Sunday afternoon presents many challenges for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Football Team. Can each team overcome injuries to top performers? What ailing defense can stop the bleeding more often? Plus, how clean will either offense play, given the poor turnover differential of both squads?
The Chiefs are once again in a win now situation. They are already a couple of games back in both their division and the AFC conference as a whole. Meanwhile, Washington is just looking to play a complete game and prove that those preseason playoff aspirations were not simply hyperbole.
What are the top five headlines to watch for entering Sunday afternoon’s affair? We will list those, as well as keys to victory for each team. Let’s kick it off.
Top Five Headlines
Personnel Changes Coming?
After an embarrassing loss, now may be the perfect time for the Chiefs to start giving other players a chance at key positions. Most of the spots where we could see changes on Sunday are on defense. Daniel Sorensen is nearly unplayable right now. His lack of awareness when playing the pass over multiple weeks has led to the Kansas City secondary becoming severely dejected. Meanwhile, defenders like Jarran Reed and Mike Hughes continue to struggle mightily since joining the Chiefs this year.
Possibly more of Tershawn Wharton will be seen playing on the defensive interior. Or, defensive back rotations could be in store more often to replenish Sorensen and Hughes. Either way, the Kansas City defense cannot continue to run the same players out there if plenty of explosive plays are allowed again on Sunday.
Will Andy Be Aggressive?
Last Sunday was one of the worst games we have seen from the Chiefs offense in a long time. Passing plays involved no chemistry between Patrick Mahomes or his pass catchers. Elsewhere, Mahomes was off target or his receivers dropped passes that were perfectly placed. It felt like everyone was playing hesitant or timid.
Sure, this defense in Washington is much worse than Buffalo’s. Andy Reid should come out swinging for the fences, nonetheless. The Washington Football Team is in the bottom half of the league in explosive plays (20+ yards downfield) allowed. The defensive backs that have fared better in coverage for Washington has been William Jackson III, Kamren Curl and Benjamin St-Juste. This trio has still been highly susceptible to giving up large chunk plays, especially a high amount of yards after the catch.
In order to get Mahomes and his weapons back on track, Reid may need to push the ball often. Getting these defensive backs on their heels has not been difficult to achieve for other opponents. Moreover, Kansas City’s passing attack did not look comfortable when having to work in the short passing game last week. Can the Chiefs take advantage of a leaky defense down the field?
Running Back Ramp Up?
With Clyde Edwards-Helaire injured, the opportunity is there for the taking for Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon. How will the Chiefs go about using the duo? This could be the week where Kansas City incorporates the running backs into the passing game more. Darrel Williams has done a fine job so far this season in that department. However, he has not received many designed or favorable looks.
Due to the struggling Washington secondary, this could be a prime opportunity for Coach Reid to run quicker passes to Williams or McKinnon. Doing that keeps the Washington Football Team linebackers honest. To boot, this could open up more space for Mahomes to spread the ball around across the field.
In the running game, the usage remains to be seen for how the Chiefs will operate. Williams may get the bulk of the carries. But, McKinnon has possibly the most juice of any Kansas City rusher in a long while. It will be fascinating to see how often they rotate and what areas of the field either one gets run more often.
Jekyll And Heinicke
There is plenty of good with Taylor Heinicke. And, there have also been plenty of head scratching moments. Washington can be saved by the passer in one moment. In others, the Old Dominion product gives the defense plenty of gifts and chances to pounce.
The part you love about Heinicke if you are Washington, is the determination and fearlessness he has as a passer. You do not always have to play it safe with him or dink and dunk it on every drive. Yet, it seems to snowball for Washington when the mistakes arise.
Staring down his receiver, throwing the ball into double coverage and playing hero ball can all cost Heinicke from time to time. The Kansas City defense has struggled to get takeaways. The opportunities could be there multiple times courtesy of Heinicke, however. It is not impossible for the quarterback to play a solid game all the way through. Though, it is anyone’s guess as to what Washington’s offense will look like from drive to drive.
