The Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants seem like two teams going in opposite directions. Kansas City is off to a 3-0 start for the eighth time in franchise history, while the Giants are 0-3 and coming off a lopsided loss to the Carolina Panthers.
ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Giants reporter Dan Graziano break down Sunday's matchup.
Adam Teicher: Last week's blowout loss against the Carolina Panthers caught me by surprise. Is this another of Tom Coughlin's slow-starting teams, or are the problems really that deep that the Giants could be serious contenders for next year's No. 1 draft pick?
Dan Graziano: Caught me by surprise, too, Adam. And I'm pretty sure it caught Coughlin by surprise. But the alarming thing on this end is that Coughlin's teams are not traditionally slow starters. He was 5-2 or better in his first seven games in each of his first nine seasons as Giants coach -- a streak that obviously ends this year. The only other time a Coughlin team has started 0-3 was 1995, when the expansion Jaguars lost the first four games in franchise history. So this is uncharted territory for Coughlin and many of his players. If there's a coach in the league who can hold things together through a time like this, even if turning things around is impossible, it's Coughlin. And starting in mid-October, the schedule eases considerably. But the issue is getting to that point. The Giants' next three games take place in a span of 12 days, and two of them are on the road against unbeaten teams, including this one Sunday. The Giants' offensive line was completely shredded Sunday by a very tough Carolina defensive front.
Having watched the Chiefs last Thursday, I'm expecting something similar this week. Do you agree?
Teicher: The front seven for the Chiefs is playing very well. That group has controlled things for large portions of games this season. One thing that's helped is the Chiefs have played mostly with a lead. It would help the Giants if they can get off to a quick start and force the Chiefs to honor their entire playbook. The Eagles rushed for 264 yards against Kansas City last week, so the Chiefs could make some improvements in that area. Tackling at times was more sloppy than it has been all season. Another thing the Chiefs have done is pick on the rookie tackles. They mostly had their way with Jacksonville's Luke Joeckel and Philadelphia's Lane Johnson, so that is an issue for the Giants because they start a rookie, Justin Pugh, at right tackle. Outside linebacker Justin Houston leads the league in sacks with 7.5. He had three against the Jaguars and Joeckel and 4.5 against the Eagles and Johnson, so the Houston-Pugh matchup is one to watch.
Thirteen turnovers in three games is enough to choke any offense. Obviously, there are other problems, like a feeble running game. But assuming the Giants don't cough it up a bunch of times against the Chiefs on Sunday, isn't it reasonable to expect them to score some points?
Graziano: Yes, the Giants' offense should be scoring points. With Eli Manning at quarterback, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz at wide receiver, Brandon Myers at tight end and a very talented, if star-crossed, David Wilson at running back, they have the weapons to score against anyone. Some week, they will. However, the blocking problems up front are so significant right now that the offense is completely choked off. Manning did not even have time to get to his first or second read on most plays Sunday before he was getting hit, and Carolina's front four got into the backfield on running plays as well. I would expect the Giants to play around with formations a bit to try to help out the line -- maybe run more plays from the shotgun or the pistol. That could be a problem if center David Baas (who had an MRI on his neck Monday) is unable to play. The Giants sure look as though they're capable of outscoring the Chiefs, but they have to find a way to keep those Chiefs defenders off Manning long enough to give him time to throw the ball.
I'm curious about the Andy Reid Revenge Tour aspect of the game. The Giants hammered Reid's Eagles in Week 17 last year in his final game as Philadelphia's coach. Obviously, he had a dead team at that point and his fate was sealed. But Reid was 8-3 the past five years against the Giants, sometimes with inferior Eagles teams. Do you think ol' Andy's got something up his sleeve for his old rivals from New Jersey?
Teicher: Hard to say what Reid will have the Chiefs do this week. The Chiefs had nothing special for another of his old division rivals, the Cowboys, two weeks ago. Dallas was the better team for much of the game. The Chiefs were able to survive that day with plenty of grit and the backing of a loud home crowd. But it appeared he coached with some inside knowledge against the Eagles last week. The Chiefs seemed to dial up consistent pressures that played to Michael Vick's weaknesses. Other than one long pass, the Chiefs were also able to eliminate DeSean Jackson as a threat. Regarding the Giants, I would think Reid would realize, as you point out, that New York is better equipped to win a scoring war than the Chiefs. It plays to Kansas City's strengths if the game is a low-scoring one. It may be instructive that the last two times while coaching the Eagles that Reid beat the Giants, neither team reached 20 points.
The Giants have allowed a ton of points this year, but how much of that is a factor of lousy field position given the 13 turnovers? The one thing I'm most surprised about with the Giants defensively is their lack of a pass rush, which is usually a staple for that team. The pieces still seem to be in place. What explains the inability to get pressure on the opposing quarterback?
Graziano: That is, for me, the most significant issue facing the Giants. The Panthers had more sacks Sunday (seven) than the Giants have in their past eight games (six) dating back to last November. Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks in 2011 and 6.5 in his first nine games of 2012, has only one in his past 10 games. He played with a back problem last year and had surgery to correct it in June, and he admitted last week that he hasn't been able to play like his old self because of the physical limitations. But he needs to, or else this Giants' pass rush will be ineffective and the defense will be ordinary as a result. Justin Tuck isn't what he used to be, Mathias Kiwanuka isn't consistently creating pressure and rookie Damontre Moore has not practiced enough because of a preseason shoulder injury. If the Giants aren't getting to the quarterback, they're not a good defense. And Pierre-Paul needs to elevate his game or else they're just too easy to stop.
What about that Kansas City passing offense? The Giants are familiar with Alex Smith from his recent San Francisco days and had some success against those teams. How do you describe the way Smith is functioning in Reid's offense?
Teicher: Efficient is the best way to describe Smith. He’s not making mistakes and putting the Chiefs in bad situations. He has four touchdown passes and hasn’t thrown an interception or lost a fumble yet. In large part because of his solid work, the Chiefs were 5-for-5 scoring touchdowns inside the red zone. He has been able to identify some favorable matchups and take advantage. That changed last week against Philly when the Chiefs were only 1-for-6 getting a touchdown while inside the 20. The Chiefs have used mostly a short passing game, which plays to Smith’s strengths. But most of their big passing plays have happened because the receiver made significant yards after the catch. Even at that, Smith is completing only 61 percent of his passes, a low number given the high-percentage nature of a lot of those throws. Smith has been able to put pressure on opposing defenses with his ability not only to scramble out of trouble but also to gain some yardage on the option and other running plays.