The Kansas City Chiefs will attempt to put the brakes on a four game losing streak when they visit the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams come into the game with precarious quarterback situations. The Chiefs plan on starting Tyler Palko, despite having a better option in Kyle Orton and the Bears are using Caleb Hanie after losing starter Jay Cutler for the season.
Chicago, however, is 7-4 and in the hunt for a playoff spot while Kansas City has slim — at best — hope of getting back into the race for the AFC West crown. For that hope to stay alive, it has to start with a win over the Bears, who dropped a 25-20 game to the Oakland Raiders last week.
The Chiefs will try to bounce back from a hard-fought 13-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which their defense played their hearts out. Unfortunately the game was given away by Palko and his four turnovers.
If Palko starts out playing the same way he has during his first two starts, the Chiefs will likely give Orton a chance, but it could be too late. It could be too much to hope that the Kansas City defense puts together a second straight near-shutout performance, but they just might have to.
Here are the three players from each team to keep your eyes on Sunday afternoon.
Offense: Tyler Palko
For the rest of the season, it’s hard to imagine another position ending up here. With the Chiefs unable to get any sort of running game going and Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston unable to throw the ball to themselves, better quarterback play is the only way the team is going to see win No. 5.
If all the talk about Palko starting against the Bears is just posturing on Haley’s part — we can all dream — then you can put Orton’s name here. Once the newest Chief takes over, we should see the ball down the field more, but more important will be ball security.
No matter who is playing, the Chiefs will have little chance to win unless they cut down on the turnovers.
Defense: Justin Houston
The rookie linebacker from Georgia has really come on lately. The Chiefs have been desperately waiting for someone to step up opposite Tamba Hali and Houston has done just that since taking the starting job away from Andy Studebaker.
Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston had four tackles and a pass defensed, but had a much bigger impact than what was in the box score. He is found out of position less and less and is getting solid pressure that will lead to more sacks very quickly.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
The up and down 2011 season for the Chiefs punter has the potential to go way down against the explosive Devin Hester. After all, Colquitt knows all too well just how dangerous Hester can be.
When these two teams met in 2007, Colquitt was burned by a 73-yard Hester punt return for a touchdown. With the Chiefs not likely to put up many points on offense, Colquitt has to make sure not to give Hester a chance to return the ball.
It seems extreme, but every punt should be out of bounds or otherwise completely unable to be returned thanks to significant hang time.
Offense: Matt Forte
Like the Chiefs, the Bears are trying to find a way to win without their starting QB. The difference here is Chicago has an elite running back they can lean on to make plays.
Over the last three weeks Forte hasn’t been able to put up big numbers as he’s been sharing carries more with Marion Barber, but he’s still the biggest offensive threat the Bears have on offense. He has already logged four 100 yards games, including a 205 yard explosion against the Carolina Panthers early in the season.
Forte is also a huge threat in the passing game, having caught 52 balls for 490 yards (9.4 per catch average) this season and had six last week against the Raiders.
The Chiefs linebackers are going to be awfully busy Sunday trying to follow Forte around the field.
Defense: Julius Peppers
The only think that has been as bad as the Chiefs quarterback play is the offensive line. Barry Richardson has been one of the worst in the league on the right side and that has trickled down to the rest of the line, forcing Matt Cassel and then Tyler Palko to face constant pressure.
Peppers must have been smiling ear-to-ear watching film getting ready for this game.
After starting the season with just two sacks over the first five games, Peppers has taken down the quarterback six times in as many games. He got to Carson Palmer twice last week and should be good for a repeat performance Sunday afternoon.
Special Teams: Devin Hester
The battle between Colquitt and Hester is likely one that has given Todd Haley heartburn all week. The Bears returner is the best in the league (19.4 yard average) while Colquitt’s 12.7 yards per return is one of the worst.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that he can also burn teams on kick offs. Last week Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop wasn’t getting as much behind his kicks, allowing the Steelers to have four returns. If there was ever a time for Succop to find a little extra power and find the back of the end zone, it’s Sunday in Chicago.