When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City TV: FOX
Something has to give.
ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount preview the game.
Teicher: Terry, the Seahawks rushed for 350 yards in last week’s game against the New York Giants. That has the attention of the Chiefs, who haven’t been very strong against the run this year. How were the Seahawks able to rush for so many yards and gain 7.8 yards per carry against the Giants, and do you think Seattle will run it against Kansas City until the Chiefs stop them?
Blount: It was something to see, that’s for sure. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an NFL team just impose its will on a defense by running right by it and right over it. Having center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung back from injuries certainly helped, but the key to it all was the dual threat of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. The read-option just had the Giants flummoxed all day and Wilson outguessed them every time. If they keyed on Lynch, he kept it around the end. If they held their spot, Wilson gave it to Lynch and he bulldozed through the line. And the Giants looked like they never had seen the Wilson run off a naked bootleg. I don’t see Kansas City making those mistakes, but no question, the Seahawks will run the ball until the Chiefs prove they can stop them. Considering how bad the Seattle passing game has been lately, they don’t have much choice.
Adam, the Chiefs are second in the league in points allowed, only 151 in nine games, and held the Bills to 13 points on the road last weekend. What’s been the biggest factor in their success on defense?
Teicher: They’ve cut down greatly on the number of big pass plays they’ve allowed. Last year was feast or famine for the Chiefs with regard to pass defense. It seemed like every opponent pass attempt either went for a sack, a turnover or a long gain. The Chiefs are still getting consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback but aren’t blitzing as frequently. They’re devoting more manpower to coverage and it’s paying off. The Chiefs have allowed 22 pass plays of 20 or more yards. That’s fewer than all but two other teams.
Some of Wilson’s key passing numbers are down from the past two seasons, most notably his passer rating. What explains the fact the Seahawks haven’t been as efficient with their passing game this season?
Blount: Part of it has been injuries up front on the offensive line. In the second half of the Oakland game two weeks ago, three guys on the O-line were backups and one was a rookie. Wilson has been under duress more than any other NFL quarterback. He really misses starting tight end Zach Miller (out after ankle surgery), and the passing game is in transition since the Percy Harvin trade. Wilson, however, has been off target a lot in the past two games, consistently missing throws he normally makes. He has a sore left shoulder that no one talks about. Even though it’s not his throwing shoulder, it could be affecting is accuracy. If I'm the Chiefs, I would load the box, have one player spy Wilson for runs and force him to beat them throwing.
Alex Smith led the team to the playoffs last year in his first season at Kansas City and is in position to do it again this year, but it seems some people still wonder if he can get them to a championship. What’s the prevailing thought there about what he’s done and what he can accomplish?
Teicher: The Chiefs have in a sense given the keys to the franchise to Smith. They’re all-in on him. They signed him to a long-term contract extension over the summer, and though the Chiefs can get out of the deal after a couple of seasons, that’s not the intent. The Chiefs believe they can win a championship with Smith as their quarterback, but they also understand they need to play to his strengths and build the right team around him. The margin for error isn’t great because Smith isn’t the kind of quarterback who can put his team on his back and carry it. He’ll need plenty of help
The Seahawks are two games behind Arizona for first place in the NFL West. They can still overtake the Cardinals and win the division, particularly because they have two games remaining against them. But if Seattle doesn’t win the division but instead makes the postseason as a wild-card entrant and has to play on the road in the playoffs, do you like the Seahawks’ chances of getting back to the Super Bowl?
Blount: They have a tough path, Adam, starting with Sunday’s game. The Seahawks play Arizona twice and San Francisco twice and travel to Philadelphia after playing the Chiefs. But they control their own destiny with all those division games. They also won’t have to face starting quarterbacks Carson Palmer for the Cardinals or Nick Foles for the Eagles. As of now, I see the Seahawks going 10-6 and making the playoffs as a wild card. But I don’t think they can win three road games in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl. A win Sunday would be a big step toward staying in the hunt to catch the Cardinals.
Adam, most experts still think either New England or Denver will be in the Super Bowl for the AFC, but the Chiefs are hanging in there. Do you think they have a realistic shot of winning the AFC West over the Broncos, and what do they need to improve the most to get there?
Teicher: I won’t write off the Chiefs as AFC West contenders. They’ve come back from the seemingly dead this season and are just a game behind Denver and still get to play the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. But they also have games against the Seahawks, Cardinals, Steelers and Chargers remaining. With that ahead of them, a wild-card spot is a more realistic goal. One area where the Chiefs can improve is their passing offense. They don’t get many big plays. Their longest pass play of the season is 34 yards, the lowest in the league. They’ve been very efficient offensively. They run the ball, commit few turnovers and are excellent on third down. If they can add some big plays to that mix, they’ll be difficult to beat.