Monday Night Football Preview: Washington Visits Kansas City For Clash of Top Tight Ends

Both Washington and Kansas City run offenses that operate around a featured tight end (Jordan Reed for Washington, Travis Kelce for the Chiefs). But the major difference between the two teams' offenses could ultimately be the difference on Monday night.
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Previewing Washington at Kansas City on Week 4 Monday Night Football.

The Washington and Kansas City offenses are unique in that their passing games run through tight ends and running backs, not wide receivers. Yes, the Chiefs have a speed demon in Tyreek Hill, and Washington has a dangerous in-breaking route runner and field-stretcher in Terrell Pryor (though his transition to Jay Gruden’s system remains a work in progress). But from a design standpoint, the Chiefs’ offense centers around Travis Kelce, the AFC’s best route-running tight end, and Washington centers around Jordan Reed, the NFC’s best route running tight end.

Where these guys align dictates the reads for ball-distributing QBs Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins. At running back, Kansas City features Kareem Hunt (and at times Hill) in its staple misdirection tactics, as well as on vertical routes out of the backfield—an unusual tactic that poses problems for a zone defense. Washington’s expansive screen game goes through Chris Thompson, who is becoming arguably the league’s most valuable third-down back. These are well-schemed offenses that win through design more than individual players’ execution.

The difference in these two offenses is that Kansas City can survive just fine without involving its wide receivers; Washington, on the other hand, cannot. Terrell Pryor and Josh Doctson are not focal points in Washington’s offense, but if they get blanked, the offense sputters. Monday night presents a tough order for both. Chiefs left corner Marcus Peters is a playmaking wild card whom Cousins may not even challenge. (Philip Rivers experienced Peters last week. Peters intercepted him by playing Cover 2 when it was actually man-to-man. Rivers read the coverage correctly and Peters’s severe gamble still made him wrong.) The solution for Washington is to align Pryor, its best receiver, away from Peters. Problem is, Chiefs right corner Terrance Mitchell is playing at a high level, too. It’s hard to envision Pryor winning that battle.

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Washington has one of the NFL’s three or four best offensive lines. Kansas City has an inconsistent but uber-talented defensive line. Allen Bailey, Bennie Logan, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and especially Chris Jones line up everywhere and can all make plays through quickness and strength. The Chiefs also have perhaps the game’s best edge run-stopper, Justin Houston, which poses problems for a zone-based ground game like Washington’s.

Bold prediction: Kelce will have over 100 yards and at least one touchdown. Washington safeties D.J. Swearinger, Deshazor Everett and intriguing fourth-round rookie Montae Nicholson are playing well, but they’re yet to be challenged by an elite tight end. Reid, like many coaches, probably suspects that these safeties are more vulnerable than they’ve appeared. He’ll go after them.

Score prediction: Kansas City 27, Washington 20