On some occasions, win-loss records don't exactly tell the whole story. Such is the case with the Kansas City Chiefs, who come to Paul Brown Stadium this weekend for a big AFC clash. Currently at 1-2, the Chiefs have had a tough schedule through the month of September and it doesn't get easier this Sunday.
Kansas City has a number of playmakers on both sides of the ball, creating some difficult matchups for the Bengals, even though they'll be in the comfort of their home yard. Here are some of the more intriguing matchups of the afternoon, from an individual player standpoint.
Shawn Williams versus Travis Kelce:
The Bengals have a young star at safety in George Iloka, but he's been off to a slow start in 2015 because of a nagging ankle injury. He hasn't been practicing this week and it looks as if Williams might get the start in his place. While the team might use a combination of players to remedy the vacancy left by Iloka, Williams would get the start and would be tasked to cover Kelce at times. This is a bit concerning, given Williams' reputation for being a run-stopping safety and not one who has a decorated pedigree as a coverage guy.
Kelce is a huge weapon in the Chiefs offense, with 16 catches and two touchdowns already on the year. Given Alex Smith's preference to throw touchdowns to others aside from the wide receivers, Kelce is sure to be a big focus this Sunday in Kansas City's offensive game plan.
Justin Houston versus Andre Smith:
This Wednesday, the Inside the Jungle crew had Joel Thorman from SB Nation's Arrowhead Pride on to talk about the upcoming game. Thorman noted Pro Bowl outside linebacker/defensive end Justin Houston would likely be lining up against the right tackle. Smith has had a solid season so far, as has the rest of the Bengals offensive line, but Houston already has three sacks on the season. While Smith and Andrew Whitworth are one of the top tackle tandems in the NFL, it's the smaller, speedier rushers that have given them fits over the years. Houston fits that mold and if he's able to get pressure on Andy Dalton, we might see a different quarterback than we have over the previous three games.
Mohamed Sanu versus Jamell Fleming and Marcus Cooper:
As Alex Healey noted in his five key Bengals piece, Dalton might have to find other weapons from some of his primary guys. Making things complicated for the Chiefs defense is the season-ending loss of Phillip Gaines to a knee injury last week in the loss to the Packers. Sanu has had a quiet start to the season, mostly because of the resurgence of Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones, but he could be a key guy on Sunday with Gaines out. Fleming had a rough night against Green Bay, though he was going up against an all-world offense led by Aaron Rodgers.
A.J. Green versus Sean Smith:
The veteran corner missed the first three games of the 2015 for issues related to an April DUI charge. He's been a guy who has been a shutdown corner capable of huge plays, but has also had spurts of questionable effort. In his first game back, he goes up against Green, who is coming off of a career day against the Ravens. If there are corners who frustrate Green, it's the ones who are bigger and/or physical with him at the line, a la Joe Haden. Smith is tall at 6'3", which might make things difficult for the Pro Bowl receiver--particularly in the red zone. When I asked Thorman about Smith's return on Wednesday night, he called it "huge" for the Chiefs.
Geno Atkins and Domata Peko versus Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Ben Grubbs:
The Bengals' starting defensive tackles had a very good September, which was a bit of a surprise, given Peko's apparent decline in previous years and Atkins' own issues last year while playing through a recovering knee injury from 2013. They were a big part of their stifling the run throughout the past three games and Atkins is back at pressuring the quarterback on a consistent basis.
This could spell doom for the Chiefs' interior linemen duo of Duvernay-Tardif and Grubbs. "LDT" as Chiefs fans call the starting right guard, is an interesting guy who just finished medical school in Canada, while Grubbs is trying to regain his Pro Bowl form from when he was with the Saints. Still, both guys lead the NFL in sacks given up by guards, so if Houston can get to Dalton, Peko and Atkins should be able to do the same.
De'Anthony Thomas versus Bengals' Defense and Special Teams:
Thomas was a force at Oregon and the Chiefs use him as a Dexter McCluster type. He runs and catches the ball, as well as returns kicks and punts. He's a shifty guy who is a nightmare when in space, and if the Bengals are able to suppress Jeremy Maclin and others, Thomas could provide a spark on returns and/or be a security blanket for Alex Smith. He's had a bit of a slow start this year, but Cincinnati won't want to poke a sleeping bear. Cedric Peerman and Darqueze Dennard will be key as gunners on punt coverage, while corners, safeties and linebackers will all need to be on watch while he's on offense.
Jeremy Maclin versus Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick:
It was a rough day for the secondary last Sunday against Baltimore. Jones, Kirkpatrick and others were all guilty of allowing big plays by Steve Smith Sr. that should not have been made, but were due to poor tackling. Alex Smith doesn't often push the ball deep down the field, so minimizing gains after the catch will be key this week. Maclin didn't do all that much the first two weeks, but statistically exploded last week--mostly while the team was in catch-up mode. While Maclin can stretch the field deep, the Chiefs offense will want to use shorter routes and allow him to run from there. It's imperative the corners shore up coverage and tackling, no matter what the score is at the time.