the preferred passing target before his injury, Blake Bell has been the preferred blocking tight end and the team just traded for another tight end. What does that mean for Gray's role on the offense? See if you even notice him on the field this week.
Anthony Hitchens: One of the leaders and coaches' favorites on this defense should be getting phased out in favor of some up-and-coming linebackers. When Hitchens was out, we saw Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. step up and make a number of plays — and the defense as a whole looked better. The only way this team will progress is to get these young guys developing together on the field. The only way that's going to happen is if guys like Hitchens see reduced roles. Hitchens isn't a bad player, but his limitations (and Niemann's and Sorensen's) hold the young talent and the defense back. We'll be watching the linebacker rotation with some interest this week.
Others trending in the wrong direction this week: Jerick McKinnon, Ben Niemann, Mike Hughes
Value (sleeper) pick: Josh Gordon
We're going to keep picking him until one of two things happens. Either Josh Gordon gets involved in this offense, or the team adds another wide receiver off the street that we can get excited about. Gordon has only one catch on the season but has been targeted on multiple Patrick Mahomes interceptions. It seems apparent that he hasn't quite mastered where he's supposed to be or what to do when Mahomes scrambles around and plays break down. We know this takes time to develop, but it's also been long enough now that we can start to expect more.
Could this finally be the week where the Chiefs find ways to get Gordon open for some easy catches to get him going?