When: Sunday, Dec. 7
Time: 3:05 p.m., CT
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
TV Broadcast: CBS – Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn (Field reporter); DirecTV – 714.
Radio Broadcast: Westwood One: Tom McCarthy, Mark Malone. Over 60 radio stations on the Chiefs Radio Network; Mitch Holthus, Len Dawson, Kendall Gammon, commentators; Chiefs Spanish Radio: La Gran D (1340 AM);
SIRIUS: 137 (KC), 119 (Ari.). XM: 229 (Ari.).
The bad news is that the Kansas City Chiefs have lost two games in a row and have fallen from a first-place tie with the Denver Broncos to sitting just outside the playoff picture with the #7 seed in a crowded AFC playoff field.
The good news is that the Chiefs are playing an NFC team, which recent history shows will be a tonic for all that has ailed the team during their mini-slump. Since Andy Reid showed up as head coach last year, the Chiefs are 6-1 against NFC foes with the only loss being the 22-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on the road in Week 5 this year.
Better news for KC is that they are playing the Arizona Cardinals, a team that’s biggest weakness on offense corresponds with the Chiefs biggest weakness as a team. The Cardinals cannot run the ball to save their lives but will they be able to take advantage of the Chiefs losing the ability to stop anyone in the run game?
Chiefs’ fans that are glass-half-empty kinds of folks would point out that the Oakland Raiders were historically bad at running the ball but then gashed the Chiefs for 179 yards rushing. Last week, Denver battered the Chiefs with their ground game – not Peyton Manning’s arm – running over the defense for 214 yards. Three weeks ago, Seattle started the hemorrhaging with 208 yards on the ground in a game that the Chiefs actually won.
But while Seattle did it with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson, both division foes did it with their third-string running backs doing the bulk of the damage. So, despite the fact that the Cardinals will be without their #1 guy, Andre Ellington, the Chiefs haven’t shown the ability to stop anyone with a pulse in the run game. Why should fans expect this game to be any different?
If the Chiefs want to break this two-game losing streak and keep pace in the playoff race, here are three things the fans should watch out for in Sunday’s game:
The Chiefs get back to what they do best – move the chains on offense: When KC was winning seven out of eight games earlier this season, they were one of the best and most efficient offenses in the league. In going 7-1 from Week 3 to Week 11, they were at or near the top of the league in third-down conversions and time of possession, which kept a good but flawed defense off the field. When the fourth quarter rolled around, a rested defense was able to clamp down on KC’s opponents and keep them from scoring.
The Cardinals have been a strong defense all year long and like most other teams, have been terrific at home. They hadn’t given up 100 yards rushing to a single running back in 21 games, until Steven Jackson bit them for 101 yards last week in their loss to Atlanta. Now they are getting dinged up big time, most notably losing safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has been making huge plays for the defense all year, as well as quarterback Carson Palmer and Ellington on offense.
In order to win a tough road game, the Chiefs offensive line will have to rediscover their manhood and open holes for Jamaal Charles in the run game and keep quarterback Alex Smith upright and not running for his life.
Get plus-two turnovers on defense: Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton still has some people thinking that he might end up having a good career in the NFL. But seeing how he is in his eighth season and 30 years old, it’s doubtful he’ll be anything more than a career backup. Right now, he is feeling the pressure of quarterbacking a team that had a three-game lead in the NFC playoff race just one month ago. Since taking over for Palmer when the veteran tore up a knee in Week 10, Stanton has been a bit wild and erratic – throwing for four touchdowns but tossing five interceptions as well. With virtually no running game to fall back on, Stanton has been forced to carry the offensive load for Arizona and he can’t do it.
The Chiefs need to make him throw the ball by stopping the run. Stanton tends to be high on his throws which means safeties Hussain Abdullah and Ron Parker need to catch the ball when it hits them in the hands. Had Abdullah hung onto the errant throw Derek Carr threw late in the fourth quarter of the Raiders loss, the Chiefs would have killed the clock and not been the only team to lose to Oakland in 2013. Make Stanton pay for being inaccurate.
Travis Kelce … THROW HIM THE BALL, PLEEEEEZE!!: Even when the Cardinals were running roughshod over the league during their hot start, they could not cover tight ends. Now that the Chiefs have signed veteran tight end, Richard Gordon, to a contract this week, they can get back to the three-TE sets on offense that were so potent early in the season. Gordon may have only been with the team for a few days, but there is a role he can play that will free up Kelce to make plays downfield. However, the Chiefs have to make a concerted effort to get Kelce the ball. Only giving him five targets in the passing game isn’t going to cut it. If Kelce gets 10 targets in the passing game, he should catch 7 of them for 70+ yards and a score. If that happens, the Chiefs win.
Prediction: There is little doubt that both of these teams have floundered the last two weeks and both need this game badly. However, the Chiefs need it a bit more and the injuries on the Cardinals side might be a bit too much for them to overcome. Plus, this is the kind of game the Chiefs have played well in lately. I see a nail-biter into the fourth quarter and the Chiefs doing just enough to get back on the winning track.
Score: Chiefs 23, Cardinals 16.