The Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) put their undefeated record at home this year on the line Sunday afternoon as they play host to the Arizona Cardinals (2-6), who are looking for their second-straight victory after a tough start to their season.
The Cardinals, who should be rested as they are coming off their BYE week, beat the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago by just a field goal after a touchdown pass from rookie first-round pick Josh Rosen found rookie second-round pick Christian Kirk to give them a lead with just 34 seconds left in the game.
It was a nice response for their offense, which was handling its first game after letting go of then-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who has since been replaced by former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich.
“We have the utmost respect for [Leftwich],” Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid said this week. “I think he’s an up-and-coming coach there that someday will be a head coach.”
Leftwich took over an offense that’s averaging just 13.8 points per game and has handed the reigns over to Rosen, who was selected with the No. 10 overall pick in the draft last spring out of UCLA.
Through five starts, Rosen has a 2-3 record and is completing 55.6 percent of his passes for an average of 159.8 yards per game with five touchdowns and six interceptions. He’ll be facing a Chiefs’ defense that’s allowed an average of just 18 points per game over their last three contests.
Here are five things to watch on Sunday:
1. Patrick Mahomes could break some records
Mahomes—the 10th overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft—currently leads the league with 2,910 yards passing with 29 touchdowns.
Through just 10 career games, Mahomes is already at the top of the list in most of the MVP discussions, and he’s leading the league’s top-scoring offense at 36.3 points per game.
At this rate, the Chiefs will have the third-highest scoring offense in NFL history (580).
With all those numbers and success comes records, and there are a couple of big ones on Sunday that could be knocked down.
If Mahomes throws for more than 300 yards, which to be fair the Cardinals’ defense has only allowed twice this year—the Rams’ Jared Goff threw for 354, and the 49ers’ CJ Beatherd threw for 349—then he’d become the first player in NFL history to have nine-consecutive games of 300-plus yards passing in the same season.
It’d be a remarkable accomplishment for a player in only his 11th NFL game.
And the other record within striking distance for Mahomes is the Chiefs’ franchise record for touchdown passes in a season, which is 30 and was set by the legendary Len Dawson back in 1964.
Mahomes needs just two touchdown passes on Sunday to break that record.
“Len has had a ton of success in the NFL and was kind of ahead of his time,” Mahomes said this week. “Throwing all those touchdowns, I think the record has stood for a very long time. It would be awesome to pass that, but hopefully we can just keep building on that and getting more and more wins.”
2. Can the Chiefs limit the impact of David Johnson?
Cardinals’ running back David Johnson isn’t having the kind of season that many expected. He’s averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry and hasn’t yet eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a game this year.
And this is just two years removed from a 2016 season in which the fourth-year running back out of Northern Iowa went for more than 2,000 total yards from scrimmage with 20 touchdowns.
That aside, there’s every reason to believe that Johnson—at some point—will remind everyone of the impact he can make as he’s just 26 years old and had an MVP-type of season just two years ago.
Last week against the Browns, the Chiefs’ defense allowed Browns’ running back Duke Johnson Jr. to catch nine passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Throughout his career, Johnson has been fantastic in catching the balls and providing a receiving threat out of the backfield, and there’s reason to believe Leftwich will follow much of the same pattern as the Browns did last week in getting their backs involved in the passing game.
It’s something to watch on Sunday.
3. Will Dee Ford continue his impressive season?
Ford has been on a terror this season. He’s healthy, motivated, and has credited outside linebackers’’ coach Mike Smith consistently for the work they’ve put in together to have a great individual game plan each week.
If not for a controversial offsides penalty last week, Ford would have had his ninth sack of the year and his league-leading fifth forced fumble.
Instead, Ford will have to settle for leading the league in quarterback pressures with 47, via Pro Football Focus.
Coincidentally, the Cardinals have had their struggles this year in keeping pressure away from the quarterback.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Cardinals have allowed pressure on 41.1 percent of drop-backs this year, which is the highest-percentage in the league.
The combination of a healthy-Ford, a developing-Breeland Speaks and perhaps a return of Justin Houston, plus a raucous Arrowhead crowd and an inconsistent Cardinals’ offensive line, makes the edges something to watch on Sunday while the Chiefs are on defense.
4. Will Kendall Fuller put together another solid performance?
Here’s a look at Fuller’s most-recent performance:
5. Will we see the debut of Daniel Sorensen or the return of Justin Houston?
Earlier this week, the Chiefs activated veteran safety Daniel Sorensen to the 53-man roster. He had been on the Injured Reserve list after suffering a leg injury in training camp. He’s officially listed as “questionable” for Sunday’s game.
If he’s able to return after being limited in practice every day this week, it’d be a boost for a Chiefs’ defense that’s seen numerous injuries on the back end with Eric Berry and Armani Watts being out. Berry hasn’t practiced since August and Watts was placed on IR after an injury suffered against the Jaguars in Week 5.
Sorensen has played in 56 games over the past four years, accumulating 127 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 14 passes defensed, and he has been a leader on special teams as well.
Houston has missed the past four games with a hamstring injury and is also listed as “questionable” after being limited all week at practice.
The defense has been trending upwards recently and the possible return of those players could help as the team heads towards the final stretches of the 2018 regular season.