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Chiefs vs. Cowboys: Five Things to Watch

Here are a few storylines to keep in mind for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys

There's a lot to like about the game on Sunday afternoon between the Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) and Dallas Cowboys (4-3).

To start—both teams are good and have high expectations for the rest of the season, but there's even some historical context between the two teams that goes deeper than most games that take place on Sunday's in the fall.

The Chiefs' franchise began as the Dallas Texans before Lamar Hunt—a Dallas native and founder of the AFL and the Chiefs' franchise—moved the team in Kansas City in 1963. Hunt didn't believe the Dallas-Fort Worth area could accommodate two professional football teams.

Before they moved a few hundred miles North up I-35, the Texans/Chiefs shared a home field at the Cotton Bowl with the Cowboys.

There's even a traveling trophy involved in this game, which began as a fun thing between Hunt and Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones. It's called the Preston Road Traveling Trophy, which is named after the street that both Lamar and Jerry lived on when the rivalry began. The Chiefs currently have the trophy after their 17-16 win back in 2013.

"I'm sure there's a little rivalry there between ownership, but I think it's a neat deal," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said earlier this week. "It's part of NFL history and a good part, good for both cities."

"It's a great history and tradition with both franchises, and the connection and origins of each are certainly interesting to historians," Cowboys' coach Jason Garrett added via conference call earlier in the week. "The biggest thing we have to do as players and coaches is focus on practice play and our best game on Sunday. So, it's certainly a great story, we appreciate the history and tradition of the NFL and help the franchises, but we've got to get locked in and go and play our best football.

"They're a damn good football team in 2017, and that's what we know. We understand what the challenges are."

To add another wrinkle and a dash of intrigue, this will be the first game former Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo will call a game for CBS with his former team on the field. The last time these two teams played was back in 2013 when Romo was under center for the Cowboys during that 17-16 Chiefs' win.

Here are five things to watch during the game on Sunday:

1. The Chiefs' rush defense against Ezekiel Elliott

It's been back and forth all week, but it looks like Cowboys' second-year All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott will now play on Sunday.

It's a huge boost for the Cowboys, who rank No. 2 in the league by averaging 151 yards per game on the ground with Elliott leading the way.

Individually, Elliott ranks third in the league with 690 yards rushing this year.

The task of trying to stop the run is something the Chiefs have been asked quite a bit throughout the week after surrendering 177 yards on the ground to the Denver Broncos last week.

On the season, the Chiefs rank 28th in the league by allowing an average of 131 yards per game on the ground.

"It's an old-school type of mentality," Chiefs' veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson explained earlier this week of stopping the run and facing this Cowboys team. "They're going to do what they do and they're going to run the ball. Their offensive line is the best in the league. We haven't been as good on the run, and if we're going to have some success or help to impact the game to win, we've got to pick it up on defense.

"What better to do it than against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. It'll be a challenge for us, but it's something we have to do."

2. Can Andy Reid keep up his success against the NFC East?

In his five-plus years with the Chiefs, Andy Reid is 6-0 against the NFC East—the division he spent 14 years in as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles between 1999-2012.

Overall, Reid is 18-11 in his career against the Cowboys, but he knows the challenge they face against this group on Sunday.

"They've put a couple of really good games together here, back-to-back, and they play fast on both sides of the ball," Reid said this week.

The Cowboys won their last two games against the 49ers and Redskins by a combined score of 73-29. They rank 13th in the league in total defense—allowing an average of 324.9 yards per game, and 8th in total offense—gaining an average of 369.9 yards per game.

Defensively, the Cowboys are led by the NFL's sack leader, DeMarcus Lawrence, who has at least one sack in every game this season and 10.5 on the year.

"He was a great player in college at Boise State and he's carried that into the National Football League," Reid said of Lawrence, whom the Cowboys selected in the second round (No. 34 overall) in 2014. "Their defensive coordinator—there aren't a lot of guys I respect more than Rod (Marinelli), and he's got them just cutting loose and rolling and playing to the strength, which is getting up the field and going after the quarterback, reacting to the run, but speed up the field.

"And [Lawrence] does that very well. He's got great instincts."

3. Could the Chiefs get more help back along the offensive line?

Last week, the Chiefs got back starting center Mitch Morse, who had missed the previous five games with a foot injury.

And this week, the Chiefs' original starting right guard—Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, began practicing on a full-time basis after dealing with a knee injury suffered in Week 4 against the Washington Redskins.

It's the first time Duvernay-Tardif had been a full participant at practice since his injury.

While it's unknown if he'll play, particularly with the Bye Week coming up, the impending return of Duvernay-Tardif at some point could help the Chiefs' running game.

In the three games that Duvernay-Tardif started and finished this year, Chiefs' rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who still leads the NFL in rushing, carried the ball 47 times for 401 yards and four touchdowns. That's good enough for an 8.5 yards-per-carry average.

In the five games he has missed, Hunt has carried it 99 times for just 362 yards and hasn't found the end zone. That's a 3.7 yards-per-carry average.

Furthermore, the Chiefs are 26-8 in games that Duvernay-Tardif has started since 2015, and 3-3 in games that he hasn't.

Whether or not he plays this week, the return of Duvernay-Tardif is something to watch for the near future.

4. Alex Smith, protecting the football, and the Chiefs' deep passing attack

Smith leads the league in quarterback rating on passes that travel at least 21 yards in the air at 140.9. In fact, the Chiefs offense has been pretty good in general this year.

Here are some numbers to show how good they've been:

Total Point Scored – 236 – No. 1 in NFL
Yards Per Play – 6.26 – No. 1 in NFL
Scoring Efficiency – 49.4 percent – No. 1 in NFL
Scoring Outside the Red Zone – 103 – No. 1 in NFL
Rushing Plays of 20-plus Yards – 10 – No. 1 in NFL
Average Yards on First Down – 6.88 – No. 1 in NFL

On the flipside, the Cowboys' defense has struggled against the deep ball—allowing a quarterback rating on those passes of 119.2 this season, which ranks 29th in the league.

But this game won't most-likely come down to deep passing, at least compared to another key stat—one that's less nerdy than these deep passing breakdowns.

Turnovers. It's always turnovers.

Despite going 0 of 3 in the red zone and converting just 2 of 12 third-down attempts last week, the Chiefs walked away with a victory over the Broncos for one reason—turnovers.

The Chiefs forced five and the Broncos couldn't overcome them.

Well, the Cowboys haven't been able to overcome their mistakes this season either.

In games they have turned the ball over this season—even once—the Cowboys have a record of 1-3, but in games they haven't turned it over at all, they're 3-0.

In his career, Cowboys' quarterback Dak Prescott is 2-4 when throwing even one interception.

Under Reid, the Chiefs are 25-6 in games they have committed no turnovers.

And to take it one step further, the Chiefs are 34-7 in games they have at least one interception.

5. How do the Chiefs handle playing before the Bye Week? The Chiefs will have their bye week following Sunday's game against the Cowboys, and the break will come at a good time for the Chiefs.

It's midway through the season and players will have a chance to let some of their bumps and bruises heal before making a strong push towards the end of the regular season and the defense of their AFC title from a year ago.

But that impending break that's around the corner could have an adverse effect on guys that get caught looking ahead to some much-needed time off to rest and relax, but Derrick Johnson said that won't happen with this group.

"We have matured young guys (on this team) and [Reid] does a great job by making us not look too far ahead, conquer where you're at right now," Johnson explained. "We've been doing a good job at that this year. We know our ultimate goal that's to win the division and win the Super Bowl, and you can't do that by looking ahead."

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