When: 4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona TV: CBS
When two teams are playing for their playoff lives, desperation begins to set in.
Desperation then leads to urgency, which could produce one of the best games of the weekend. Sunday's game between the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs has potential to be a nail-biter or a snoozer -- depending on which teams decide to show up. The Cardinals need a win to stay atop the NFC and NFC West. Kansas City needs a win to either jump into the wild-card picture or stay on the outside, peering through the fence.
Both teams are riding two-game losing streaks. Which one figures out how to get its season back on track first?
ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher discuss the game.
Weinfuss: None of Kansas City’s wide receivers have caught a touchdown pass this season -- even former Cardinals fullback Anthony Sherman has one. What’s the main reason for that? Is more of a reflection on their talent, the defenses or the offense?
Teicher: There’s a lot that goes into it. Quarterback Alex Smith has receivers at other positions whom he clearly likes better in those situations, the main ones being running back Jamaal Charles and tight ends Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce. It’s not like the wideouts are getting open in the red zone, either. As a result, wide receivers get few chances in the red zone. Smith has thrown just 12 red zone passes to wide receivers with six catches. Both are league lows. It’s not like the Chiefs are horrible with their overall red zone passing game. Smith is seventh in completion percentage, 11th in completions and 14th in touchdowns inside the 20.
The Arizona offense has bogged down since the Cardinals lost Carson Palmer and replaced him with Drew Stanton. How much of the recent problems can be put on Stanton and how, if at all, has the offense changed since the Cardinals had to make a switch at quarterback?
Weinfuss: I think most of the offensive issues stem from Stanton, but you can’t place all of Arizona’s recent problems on him. Sure, he’s making poor decisions and throwing balls too high or too low -- that’s to be expected when a quarterback is essentially still in his rookie season in terms of starts. But blame also has to fall on the receivers for not catching some of his mistakes. Then there’s the running game. The Cardinals are averaging a league-low 3.1 yards per rush, and without a good running attack, the passing game suffers. And without a good passing game, the running game suffers. There’s no one person to blame, but there’s a lot of issues to be fixed.
These two teams are entering Sunday’s game in similar positions. Both have lost two in a row after winning a slew of games. The main difference is that Arizona is sitting atop the NFC while Kansas City occupies the first spot outside the wild card. What kind of urgency is permeating throughout the Chiefs’ locker room this week? After watching the Cardinals lose to the Falcons, do the Chiefs feel like this is the game to right the ship?
Teicher: The Chiefs are currently seventh in the AFC’s playoff order, but they’re actually in good shape because they have games remaining against two other wild-card contenders: Pittsburgh and San Diego. As long as the Chiefs win those games, they’re probably going to make the playoffs provided they win at least one of their two other games. But after playing poorly the last two weeks, the Chiefs realize the need to get things right again. Time is running out for that. By winning in Arizona, the Chiefs maintain some margin for error. But that’s all gone if they don’t beat the Cardinals. In that instance, they’ll almost have to win out if they’re going to make the playoffs.
The Chiefs’ defensive weakness is their inability to stop the run, but are the Cardinals capable of taking advantage? Arizona averages only 3.1 yards per carry, the worst in the league.
Weinfuss: This week? No. I don’t think Arizona is capable of taking advantage of Kansas City’s struggles against the run mainly because they don’t have the personnel at the moment. Andre Ellington, Arizona’s featured tailback, is a game-time decision with a hip pointer added on to a hip flexor and foot injury. Next up is rookie Marion Grice, who has 11 career carries, then Stepfan Taylor and fullback Robert Hughes, who didn’t play on offense Sunday. Arizona’s only hope is recently-signed Michael Bush, but according to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians there's no guarantee that he sees the field.
Under Stanton, the Cardinals’ passing game has barely gotten off the ground -- but the running game has been worse. Obviously, they’re both tied into the other. But with Kansas City’s defense ranked No. 1 vs. the pass and 30th against the run, what kind of game should the Cardinals’ offense expect?
Teicher: This is definitely a matchup between a weakness and a weakness. The Chiefs’ run defense has been lousy all season but it really hasn’t hurt them all that much until the past couple of games. Their tackling has been substandard, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. A lot depends on how the Cardinals attack them and with which back, but I wouldn’t expect the problem to get much better for the Chiefs on Sunday or over the season’s final stretch. The Chiefs are playing without three of their best run defenders, injured end Mike DeVito, linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry.
The Cardinals are trying to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl on its home field, but is that a realistic goal without Palmer? Can they go on the road in January to a place like Green Bay, if necessary, and return to the desert with a victory?
Weinfuss: No, I don’t think making the Super Bowl is a realistic goal without Palmer. Just look at how the offense has struggled lately. The Cardinals went 10 straight quarters without a touchdown. That’s not Super Bowl-esque. Then add in that the defense has struggled lately, and as of now, the Cardinals look like a wild-card team at best. At best. The second half of your question might not even be relevant if the Cards can’t right their ship. If they keep losing, the Cardinals won’t make the playoffs. But if they ended up in a place like Green Bay, I don’t see them upsetting the Packers because you’d need a stout running game to control the clock and the tempo, and the Cards don’t have one right now.