After two consecutive Sunday afternoon kickoffs, the Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) are back in primetime to face the New York Jets (1-2) on Sunday Night Football in Week 4. The Chiefs enter the weekend as nine-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
That’s not what NBC anticipated when they scheduled this game; it was supposed to be a matchup of Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes and New York Jets’ signal-caller Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately, Rodgers tore his Achilles in Week 1.
It’s the third time the two legendary quarterbacks have had their teams match up without both players active. In 2019, a contest with the Green Bay Packers came during Mahomes’ recovery from the infamous knee injury. In 2021, Rodgers was on the COVID list for one week — the week that Green Bay was visiting Kansas City.
The football gods won’t give us that all-time matchup, but there’s still a lot to watch on Sunday evening. Here are five things to observe:
1. Continued dominance from the Chiefs’ defense
Through three weeks, no one has scored fewer points than the New York Jets. The 42 points they’ve totaled is last in the NFL, along with their ranking in total yards and passing yards.
It all stems from heating up Zach Wilson. Wilson has been pressured on a league-leading 51% of his dropbacks this season. He has averaged only 3.7 yards per attempt in those situations and completed only 36% of his passes. Both rank third among starting quarterbacks this season.
When Wilson has thrown from a clean pocket this season, his average depth of target is 8.8 yards — one of the highest in the league.
“The quarterback (Zach Wilson) has got a big arm,” defensive line coach Joe Cullen told reporters on Thursday. “When you see him throw with rhythm and timing, and he knows where he’s going with the ball it looks pretty good.”
If the Chiefs want to keep the Jets down, it’ll be up to the pass rush once again. Watch for defensive tackle Chris Jones and company to control the game.
2. Containing a deep Jets’ pass rush
So far this season, the Jets have only accumulated six sacks — a middle-of-the-pack ranking in the NFL. Yet, they have three different pass rushers with double-digit pressures this year. For comparison, the Chiefs only have one.
Defensive linemen Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and edge rusher Bryce Huff are just the top of a deep group. Chiefs’ offensive line coach Andy Heck is preparing his unit for a tough challenge.
“They’re hard chargers,” Heck shared with reporters Thursday. “These guys are screeching off the ball, vertical edge setting, they play with tenacious effort so that jumps off the tape at you. They’re sound, they know what they’re doing, they play a relatively simple scheme, and I think that’s one of the reasons they play so fast.”
Mahomes has been kept relatively clean this year, but the pass protection may have its toughest test yet.
3. Slowing New York’s rushing attack
The Jets will clearly want to run the ball on Sunday, and they’ll be facing a Kansas City run defense that has been stout. The Chiefs’ defense has allowed only 3.9 yards per carry this season, and they’ve only given up one rushing touchdown.
Running backs Dalvin Cook and Breece Hall are both exciting players, but Hall is the more explosive one — even coming off a torn ACL in 2022.
“He broke [out] against the Buffalo Bills who have a really good front,” Cullen said of Hall. “They had 172 yards rushing, and he broke a couple long ones... an injury like that takes time and he’s gotten stronger and stronger as the games have gone on.”
The Chiefs’ linebackers will have to be on their A-game once again.
4. Chiefs’ wide receivers getting open
The Jets’ front will give the Chiefs’ pass protection everything it can handle, and so will New York’s secondary. Cornerbacks Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and D.J. Reed are the team’s top two corners and have helped the Jets allow only 6.4 yards per pass attempt.
It’s the most accomplished cornerback group the Chiefs’ wide receivers have faced, a group that has already struggled to create separation and find open windows against coverage. Physicality will be an important trait for Kansas City pass catchers this week.
“They play very, very hard. They’re physical,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy emphasized. “This is one of those games where you hear the cliche of going back to a dark alley and it’s going to be a fist fight... They are not just good on the front level, at the second level, the third level, they’re good in all three. They’re well coached.”
Dealing with physical coverage may be another reason for rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice to see more opportunity in the offense.
5. Who covers Garrett Wilson?
One of the biggest talking points around the Chiefs this week has been cornerback Trent McDuffie, as he is currently the highest-graded cornerback in the NFL, according to PFF.
Yet, the Chiefs have used cornerback L’Jarius Sneed as the player to shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. In Week 2, Sneed slowed down Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley. In Week 3, he was the primary player to cover Chicago Bears wideout D.J. Moore.
This week, the Chiefs have another big-time pass catcher to prepare for.
“The wideout (Garrett) Wilson is a game-breaking type of guy,” Daly told reporters on Thursday. “He’s explosive, he’s dynamic. When he gets that ball, he’s got a chance to go the distance every time he touches it.”
With Sneed playing more on the outside, it’s natural for him to get more of the matchups with No.1 wideouts — but don’t be surprised if the team mixes it up and uses McDuffie in one-on-one coverage more this week.