The Kansas City Chiefs look to recover from a disastrous start to the season when they head to Detroit to take on the Lions Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
Last week’s 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills that saw the Chiefs lose star safety Eric Berry for the season to a knee injury hung over the team all week long leading up to this matchup with the emerging Lions. Detroit won just six games last year, but are expected to make the jump to playoff contender this season and are off to a good start. Last week they traveled down to Tampa and beat the Bucs 27-20.
With a trip to San Diego on tap for the Chiefs in Week 3, there is little room for error if they want to avoid staring 0-3 in the face and potentially letting the 2011 season spiral out of control in the first quarter.
Here are the three players from each team you should keep your eyes on.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
In the blowout loss to the Bills, Charles only received 10 carries as the Chiefs tried to get back into the game by throwing the ball. If head coach Todd Haley and offensive coordinator Bill Muir hadn’t ignored the league’s most efficient running back early on, there’s a chance the offense never would have had to abandon the running game.
Everyone on both sides of the ball will need to improve for Kansas City to pull off the upset against the Lions, including Charles who brought his preseason fumbling issues with him into the season opener against the Bills. But if the game plan doesn’t involve a huge dose of Charles, it won’t matter much the level of improved play from the rest of the offense.
Anything short of 25 total touches for Charles will spell bad news for the Chiefs.
Defense: Jon McGraw
No one is going to replace Berry this season for the Chiefs and certainly not a veteran like McGraw that is best suited for work on special teams. Right now Kansas City doesn’t need him to replace Berry, they just need him to avoid being a black hole.
Last week against the Bills it was McGraw and fellow backup safety Sabby Piscitelli that were constantly out of position or flat out missing tackles. Sure, it’s easy to say they weren’t prepared to play and that a week isn’t going to suddenly make them better players, but shock not being a factor is a big deal. Both players were ready to play a few snaps on sub packages and all of a sudden were thrust into every play.
In order for the rest of the defense to function, the strong safety position just needs to be average, something that shouldn’t be too much to ask. McGraw is a professional and likely made good use of his time knowing what is expected of him for the immediate future.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
I wondered if Colquitt was going to carry his amazing preseason into the games that count or step back into the rut he was in all of 2010. For one week, at least, the answer is the latter.
Colquitt punted eight times last week for a 41 yard average without putting one inside the 20. When you are working with a defense that has such a small margin of error, as the Chiefs were last week, it’s impossible to get anything going when the opposing offense is always given solid field position.
The Chiefs cannot afford bad special teams play, but that’s what they started the season with and Colquitt was one of the biggest culprits.
Offense: Brandon Pettigrew
The Detroit offense has plenty of weapons and they can all end up gashing the Chiefs defense, but with the absence of Berry, it’s Pettigrew that could end up being the biggest headache.
Built similarly to Buffalo TE Scott Chandler — who caught all five passes thrown his way, including two touchdowns — Pettigrew had four catches for 57 yards in the Lions opener and will be heavily targeted as they try to attack the battered middle of the Chiefs defense.
With WR Calvin Johnson taking all of the attention of Chiefs cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, it will be up to the linebackers and safeties to try and contain Pettigrew in coverage.
Defense: Ndamukong Suh
One of the best young defensive linemen in the league, Suh will present a unique challenge to the Chiefs offensive line. Between his mammoth size (6-4, 307) and incredible speed, center Casey Wiegmann and guards Ryan Lilja and Jon Asamoah will need to get inventive if they are going to keep Suh off of QB Matt Cassel.
Cassel might not be on the injury report, but it was clear last week that his rib injury was bothering him last week. One big hit from Suh and any progress Cassel has made will be immediately erased.
Special Teams: Ryan Donahue
The rookie from Iowa had a debut last week that is more of what you’d expect from a veteran like Colquitt. He had five punts for a 48.2 average (fifth best in the NFL) and put three of those inside the 20.
If he can build on his impressive first game as a professional, the Chiefs won’t have many chances to get something going in the return game. On the flip side, Donahue is just a rookie and there’s no reason he can’t be rattled if he’s put into tough positions by the Kansas City defense and special teams.