The Kansas City Chiefs will try to follow up their strong performance on Monday Night Football when they welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to Arrowhead Stadium Sunday afternoon.
No one likes to talk about moral victories, but that’s exactly what the Chiefs left Pittsburgh with when they fell to the Steelers 16-13 in overtime. Despite running their record to 1-8, Kansas City’s defense was fantastic while the offense showed some signs of life.
None of that is likely to get many Chiefs fans behind their team. With Matt Cassel back at quarterback due to Brady Quinn still bouncing back from a concussion, much won’t have to go wrong before things start to sound more like a road game.
Then there’s also the black out in the stands planned by a group of fans to protest the franchise’s refusal to fire GM Scott Pioli. No matter how successful this movement ends up being, it’s going to make it that much harder for the Chiefs to get any sort of homefield advantage against a team that is fighting for a playoff spot.
No matter how they are welcomed home, the Chiefs once again have a chance to show they have yet to give up on this season, even though it was lost weeks ago. That they want head coach Romeo Crennel to keep his job and aren’t in a hurry jump into the offseason.
With that in mind, here are the three players to keep your eye on at Arrowhead Sunday, even if there’s no sea of red cheering in the stands.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
There’s one way to protect the Chiefs from Cassel’s turnovers and that’s to get Charles involved early and often, especially in big spots. As easy as it sounds to all Chiefs fans, it’s something offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was unable to do last week.
Charles finished with 100 yards on 23 carries against the Steelers, but didn’t catch a single pass. Even if Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin were both healthy, there’s no reason to neutralize one of Cassel’s best weapons.
The Bengals defense is giving up nearly 120 yards per game on the ground and there’s no reason Charles should fly past that number by himself if he’s given enough opportunities.
Defense: Justin Houston
Just like giving the ball to Charles is a simple cure for the Chiefs offense, letting Houston rush the passer would serve the same purpose for the defense. Despite being one of the most efficient in the league, Houston has only rushed the passer on 58.3% of his snaps, according to PFF.
Last week against the Steelers, Houston almost (literally) killed Ben Roethlisberger. He has the ability to break a game wide open on every play and he needs to be treated that way by Crennel and new defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs.
Special Teams: Devon Wylie
After being drafted in the fourth round by the Chiefs in April billed as another in a long line of answers for Kansas City’s woes in the return game, Wylie has been mostly invisible this season.
Then last week in Pittsburgh, the wide receiver returned three kickoffs for 68 yards. Those numbers don’t make you think he’s going to be the next great returner, but it’s promising considering just how bad the other Chiefs kick returners have been in 2012.
Wylie was a constant of Crennel’s injury report, but was left off this week as he finally seems to be healthy. He had trouble staying on the field at Fresno State as well, but has the type of speed that always makes him dangerous when he manages to keep himself in one piece.