The Kansas City Chiefs take on the Miami Dolphins Sunday as they attempt to win their fifth straight game and hold onto their share of first-place in the AFC West. Sitting atop the division with the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs were left for dead after starting the season 0-3 but are now riding high after a 23-30 win on national TV last week.
Things haven’t always been pretty for the Chiefs during their winning streak, but on both sides of the ball they have been able to make plays when they have needed to. There was no better example of this than in the final minutes of the win over the Chargers. Sure, Philip Rivers fumbled a snap while driving for a winning field goal, but Kansas City LB Andy Studebaker found a way to come up with the ball at the bottom of the pile.
Against the winless Dolphins, the Chiefs should be ready to win ugly again as they try to avoid the dreaded “trap game”. The talk around Miami might be all about “Suck 4 Luck”, but I can promise you the players aren’t thinking about a player they might not play with even if he does end up with the Dolphins.
All the players in Miami are thinking about is finding a way to get their first win and avoid being the NFL’s last winless team. So the Chiefs better be ready to face a team playing their “A” game, because that’s exactly what the Dolphins did to the Giants last week. Miami dominated New York early before faltering late and falling 20-17.
Considering where the Chiefs were just a month ago, odds are the team realizes they aren’t going to just stroll into Arrowhead Sunday afternoon and be handed a win.
Here are three players from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Matt Cassel
Believe it or not, the Dolphins are nearly a top 10 defense against the run. Facing the Giants last week they only allowed 58 yards on 23 carries. Take away an 18-yarder from Ahmad Bradshaw and that’s a whopping 1.8 yards per carry. All that adds up to Cassel needing to come up with a huge game for Kansas City.
With rookie Jonathan Baldwin finally getting involved in the offense last week, Cassel will have three playmakers to target between the first-round pick, Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston. A battered Miami secondary should be ripe for the picking for Cassel and the Chiefs passing attack.
Defense: Wallace Gilberry
If there was ever a time for the defensive end to show up, this is the week. OLB Tamba Hali continues to be fantastic but he also draws non-stop attention from opposing offenses. So far this season no one on the Chiefs defense has stepped up in the pass rush department the way Gilberry did last season.
All Gilberry has produced this season is four tackles and one sack. He did have a big play last week, tipping a pass at the line that ended up in the hands of LB Derrick Johnson, but much was barely heard from otherwise.
For Hali to take his game to the next level (yes, there is another level) there needs to be pressure produced from somewhere else on the defense on a consistent basis.
Special Teams: Dexter McCluster
After almost exclusively using CB Javier Arenas to return kicks, the Chiefs used the shifty McCluster for a total of six returns last week against the Chargers. The running back answered the call with five kick returns at a 27.4 yard average, certainly earning another shot against the Dolphins.
Miami nearly gave up a return for a touchdown against New York last week, so keep an eye on McCluster as he heads out of the end zone.
Offense: Brandon Marshall
Our old friend is finally making his return to Arrowhead.
Marshall made plenty of enemies in Kansas City over the years as he turned in some solid performances during his time with the Denver Broncos. This will be the wide receiver’s first trip to Kansas City since the Broncos shipped him to Miami before last season.
In his last five games against the Chiefs, Marshall has averaged over 8 catches, 92 yards and a touchdown. If Kansas City plans on keeping the Dolphins without a win, they’ll want to try and find a way to finally put a lid on Marshall’s explosive ability.
Defense: Cameron Wake
Meet the South Beach version of Hali. Like the Chiefs linebacker, Wake played his college ball at Penn State and is one of the best pass rushers in the league despite being hidden on a terrible team.
Also playing without any consistent help (Jason Taylor doesn’t count), Wake has racked up five sacks this season (Hali has six) and continues to improve against the run. In order for Cassel to turn in the type of game needed to pull out a victory, Wake needs to be accounted for all day.
Special Teams: Steve Slaton
Depending on the status of rookie running back Daniel Thomas, Slaton could end up playing an important role in the running game for the Dolphins. But no matter how much he is needed on offense, watch out for the speedster making noise on kick returns.
In just his third game with Miami since being acquired on waivers from the Houston Texans, Slaton has already had a couple of nice returns for the Dolphins. Against the Giants, he had three kick returns for 85 yards, including a 42-yarder.
K Ryan Succop and the Chiefs coverage unit is fifth best in the league when it comes to return average (20) thanks to just 9 kicks being taken out of the end zone. Slaton has the speed to make teams pay, setting the stage for a fun chess game.