Neither of these teams are living up to 2021 expectations. More importantly, neither of these teams are close to full strength right now.
Kansas City will miss defensive lineman Chris Jones (wrist) for the second straight game on Sunday. Furthermore, cornerback Charvarius Ward (quad) will miss his fourth consecutive game. Missing him has truly shown the glaring weaknesses that the Chiefs secondary has had over the last couple of years. Finally, guard Joe Thuney (fractured hand) is expected to play with a cast. How will wide receiver Tyreek Hill (quad) feel as the game goes on, if he is active?
The Washington Football Team is dealing with injuries all over their offense. Just at the wide receiver position, two players are already declared out, while another two are question marks for their availability on Sunday. Heinicke will not have Curtis Samuel (groin) nor Cam Sims (hamstring) at his disposal. Washington loses size and speed respectively because of those injuries. Their top wide receiver, Terry McLaurin, missed the final practice of the week on Friday (hamstring). Not having him would drastically hamper Washington’s chances of a possible upset over the Chiefs. Rookie pass catcher Dyami Brown (knee) is also questionable.
Lastly, the Washington offensive line will be down two starters. Rookie right tackle Sam Cosmi (ankle) and veteran guard Brandon Scherff (knee) won’t be playing. How will those changes affect Washington’s blocking scheme? Could this be an opening for the Chiefs pass rush to get going just a little bit?
Keys To Victory
Let Mahomes Attack Deep
We touched on it a bit earlier. Mahomes looked the most tepid he possibly ever has last week. In the postgame press conference, he hinted at reassessing his attack. Going back to what has got him so much success may be the answer for him and Coach Reid. Not only has the Washington secondary given up plenty of explosive plays, but their pass rush has been heavily grounded all season long. Continue to attack them deep and keep the Washington defense guessing.
Trust In Secondary Receivers
The trust in the pass catchers not named Travis Kelce or Hill has largely not been there from Mahomes. You see him look for either of those two quickly in his progression. And if the window is not there, Mahomes feels pressed to run or throw it away. This could be a prime matchup for guys like Josh Gordon, Mecole Hardman or Byron Pringle. There could be plenty of chances for beating man coverage. Call some man beaters and quickly allow those three to work down the field. Simultaneously, this would give Mahomes more comfort.
Take Washington Running Backs Away
Stopping running backs has not been easy for the Chiefs. Washington’s top rusher, Antonio Gibson, only gets more powerful as the game gets deeper. He has a smooth mix of patience and speed to offer. On the other hand, no running back may be more certain in the pass catching game than JD McKissic. He can run a variety of routes and handle a heavy workload through the air. Kansas City will not take them for granted. But, putting themselves in advantageous positions to slow those running backs down will only lead to more stops.
Run Offense Through Gibson
Switching to the Washington side of things, we stick with the top running back. Gibson’s usage has been up and down early this season. With heavier doses the last couple of weeks, he has cashed in. Gibson has frustrated defenders by making them miss. Or, his athleticism goes simply unmatched when the game gets deeper. We know Kansas City is one of the worst run defenses in the league. Washington needs to allow the offense to run through Gibson, literally and figuratively.
In The Zone
Whether it is Cover 2 or Cover 3, the Chiefs have been mostly spinning their wheels against zone coverage. The hesitancy is one thing. Additionally, the turnovers have not been slowing down for Kansas City’s offense. They are -7 in turnover differential. Meanwhile, Washington’s secondary exudes ball skills and instincts. Staying locked onto their man has been hit or miss, though. Washington could cash in on the turnover chances other defenses have got if they allow their defenders to sit and read, while keeping Kansas City indecisive.
Not only are the Chiefs turning the ball over, they are not collectively as strong against pressure this year. Mahomes has been up and down with ball placement and timing compared to what he usually is against the blitz. Also, the Kansas City offensive tackles have struggled with high amounts of pressure. Washington blitzes at the third highest rate (34.9 percent). With their depth and power, more blitzes and pressure could stabilize the Chiefs offense.
Be on the lookout for our FPC Chiefs game recap after Sunday’s contest. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.
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