The Kansas City Chiefs will attempt to stop their two-game slide Sunday at the New Arrowhead against the similarly struggling Arizona Cardinals.
Even though they have played their worst football of the season these last two weeks, the Chiefs are still leading the division. With the Oakland Raiders heading to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers and the Denver Broncos facing the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City has a chance to re-establish themselves as the favorites in the AFC West.
Here are the three players from each team that you will need to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
Once again, Kansas City will go as far as the running game takes it. That means Charles needs to get going early and often for his first big game in three weeks, which was the last time the Chiefs won a game.
Even though the Chiefs still own the league’s No. 1 ranked rushing attack with 165 yards a game, Charles has only been able to muster 94 yards on 24 carries during the Chiefs two-game losing streak. The Cardinals are the 28th worst defense in the NFL against the run, which should give Charles plenty of room to run.
Defense: Derrick Johnson
There isn’t much that Johnson hasn’t done for the Chiefs defense this year and he’s facing an offense that could set him up for his best game of the season. Johnson is second on the team with 10 passes defensed and has twice as many as every non-DB on the team combined.
Last week, Seattle’s Aaron Curry terrorized Derek Anderson and the Cardinals with a game-high 8 tackles and 2 sacks, which is a good starting point for what Johnson should be able to accomplish Sunday. After all, against a clicking offense last week, Johnson had 12 tackles and 2 passes defensed.
Special Teams: Javier Arenas
The Chiefs need to play better football across the board, though it could be argued that no unit has struggled for as long as special teams. And the leading culprit is Arenas who after a fast start has struggled on kick and punt returns. True, he had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown nullified by a penalty but it’s never a good sign when a flagged play is your biggest highlight in a month.
Arenas currently ranks 16th in the league among punt returners with at least 10 returns and a very disappointing 21st on kick returns among players with at least 20 returns. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Cardinals coverage units aren’t much better than the rest of the squad and allowed Leon Washington to break off a 48 yard punt return last week.
Offense: Larry Fitzgerald
No one in the NFL knows what makes Fitzgerald tick more than Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, his former offensive coordinator in Arizona. If there is anyone that can find a way to get the struggling Kansas City secondary to slow down one of the league’s best receivers it should be Haley.
Fitzgerald has had to work with two different less than stellar quarterbacks on a bad team and has still caught 49 passes for 601 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is coming off two of his best games of the season as he hauled in 14 passes for 198 yards, but was kept out of the end zone, certainly something he will be looking to remedy Sunday in Kansas City.
Defense: Joey Porter
Last week’s Player To Watch, Mario Haggan, had 6 tackles and 3 sacks against the Chiefs which has to have Porter licking his chops. He disappeared last week — along with the rest of the Arizona defense — but had 4 sacks in the previous three games.
The Kansas City offensive line could have backups playing at both guard positions, but even if the first team all line up to start the game they will be far from 100% thanks to those injuries to Brian Waters and Ryan Lilja. Add in the game Barry Richardson had last week at right tackle against the Broncos and Porter is in perfect position to haunt Matt Cassel.
Special Teams: Andre Roberts
The Cardinals have one of the NFL’s best return men in LaRod Stephens-Howling, but he hasn’t practiced all week after suffering a hamstring injury against Seattle. Stephens-Howling is listed as questionable and if he does suit up he isn’t likely to have his usual explosiveness. That injury makes Roberts needing to step up against the Chiefs less-than-stellar coverage units.