The Kansas City Chiefs' pass defense has played a major role in the team's 1-2 start.
They'll be getting a big boost there when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals this week with the return of star cornerback Sean Smith. He's back after being suspended by the NFL for the first three games this season for a violation of its substance-abuse policy.
Smith pleaded guilty in April to a DUI charge in Kansas City, which led to him being held out and KC's pass defense struggling with Smith out of the lineup. The Chiefs were the NFL’s No. 2 pass defense last year with Smith starting all 16 games as their No. 1 corner. Through three games this season, they've fallen to the NFL's 28th best pass defense without Smith.
That's indicative of how much of an impact he'll have on KC's secondary with Cincinnati bringing in an explosive passing game to this matchup. The Bengals rank No. 2 in passing offense through three games in large part due to Andy Dalton's 383-yard performance at Baltimore this past week. That also included a 227-yard effort from star receiver A.J. Green, who will likely see Smith guarding him a lot in this game.
Smith has the speed and ball skills to stay with Green and keep him from having a big game. Here's an example of how he's done this against Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant on a deep shot from Ben Roethlisberger last season:
The Bengals got an up-close look at Smith in the preseason last year when he picked off Jason Campbell coming over Cobi Hamilton before running it back for six:
According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was the No. 5 corner in 2014 with a 17.0 grade. Making his return even more crucial is Kansas City will be without starting corner Phillip Gaines this week and for the rest of the season. He left Monday's 38-28 loss to the Packers with a sprained knee, and it's since been revealed to be a torn ACL, which will end his season.
Gaines played in 13 games (5 starts) as a rookie in 2014 while notching one interception and four pass defenses. In three games this season, Gaines has surrendered just seven catches for 80 yards and no scores, per Pro Football Focus. He was expected to play a lot even with Smith back, but now Smith's return becomes even more critical.
The battle between Smith and Green could ultimately be what decides this contest in what should be a close and competitive game.