The Arizona Cardinals come off a much-needed bye week to face the explosive Kansas City Chiefs. Arizona’s trip to Arrowhead is the first for the Cardinals since 2010. For the Cardinals, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is the only player on the roster who was present for the last time the team visited the Chiefs. With a host of challenges awaiting Arizona, we take a look at three things the Cardinals need to accomplish to pull of the upset.
Bend but Don’t Break
The Chiefs offense is ranked second in total yards and first in points scored. They lead the Rams by nearly 30 points on the season. Kansas City has playmakers all over the field and can score quickly or drive the ball methodically down the field. The man leading the charge is offensive wizard Andy Reid. During his previous 19 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, Reid’s offenses have finished in the top-10 in scoring a total of 11 times, while finishing in the top-15 another three. Reid knows his personnel and knows what their strengths are. At the same time, he and his staff know the weaknesses of opposing defenses and have no issue taking full advantage.
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Arizona’s best bet is to limit big plays on short throws and runs by making tackles. Force Kansas City to sustain long drives down the field and hope the Chiefs make a mistake. It isn’t the best formula but short of the Chiefs failing to show up on Sunday, it is the best option. The Cardinals will need to control the line of scrimmage with their front four and allow the linebackers to flow toward the football and slow down running back Kareem Hunt. Keeping the Chiefs in second and third and long to go limits the types of plays the offense can call. The Chiefs will move the ball, but the key is to keep them out of the end zone as often as possible and force field goal attempts.
Protect Josh Rosen
The Chiefs defense has struggled in 2018. However, their high-flying offense allows for some wiggle room and typically takes the opposition out of their desired game plans. That said, the Chiefs have fared well defensively against weak offensive lines. While the defense is ranked near the bottom in yards allowed, the pass rush is ranked fifth in the NFL with 26 sacks. By comparison, Arizona has surrendered 22 sacks, or roughly a sack ever 12 drop backs. Leading the charge for Kansas City’s pass rush is outside linebacker Dee Ford. The five-year pro’s eight sacks is good for fourth in the NFL. Ford also leads the league with four forced fumbles and is fifth in quarterback hits with 16.
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The Chiefs are not shy about moving Ford around the line to take advantage of matchups. Assisting the linebacker are defensive ends Chris Jones and Allen Bailey. The duo has combined for nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Arizona needs to avoid obvious passing downs and prioritize protection over receiving options. Josh Rosen has shown his ability to find receivers downfield if given time in the pocket. The Chiefs rank last in the league in passing yards allowed and rely heavily on their pass rush to slow down opposing air attacks. Arizona would be wise to keep six or seven in to protect Rosen and allow for deep routes to develop. The Cardinals can also take advantage of an aggressive pass rush with screens and quick passes to the flat to get David Johnson out in space against Kansas City defenders.
Control the Clock
Playing against Kansas City puts added pressure on the offense to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs offense. Sometimes the best defense against a high-scoring team is to have your own offense control the football and limit possessions. Keeping Mahomes and the offense off the field keeps the Arizona defense fresh and opens the door for the Chiefs defense to make mistakes and give up points. The Cardinals can control the football if they can get the ground game going and keep the chains moving. No easy task for an offense which ranks near the bottom in both total yards and points scored.
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has just one game under his belt. However, the game plan against the 49ers is something he can expand on when facing Kansas City on Sunday. Leftwich focused heavily on getting the ball to Johnson and receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Johnson was heavily used in the passing game against San Francisco which allowed the dynamic running back more chances to make plays in the open field. Fitzgerald was able to use his size and superb route running to find openings down field and became a safety blanket for Rosen in the passing game. Arizona will need to significantly win the time of possession battle and make the most of their chances to put points on the scoreboard.
Nothing to Lose
The Cardinals are more than a two touchdown underdog on Sunday. Arizona brings a rookie quarterback, first time coaching staff, and a struggling offense to Arrowhead Stadium. It is a venue where even the most experienced teams struggle to keep their composure. The Cardinals will need to play near perfection to have a chance at competing with the Chiefs. Short of Kansas City laying an egg at home, Arizona will struggle to keep up with the high-scoring Chiefs offense. Arizona will need perfection execution and luck on their side to pull the upset.
Prediction: Cardinals fall 33-17
At the end of the day the Chiefs offense is too much for the Arizona. Patrick Peterson and the defense does their best but ultimately is unable to keep Mahomes at bay. The offense struggles to keep up and is unable to keep Rosen upright. Arizona moves one step closer to a top-5 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.