Chiefs vs. Bengals: Six Things to Watch

Here are six storylines to follow during the Chiefs-Bengals game on Sunday afternoon

The Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) look to get back on the winning track Sunday afternoon as they travel to take on the Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) after dropping back-to-back games to the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers.

The Chiefs have a great opportunity to put themselves up against another quality football team and see where they stand, which won't be easy as the Bengals have been one of the most impressive teams in the NFL so far this season.

With that said, here are six storylines to follow on Sunday:

What kind of energy do the Chiefs come out and play with?

Different Chiefs leaders on both sides of the ball said that "they came out flat for whatever reason" in the locker room after the game on Monday night.

That just can't happen if you're trying to beat a good football team and the Chiefs face another one on Sunday in the Bengals.

So it'll be interesting to see what kind of passion and sense of urgency they come out with when they step between the white lines on Sunday.

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Everything this team wanted to accomplish is still very much within reach, but we'll find out on Sunday if the lessons hopefully learned over the past two weeks translate into a better performance on the field. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has said throughout the week that it's his responsibility to get them ready to play, and there's every reason to believe they'll perform better on Sunday with his track record of success throughout his career.

When you combine that with the leadership on this team, there's plenty of confidence that things will turn around. 

"The difference with this team is we're a lot more tough-minded now," veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson said of this team compared to some earlier in his career in Kansas City. "We've got a different swagger to us and we're a very confident group.

"Our confidence comes from Andy Reid, he's at the top of the food chain and it spreads all throughout."

How the Chiefs look at the defensive backfield?

With the season-ending knee injury to cornerback Phillip Gaines suffered early in last Monday's game against the Packers, the defensive backfield will look a little different.

Reid said they have a lot of options of what they can do with their personnel to cover for that injury. There are a lot of versatile players that have skill sets to play multiple spots in their defense, such as Tyvon Branch, who stepped in there last week at cornerback after playing predominantly safety throughout his time in Kansas City thus far, among others.

About half (81) of Gaines' total snaps (169) this season before his injury came from the slot cornerback position. It will be one to keep an eye on as the Chiefs prepare for an explosive Bengals offense on Sunday.

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On the outside they'll welcome back veteran Sean Smith, who returns after his three-game suspension.

"I'm already smiling about [Sean Smith] being back," Johnson said. "That's going to be a great addition to our defense. He's our number one corner. Of course we've got Marcus Peters and those guys playing really well, but Sean Smith is a veteran in this league.

"He's a big corner, about my size. He's a guy who's going to be on the number on receiver, and we need that from our secondary just to make our defense more whole. It's going to be great man. I can't wait until Sunday."

Will Jaye Howard continue his dominance?

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One of the best surprises of this season has come from defensive lineman Jaye Howard, who has blossomed into one of the NFL's top defensive linemen through the first three games of the season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Howard is the No. 3 defensive tackle-nose tackle in the NFL right now, just behind St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald and the Bengals' Geno Atkins.

Howard leads the Chiefs with 20 tackles, three of which have been for a loss, adding a sack as well.

One player who is not surprised about this success is Howard's teammate Mike DeVito, who consistently said all offseason that he believes Howard has the talent to be a Pro Bowl player this year and he'd show us once the season began.

DeVito was right.

Will the Chiefs find success on first down and can they slow down the Bengals on first down?

One of the many reasons the Bengals offense has succeeded in their first three games, and conversely that the Chiefs have struggled, is their performance on first down.

The Bengals offense averages 7.25 yards per play on first down, which is a ridiculously good number and ranks as the best mark in the NFL.

On the other hand, the Chiefs are averaging just 4.71 yards per play on first down, which ranks 28th in the NFL. When you combine that with penalties and general lack of execution, there's a reason the Chiefs have then struggled on converting third downs, ranking last in the NFL at just 16 percent.

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Part of the solution is to run the ball well on first down, which the Chiefs haven't consistently done yet this season.

Of the 21 passes Alex Smith has attempted on third down this season, 11 of them have come in third-and-11-plus yards to go, which is another reason they've struggled on third down.

Although even when they have been shorter, they haven't capitalized as they're converting just 20 percent of the time on third-and-4 or less, which ranks last in the NFL.

Hopefully a consistent run game and a better job up front along the offensive line will help improve all of those numbers.

Can the offensive line protect Alex Smith?

Smith has been sacked 13 times through the first three games of the season, which is the most for any quarterback in the NFL.

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While sacks can be the product of a few different things, there's no doubt the group up front needs to do a better job of keeping Smith upright so he can find his targets down the field.

For Smith, he has to continue to keep his eyes down the field with the rush coming around him—something he talked about this week.

"Pressure sometimes can make those two things do funny things," Smith explained. "Feet are off, your eyes are in different places, so I think it's important that even when there are games like that—it's not always clean, you have to keep those disciplined."

With the Chiefs facing an offense that ranks second in the NFL by averaging 414 yards per game, the offense is going to have to produce in this game, particularly the passing offense.

In order for that to happen, Smith needs time and then he needs to deliver when he's given that time.


LAST TIME THEY MET - PRESEASON 2014

Photos from preseason week 1 Chiefs vs the Cincinnati Bengals.


Will Chiefs continue success with multiple tight end packages?

It's no secret that Reid likes the two and three-tight end personnel groups for the Chiefs offense.

It forces the defense to respect the run look with bigger bodies, and then they're able to split those guys out at times and find mismatches out in space with the athleticism they have at the position, namely Travis Kelce.

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With two tight ends on the field together this season, Smith is 8 of 11 for 167 yards and a touchdown.

The most impressive part of that is the 15.18 yards per attempt it has resulted in for Smith, who with two tight ends is picking up chunk yardage for the Chiefs offense.

"That's always been a good personnel group for us with two or three tight ends on the field," Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "One, from a protection standpoint, it helps with an extra blocker in the box there. Two, it creates matchups against our linebackers, and we feel our guys are skilled athletes enough to create those matchups with some of these linebackers and-or safeties.

"You've seen Travis [Kelce] and even James [O'Shaughnessy] here recently, make some plays that way in the passing game and that's really helped Alex [Smith].

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