Chiefs fans have had a week now of living in the clouds after an improbable primetime win in New England, but the NFL season still trudges along as planned with a week two matchup that should not go overlooked.
The Philadelphia Eagles will pay a visit to Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since 2005 on Sunday, looking to catch Kansas City coasting past head coach Andy Reid’s old team. This is the second time Reid has faced off against his former employer of 14 years, with the first matchup coming in 2013 that ended with a Chiefs win.
For those that didn’t catch many NFC games last year, the Eagles had an inconsistent 2016 campaign. Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson took over as head coach and helped lead the team to a 3-0 start, before the team plunged into a 2-9 funk and finished with just seven wins.
The numbers say Philadelphia should have been better than their seven-win record tells, as they finished with the sixth best point differential in the NFC. Close games, and Philadelphia’s lack of winning experience, ultimately held the team back as they only won one of seven games decided by one score.
Philadelphia also has right tackle Lane Johnson back in the fold this year, as the team went 5-1 with Johnson started in 2016, but struggled when the 6’6 Sooner Alum missed 10 games due to an NFL suspension.
Optimism’s high in the city of brotherly love is high, not just because of Johnson’s return or that the team is unlikely to lose as many close games again, but because they have a potential franchise quarterback developing before their eyes.
The development of Carson Wentz, the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, is the team’s most important storyline for this season. Wentz has above-average quarterback size added with impressive mobility, which is why fans should expect to see multiple plays where Wentz keeps his eyes downfield and the play alive when the pocket collapses around him, like a younger Ben Roethlisberger.
This attribute could also lead to some sacks for Justin Houston and Dee Ford, as Wentz does hold onto the ball longer than most quarterbacks and the offensive line did struggle in week one. A consistent pass rush on Sunday would put more pressure on Wentz to get rid of the ball quicker than his wide receivers would like, a position group that already has enough challenges.
Last year Jordan Matthews led the group with more than 800 yards, while Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham each finishing below 400 yards. Matthews and Green- Beckham are gone, with additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith aiming to provide needed firepower for Wentz. Neither had a major impact against Washington, but Agholor showed signs of stepping up with a career-high 86 yards.
Marcus Peters and the secondary shouldn’t have a terrible time keeping the receivers in check, but with the loss of safety Eric Berry, the tight end position is a spot where Philadelphia really could thrive.
Tight end Zach Ertz led the team with 816 receiving yards last year and finished the season with 79 yards or more in four of the team’s last five games. Ertz picked up right where he left off on Sunday, leading the Eagles with eight catches for 93 yards against Washington. The athletic fifth-year tight end could be in for a breakout season, entering the year two with the same quarterback for the first time in his career.
The running game is more of a concern for Pederson, as general manager Howie Roseman threw numbers at the spot with the hope that either one would step up or collectively could adequately produce.
LeGarrette Blount is the early down and short-yardage back, but at age 30 and coming off a 300-carry season, it’s unclear how much he has left in the tank. At 34, Darren Sproles is still an elite pass-catching specialist, but he doesn’t carry the ball often due to his size and age. Second-year back Wendell Smallwood is the all-around complement to Blount and Sproles, and had a solid rookie season, but is still not a back that should strike fear into the hearts of Kansas City’s defense.
A key area to watch for is whether or not Pederson stays committed to the run, as he consistently went into heavy pass mode at the first sign of trouble in his first year. If Kansas City can get an early lead, forcing the Eagles into this spot where they become one-dimensional, that’s where Peters and Ron Parker could really excel.
On the other side for Kansas City’s offense, the run game will also play a big role in the outcome of the Sunday matinee. Running back Kareem Hunt will probably not rush for 148 yards on 17 carries again, but how successful he is against a strong 4-3 front seven will be key. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn’t blitz often, relying on the four up front to get pressure on the QB, which makes Hunts job tougher against a stacked box.
Pass rush is a strength of the four defensive linemen, led by Brandon Graham, who recorded two sacks against Washington. Fletcher Cox is a top interior linemen and consistently draws the attention of two offensive linemen, with offseason addition Tim Jernigan right next to him. Linebackers Jordan Hicks picks up all the leakage and has a knack for the big play, as he’s the first Eagles player to record 11 takeaways in his first 24 career games since the early 1970’s.
The front seven lived up to the hype against Washington, harassing Kirk Cousins for the entire game. The usually accurate Cousins completed just 57.5 percent of his passes, lost two fumbles, threw an interception and took four sacks.
The Eagles’ secondary is a spot that Alex Smith can exploit when at his best, as key offseason Ronald Darby went down with a week one injury leaving really only Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson to hold down the fort. The unit is susceptible to the long ball at times, so Smith will need to test that again on Sunday like he showed week one against New England.
If the game comes down to the wire, Kansas City will most likely have the advantage in special teams as Philadelphia kicker Caleb Sturgis suffered a strained leg against Washington and was placed on IR, with fifth-round rookie Jake Elliott taking his place this week.
If the Chiefs want to carry the momentum of week one throughout the season and make this season truly one that fans will never forget, then they must defend the Arrowhead turf. Kansas City has one of the toughest schedules in the NFL this year, added with a very competitive division, and while Wentz and the Eagles really should not be taken lightly, it’s still a game that’s very winnable for the Chiefs as they look to start 2-0 for the first time since 2013.
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