Every team in the NFL faces injuries, but what has happened to the Kansas City Chiefs this season has been a little extreme.
The Chiefs opened this season with hopes of defending their 2010 AFC West title, but they’ll come to town on Monday without their best offensive and defensive players (Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry), as well as starting quarterback Matt Cassel and breakout tight end Tony Moeaki. The Chiefs are also coming off consecutive losses to the Dolphins and Broncos, and about to face the Patriots, Steelers, Bears, Jets and Packers consecutively. Simply put, this is a good opportunity for the Patriots to build on the momentum they created last weekend against the Jets.
Here are three areas to watch on Sunday:
* Seventy-nine quarterbacks have attempted at least 10 passes since the beginning of last season. Tyler Palko’s 4.5 average air yards per pass attempt ranks him (you guessed it) 79th by over three-quarters of a yard. Palko’s total stat line is 9-of-13 for 82 yards and a pair of sacks since 2010, and Monday will mark his first career start. As for the running game, the loss of Charles has left a huge void in the Chiefs' offense. Through 10 weeks last year, Charles alone had gained over 1,000 yards of total offense (1,078). This season, replacements Jackie Battle, Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones have combined for only four more yards than Charles alone amassed in the first 10 weeks of 2010. Given their inexperience under center, the Chiefs will need better production from their running game to have a chance Monday night.
* Last season, Eric Berry was one of the most dynamic rookies in the NFL. Berry made the Pro Bowl in his first season, and losing him this season has really hurt the Chiefs. Last year, Kansas City defensive backs defended or intercepted 57 passes, one behind the league-leading Browns secondary. Berry’s presence at safety also helped his cornerbacks play more aggressively, and Chiefs cornerbacks defended or intercepted 36 passes, fourth-most in the NFL. However, Chiefs cornerbacks this season have defended or intercepted only 19 passes, tied for 13th in the NFL (with the Patriots). Not surprisingly, Kansas City has also been more vulnerable to the deep pass this season without their playmaking safety. Even though the Chiefs still have standout cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers, opposing quarterbacks have been more successful taking shots down field.
* Last season, Tamba Hali was a fearsome pass-rushing presence. Hali recorded 14.5 sacks last year, second-most in the NFL, and his emergence helped fellow defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry have a solid year at defensive end (seven sacks). This year, Hali has six sacks, still respectable but no replication of his impact year. Gilberry has been even worse. Gilberry saw an average of 32 snaps a game last year, but has been on the field for only 21.2 snaps per game and has only one sack. Overall, Kansas City’s front seven ranks last in the NFL with nine sacks. Kansas City hasn’t been creative with blitzes either, sending four or fewer pass rushers on over 70 percent of dropbacks. Hali still has the ability to disrupt a game, but handling him will be a lot easier if his teammates in the front seven continue their quiet play.