Saturday’s mid-day forecast calls for temperatures hovering around 10 to 15 degrees, with the wind making it feel closer to zero or in the negatives. Even if the Midwest team is more accustomed to it than the team traveling from the west coast, it can naturally create obstacles for either team to overcome.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is ready to adjust on the fly, acknowledging how cold weather can impact offensive play calling during his press conference on Wednesday.
“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to win,” Bieniemy declared. “If it means running the football, we have to run it. The guys up front have to make sure that everything starts with them. The guys up front have to set the tone when called upon to run it. We have to grind it out and find 4.5 [yards], and anything after that is a bonus.”
Kansas City’s run game has gained momentum as the season has progressed, peaking at a season-high 189 rushing yards as a team against the Houston Texans last week; it tied their performance in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The cold affects the ball as it travels through the air, especially if the wind is involved. That’s why it will put a big emphasis on special teams for both squads. Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub has experience in these situations, but his unit ranks 18th in Football Outsiders’ Special Teams DVOA this season.
The Seahawks’ unit ranks at the top of the NFL.
“They fly around,” Toub praised during his Wednesday press conference. “Larry Izzo is the coach, he was a great special-teams player in his day. I’ve coached against him a bunch. He has those guys playing with their hair on fire; they just fly around.
“The thing we have to deal with this game is we’re going to have to return every kick and cover every kick because of the cold. The cold really affects the ball, it doesn’t fly like it normally does.”
The impactful special teams unit in Seattle is a reflection of their head coach: Pete Carroll, patrolling the sidelines for the 13th season leading the Seahawks. At his core, he’s a defensive-minded coach, and the Chiefs can see his fingerprints on the latest version of his team.
“It is a typical Pete Carroll defense,” Bieniemy pointed out. “I know they have had their bumps and bruises throughout the course of the season, but they play hard up front. They got Shelby Harris, Al Woods, big Poona Ford, they got [Uchenna] Nwosu, who was with the Chargers originally. In the back end, [Tariq Woolen], the kid out of UTSA... on top of that, they got [Quandre] Diggs... This is a very, very good team.”
The Seahawks — who were projected to have one of the worst records in the NFL before the season began — are half of a game out of the last spot in the NFC playoffs. That’s a heavy contrast in motivation with the Chiefs having their division locked up. It could be play a huge factor in a game where effort and discipline will be even more important than usual.
“These guys have something to play for,” Bieniemy emphasized. “And I guarantee you they’ll come out here and give us everything they have; that includes their best.”
Kansas City’s defense will have its hands full — in a literal sense in some ways. Seattle’s biggest threat to score comes from wide receiver DK Metcalf making a play on the outside. The Chiefs’ young cornerbacks have covered big pass catchers, but Metcalf stood out to Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Whether it’s the weather, Seattle’s well-coached units, or a monstrous, play-making receiver, Saturday’s game is far from an early Christmas gift for the Chiefs, who need every win possible to stay alive for the AFC’s top seed.