The Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) host the NFL North-leading Green Bay Packers (6-1) at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday, but it's not the marquee matchup everyone expected when the game took a primetime TV slot.
Aaron Rodgers still leads his team into the action coming off a red-hot performance a week ago against Oakland. But it's backup Matt Moore leading the Chiefs, not reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. With five other starters out as well for the team, it's a difficult but not impossible task for Kansas City to merge victorious. Here are the matchups to watch and keys for a home-team win.
Packers LB Smith & Smith vs. Chiefs Offensive Tackles
The Packers picked up two of the best pass rushing outside linebackers in free agency during the offseason in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The Smiths ferociously attack the pocket with a blend of speed and power and can be nightmares for offensive linemen. With starter Eric Fisher out for at least one more week, backup Cam Erving will have to get some help protecting Moore’s blindside, meaning right tackle Mitchell Schwartz will likely be on an island facing the other pass rusher.
Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill vs. Packers CB Jaire Alexander & Kevin King
Hill’s speed and explosiveness make him a tough assignment for any defensive player. The Packers have two very good corners that accept the challenge this week. Alexander has the speed and quick change of direction ability to keep close to Hill. King is more of a long, lengthy corner who likes to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, routinely grabbing them throughout their routes. Both will more than likely spend time in coverage on Hill, although with Sammy Watkins returning it may force King to matchup with Watkins instead.
Chiefs Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line
The defensive line for the Chiefs is banged up, with prized offseason addition Frank Clark missing the game with a neck issue and stud defensive tackle Chris Jones out with a groin injury. With the two best defensive linemen out, Tanoh Kpassagnon and rookie Khalen Saunders are in the mix for extended playing time. Defensive line depth is extremely thin though, with only three defensive ends and three defensive tackles healthy, including new defensive tackle Mike Pennel signed this week. Not a great way to go into battle against a strong offensive line unit for the Packers, led by the standout tackles David Bakhtiari on the left and Bryan Bulaga on the right.
4. Chiefs Secondary vs. Aaron Rodger’s Weapons
Kansas City defensive backs have the tough task of trying to slow down an Aaron Rodgers-led offense. Even though the Green Bay receiving corps continues battling injuries, it seems like they haven't missed a beat, regardless of who is playing. With star receiver Davante Adams listed as doubtful while he recovers from turf toe, receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison along with tight end Jimmy Graham will pick up the slack. Running back Aaron Jones and fullback Danny Vitale also see their share of work in the passing game. Individually none of the receivers is a great threat to the Chiefs, but with Rodgers the man under center, each pass catcher becomes a lot more dangerous.
Chiefs Running Backs vs. Packers Linebackers
Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez is a liability in coverage and looks lost at times trying to tackle anyone in space. Kansas City has a stable of running backs that can get open against Martinez and turn his poor coverage and weak tackling into a big play for the offense.
Keys To Victory
Less is Moore
With Mahomes out, Moore becomes the next man up. As tempting as it is, he can’t try to play the same game as Mahomes. He must focus on his game, which isn’t quite as explosive as what Mahomes brings to the table. As long as he delivers an accurate, catchable football and avoids forcing throws into tight windows, Moore can give the Chiefs a chance to come out on top.
Wrap Up and Tackle
Green Bay leans more on their ground game this season than usual. Lead back Aaron Jones uses good contact balance and a strong stiff arm to fight through would-be tacklers. The receivers for Green Bay have the ability to side step a defender to break out for a big gain. Even Rodgers can be slippery and hard to bring to the ground. The Chiefs need to make sure to get their arms around ball carriers and drag them down, or at the very least hold on until help arrives. If not, the skill players on the Packers offense can break this game open in a hurry.
Pick/Rub Routes When Facing Press Man Coverage
The Packers run a few different man coverages, but one of their favorites is press man, taking advantage of Alexanders’ ability to turn and run with his man and King’s physical play style. The downsides in their man coverage is that they don’t switch off routes and haven’t mastered the ability to fight through traffic to stay in coverage, leaving receivers running wide open for easy completions. The Chiefs can take advantage of this breakdown in coverage and hit chunk plays down the sidelines or in the middle of the field.
Play With High Motor
With MVP Mahomes sidelined, it is up to the rest of the team to step up. The defense needs to play like its hair is on fire, going a hundred miles per hour every snap swarming to the football. The receivers, tight ends and running backs must increase their level of play to keep the offense running at a high level. If the defense can build on its success from last week and the offense can remain explosive even with a backup quarterback, the chance for success in this game skyrockets.
Lean On The Run Game
If there is an area the Packers’ defense has struggled with, it’s in stopping the run game. They give up more than 128 yards per game, yielding 4.9 yards per carry. The Chiefs’ running backs, particularly LeSean McCoy with his shiftiness and Darrel Williams with his power, can exploit a less than stellar linebacker core for the Packers. Their inside linebackers don’t take the best angles to the ball and try to make lunging ankle tackles, leaving them open to broken tackles that lead to big gains. Running the ball also keeps time of possession in the Chiefs’ favor, and keeps the dangerous Rodgers off the field.