The Kansas City Chiefs will attempt to pick up their first victory of the season Sunday when they take on the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. Both teams are trying to shake off back-to-back disappointing losses to start the season after being tagged with high expectations in the preseason.
There hasn’t been much to like so far about the 2012 Chiefs. A forgettable 1-3 run in the preseason has been followed by two embarrassing blowouts that have put new head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli on the hot seat.
Unlike Kansas City, New Orleans has plenty of legitimate excuses for a slow start. On top of the “Bountygate” scandal that cost the Saints their head coach for the season, they faced two dynamic quarterbacks out of the gate in Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.
The Saints almost overcame their league-worst defense in each of their first two losses thanks to a high-powered offense that has averaged nearly 30 points a game. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have not been competitive in either of their games and have scored 21 of their 41 points when the games had already been decided.
“A lot of their yards are coming in a two-minute when they are in catch-up mode,” is how Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer described the Chiefs offense that is leading the AFC in yardage.
The Chiefs are heading to Louisiana as owners of one of the worst injury reports in the NFL, compared to the Saints who only have one player ruled “out” for Sunday’s matchup. It should come as no surprise that Las Vegas views Kansas City as the biggest underdog in the league this week.
Here are the three players from each team that you should keep your eyes on as they battle to avoid being one of the few team to fall to 0-3.
Offense: Matt Cassel
If Cassel was ever going to turn in a solid effort it has to be against this Saints defense. He’s never going to be the type of weapon Griffin or Newton is, but if he can’t move the Kansas City offense this week in the air, I don’t know when he will.
New Orleans has given up 550 passing yards over the first two weeks and at no point seemed close to having an answer in the secondary. There’s no reason why Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin shouldn’t be involved early and often helping to get the Chiefs offense back on track.
Obviously the health of Jamaal Charles is a big issue for the Chiefs, but it won’t mean much if Cassel isn’t able to keep the pressure on a struggling defense.
Defense: Derrick Johnson
There are no shortage of problems for the Chiefs on defense, but both Crennel and his players indicated a trouble with communication. Johnson needs to be the guy standing up in the middle of that defense and holding every player accountable throughout the game for missed assignments.
It also wouldn’t hurt if Johnson could turn in one of his patented game-changing plays. We’ve seen him do it time and again during his time in Kansas City, but he’s yet to give us one through the first two games of this season.
Special Teams: Tom McMahon
I know this is “Players To Watch”, but for the first time ever I feel a coach needs to be in the spotlight here.
When McMahon was brought in this season to coach the special teams, he was tasked with turning an inconsistent unit into one that the Chiefs could finally lean on. Instead, they have gotten worse despite a deeper roster and two veteran specialists in Ryan Succop and Dustin Colquitt.
When teams with high expectations crash and burn, everyone wants to see heads roll. And while a franchise will usually wait until the offseason, I don’t think McMahon will want to see what happens if the special teams keep heading south along with the Chiefs in the standings.
Offense: Jimmy Graham
After the game RB Pierre Thomas put together last week for New Orleans (9 carries, 110 yards) there’s no reason to think he isn’t going to try and match the numbers Bills RB C.J. Spiller just put up on the Chiefs (15/123). But in recent memory, there is no position that has victimized Kansas City than tight end.
Now the Chiefs will get their first taste of the sensation that has been destroying defenses over the last two seasons. All Graham has done to follow up his amazing 2011 (99 catches, 1,310 yards, 11 TDs) is haul in 13 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns in two games.
Defense: Will Smith
There are few things in Week 3 of the season that will get a player to step up his game, but for Smith he may have found one of them. On Tuesday, the defensive end met with commissioner Roger Goodell to talk about the Saints bounty case now that all the player suspensions (including his own) have been overturned.
After the meeting, Smith said his “message” to the boss was that the Saints defense was clean. To me, there is another message he would like to send Goodell this Sunday and it involves language that doesn’t fit in with the family friendly environment here.
Knowing the meeting was coming last Sunday, Smith totaled seven tackles against the Carolina Panthers and now gets to face a Chiefs offense that has had trouble keeping Cassel on his feet.
Special Teams: Darren Sproles
When the Chiefs ignored Sproles in the 2005 draft coming out of Kansas State, he was able to show them how badly they missed on him twice a year for the next six seasons as a member of the San Diego Chargers.
Now Sproles faces Kansas City for the first time since signing as a free agent with the Saints and the only way he would be more excited is if this game was being played at Arrowhead.
He’ll get a chance to cut up the Chiefs defense out of the backfield, but is just one of many weapons the Saints have on offense. When it comes to special teams, Sproles is the man for New Orleans and gets to take his best shot at a struggling special teams unit.