The Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys won their season openers last week in different manners. The Chiefs had an easy time against Jacksonville while the Cowboys won a wild shootout against the Giants. The teams, which haven’t faced one another since 2009, play on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you their Double Coverage preview.
Teicher: The Chiefs had six sacks against Jacksonville last week. How healthy is Tony Romo and how ready is he to deal with what could be a strong pass rush?
Archer: He'll be healthy enough and he won't wear anything more than his normal rib protector. He played through a cracked rib and punctured lung in 2011 and actually threw five interceptions in his first three games after that. Last week against the Giants he was sacked just twice, but the Cowboys used a lot of quick and underneath throws. Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant didn't average more than 8.8 yards per catch against New York. I think you'll see some of that as well to combat the Chiefs' pass rush. Jason Garrett said the pass protection against the Giants was the best the team has had in a long time, so considering that pass rush, I think the Cowboys will have some confidence going into Sunday's game. And perhaps they could add your old friend Brian Waters into the mix this week. He was inactive against the Giants but the feeling is that he will be ready for action this week. We'll see.
But speaking of quarterbacks, how is Alex Smith meshing with Andy Reid?
Teicher: So far, so good. Reid called plays to Smith's strengths in Jacksonville last week. Mostly quick, short stuff. He completed 21 passes but for just 173 yards. Generally got the ball out of his hand in a hurry. Dexter McCluster averaged 14.3 yards per catch, but among the Chiefs' other eight receivers who caught at least one pass, none averaged better than 11 yards per catch. Smith was able to do what he did so well the past couple of seasons for the 49ers. He didn't commit any turnovers and completed more than 60 percent of his passes. Smith also managed the game well. He did a nice job of reading coverages and took advantage of some mismatches the Chiefs were able to create with their formation and their motion. But the Cowboys will present a more interesting challenge than the Jaguars did.
How is the transition to the 4-3 going for the Cowboys and do they have the personnel to make it work?
Archer: The transition has gone pretty well, but the defensive line is a mess. When they made the move they envisioned Jay Ratliff as their Warren Sapp, to a degree, and he will miss the first six games while on the physically unable to perform list. Anthony Spencer could make his debut Sunday, but he hasn't been on the field since undergoing knee surgery July 25. Tyrone Crawford was supposed to be the top backup and he tore his Achilles on the first day of camp. But at least there's DeMarcus Ware up front. The Cowboys felt like Sean Lee and Bruce Carter could fit in any defense and added Justin Durant as a free agent to take the Sam spot. If Lee and Carter can stay healthy, then this defense has a chance to be really good. The secondary is going through a transition. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are not the prototypical Tampa 2 corners, but the Cowboys say they will mix a lot of their looks the way Seattle did with its scheme. They don't have a John Lynch, if I'm staying with the Monte Kiffin theme, but they like Barry Church (forced fumble, fumble recovery for a TD in the opener) and have vet Will Allen in the other spot. Kiffin and Rod Marinelli are a good mix together. They have changed the defensive mindset when it comes to takeaways as you can see with the six last week. Marinelli had the "secret sauce" in Chicago and brought it with him here. The Cowboys gave up too many big plays against New York, but I think this will be a bend-and-don't-break defense, not one that eats up offenses.
We'll have to get used to seeing Reid in red Sunday, but how has his first year with the club been? I wondered if he would take a break after so many years with the Eagles, but he hopped right back on the bus.
Teicher: He seems energized by the move to K.C. That was the question I had, as did a lot of other people, when he took the job: How much did he have left in the tank? But he really attacked the job from the day he walked through the door. He's not as involved with personnel decisions as he was his last few years with the Eagles. The Chiefs hired a general manager, John Dorsey, with extensive personnel experience in part so they could free Reid from some of those duties. He's the playcaller on offense and has been very hands-on at practice. From the GM to the coaching staff to the offensive and defensive systems to the starting quarterback and 29 other players who weren't with the Chiefs last year, there's a lot new in Kansas City but Reid has done a nice job so far of tying it all together quickly. Reid, along with Dorsey, has already changed the culture in the organization from one where a lot of people had their own agendas to one where everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction. And you're right, even to those of us who see him daily, he still looks weird in red.
The Cowboys have a difficult schedule with few breathers and play in a division that looks to have a lot of parity. Assuming they stay reasonably healthy, what's a realistic expectation for Dallas this season?
Archer: On our prediction posts to kick off our NFL Nation blog, I said 10-6 and make the playoffs, so after they beat the Giants, I'm sticking with that. However, I must say the defense has me worried. I can't imagine the Cowboys getting six takeaways a game and they were shredded by Eli Manning. They have Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick (or Chip Kelly), Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers on the schedule with a rematch with Eli coming, too. The national types always talk about the talent level of the Cowboys, but I don't know if they really get beyond the top 10 or so players. Yes, at the top the Cowboys are strong, but it falls off pretty quickly in my opinion. I believe they'll get better with their pass defense because it can't get worse, but they'll need to mix things up. On offense, they've always put up yards but struggled with points. Now I think they'll be better in the red zone and that'll help. So I'm sticking with 10-6.
What are the Chiefs' chances? They seem to be a chic pick to be a postseason team.
Teicher: I predicted the Chiefs to finish at 8-8 and even though they looked strong last week against Jacksonville, I’m not quite ready to back off from that until I see them beat a better team. The Chiefs are a talented team, particularly on defense. The Chiefs have a lot of new elements but they looked last week as though they’ve meshed them all very quickly. The Chiefs have a favorable early schedule and need to take advantage because it gets more difficult the second half of the season. The formula they used to beat the Jaguars is the one they’ll need to be successful: strong defensively with the defense and special teams helping the offense in terms of favorable field position. Then, a most efficient offense.