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Chiefs vs. Giants: Five Things to Watch

Posted Nov 19, 2017

Here are a few storylines to keep in mind during Sunday’s game

The Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) will be chasing history Sunday afternoon when they travel to face the New York Giants (1-8) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The Chiefs haven’t won a game on the road against the Giants in their six attempts, which date back to their first meeting in 1978.

Overall, it has been more than a decade since the Chiefs went on the road to play the Giants, and during that meeting back in 2005, it was a second-year quarterback in Eli Manning who was able to help lead the Giants over former Chiefs’ quarterback Trent Green and that high-powered Chiefs’ offense of the mid-2000s.

But in that particular contest, neither quarterback really lit up the stat sheet. That game was all about the rushing offenses, which were led by the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson (31 carries, 167 yards, 2 touchdowns), and the Giants’ Tiki Barber (29 carries, 220 yards, 2 touchdowns). Barber and Johnson finished No. 2 and No. 3 in the league in rushing that year.

The Chiefs are hoping to have another guy flirting with the rushing title this year in rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who will face a Giants’ rush defense on Sunday that ranks 30th in the league.

Here are five things to watch during Chiefs-Giants on Sunday:

1. The Chiefs’ big-play offense

The Chiefs’ offense leads the league by averaging 6.22 yards per play, and the 110 points that they’ve scored from outside the red zone also leads the league. They’ve also scored eight touchdowns from at least 40 yards out, which is the most in the NFL.

And much of this success can be attributed to quarterback Alex Smith, who is off to the best start of his 12-year career as he ranks sixth in the league in passing yards (2,444), second in yards-per-attempt (8.34), fifth in touchdowns (18), and leads the league on deep passes—garnering a quarterback rating of 134.1 on passes that travel at least 21 yards in the air.

At least on paper, the numbers favor the Chiefs this week against the Giants.

Smith and company will face a Giants’ defense on Sunday that ranks 30th in the league by allowing an average of 400.3 yards per game, and they’ve been particularly susceptible to the big play—allowing five touchdowns of at least 40 yards this year, which is the most in the league.

They have also allowed a quarterback rating of 124.3 on deep passes, which ranks second-to-last in the league.

So, the matchup Sunday of a big-play offense against a defense that’s allowed plenty of big plays is something to watch.

2. Justin Houston could be facing an inexperienced right tackle

The Giants are led at quarterback by Eli Manning, who has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,093 yards with 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season.

Due to season-ending injuries to receivers Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall, Manning’s top target this year has been second-year player Sterling Shepard, who has caught 38 passes for 475 yards and a touchdown this season. Rookie tight end Evan Engram has also played well with 40 catches for 443 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns.

But in order to get the ball to those guys, Manning will need time to throw it.

The Giants are already without their starting right tackle in Justin Pugh, who is sidelined by a back injury, and Bobby Hart, who initially replaced Pugh, may not be getting the start on Sunday against the Chiefs.

According to reports out of New York, the Giants may be moving to undrafted rookie Chad Wheeler at right tackle this week.

Wheeler, who stands at 6-feet-7 and 306 pounds, played collegiately at USC and has just two professional snaps to his name, and he would potentially be lining up across from one of the league’s elite defensive players on Sunday in Justin Houston.

Houston, who has worked his way back from a knee injury that cost him the majority of the last two seasons, is currently tied for ninth in the league with 7.5 sacks this year.

There’s nothing that disrupts an offense more than pressure on the quarterback, and the Giants’ offense, which ranks 26th in the league by averaging 307.6 yards per game this season, looks to be turning over a key side of their offensive line to a young player facing arguably the best player he’s ever seen.

“I see a savvy veteran with a variety of moves,” Wheeler told Newsday this week of facing Houston. “How long he’s been playing and people are still having problems figuring out how to block him?

“It’s a challenge.”

3. Tyreek Hill due for a big return?

The Giants come into Sunday’s game allowing 12.9 yards per punt return, which ranks last in the league. 

The Chiefs on the other hand boast one of the league’s best returners in Tyreek Hill, who was named an All-Pro as a rookie and has been kicked away from consistently here in his second season. 

It’ll be interesting to watch how the Giants handle punting (or not) to Hill. 

On the season, Hill has averaged 10.1 yards per return in limited opportunities.

In the last two weeks, the Giants’ punt coverage units allowed returns of 30 and 16 yards, which may set the stage for Hill to break off a big one on Sunday.

4. Can the Chiefs’ running game get going?

Led by Hunt, the Chiefs are tied for first in the league by averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry this season, while the Giants are allowing more than 130 yards per game on the ground, which ranks near the bottom of the league.

As always, the trenches will once again be an area to watch this week.

But one specific thing to pay attention to is the Chiefs’ rushing attack on first down, which has been the best in the league by averaging 5.42 yards per rush this season.

On the flip side, the Giants’ defense ranks 30th in the league by allowing 4.99 yards per rush on first down, and the potential loss of All-Pro defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison won’t help those numbers.

According to Pro Football Focus, there’s not a better run defender in the NFL along the defensive line than Harrison, who left their game last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers on a cart with an ankle injury.

Because of that injury, Harrison missed practice on Wednesday and then was limited on Thursday, which casts doubt on his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, who boast one of the league’s top rushing attacks.

For a Giants’ defense that’s struggled this season, the potential of losing their best player up front could be something to watch as well. 

5. Can the Giants contain Travis Kelce?

Outside of Hill, Hunt and Smith, the other weapon the Giants will have to worry about is Chiefs’ All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, who is arguably the best tight end they will have faced this season.

And the Giants haven’t fared well in stopping guys this year not-named Kelce.

Kelce, who comes into this game leading all NFL tight ends with 51 receptions for 629 yards and five touchdowns, has caught 14 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, which for week’s 8 and 9, ranks third in the league. 

The Giants come into this game having just set an NFL record by allowing an opposing tight end to catch a touchdown in 10 consecutive games.

Here’s to hoping and watching for 11.

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