The Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) hope to remain the AFC’s only undefeated team as they host the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
Here are five things to watch:
1. It’s strength vs. strength
The Chiefs boast the league’s top scoring offense as they’re currently averaging 36.2 points per game, while the Jaguars boast the league’s most stingy defense—allowing an average of only 14 points per game.
It’s why people that have no vested interest in who wins the game will tune in to watch.
To go a step further into these numbers, the two areas to watch in particular are on third down, and also when the Chiefs’ offense gets inside the red zone.
The Chiefs’ offense ranks third in the league right now by converting 48.8 percent of their third-down opportunities, but on the flip side, the Jaguars’ defense ranks fourth in the league by allowing just 30.2 percent of third downs to be converted.
And finally, the Chiefs’ have converted their red zone trips into touchdowns on 82.4 percent of their opportunities so far through four games, which ranks second-best in the NFL. But the Jaguars defense has allowed only 25 percent of opposing offenses that get inside the red zone to cross the goal line for a touchdown, which also ranks second-best in the league.
Whether it’s on third down, inside the red zone, or simply anytime the Chiefs’ offense is on the field, the best two sides of the ball for each team will be out there competing at that time.
It’s going to be a show.
2. Will Patrick Mahomes have to make plays outside the pocket again?
Last week against a very good Denver Broncos’ defense, Chiefs’ second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes spent a lot of his time scrambling outside the pocket and making plays with his arm while on the run.
In fact, Mahomes’ 192 yards passing from outside the pocket that night was the most for any NFL quarterback in a game in more than a decade, per ESPN.
Looking ahead towards Sunday, the Jaguars’ standout defense doesn’t run much Cover 2, which was something the Chiefs saw a lot of against the Broncos with two-deep safeties. It’s part of the reason Mahomes had time to run around in the backfield.
The Jaguars are primarily a Cover 1 and Cover 3 team, which means a lot of single-high safety with an extra guy down around the box, and they love to press on the outside.
“It’s hard to find a weakness with this [Jaguars] defense,” Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy explained. “This team is doing a hell of a job. We’re going to have our hands full.”
This might be one of the best defensive fronts the NFL has seen in a few years, and so it’ll be interesting to see if Mahomes needs to make plays on the run again, and how much the Jaguars might try and limit that based on the success they saw him have against the Broncos.
The Chiefs can also just go empty in the backfield and limit the coverage possibilities, but that’s a tough matchup with this defensive front, which doesn’t, and hasn’t, needed to send more than four guys to get pressure on the quarterback.
3. Will the Chiefs lean on Kareem Hunt?
The Jaguars might have the league’s best defense through four weeks, but they have had some teams find a little success running the football against them.
In their Week 1 win over the New York Giants, rookie first-round pick Saquon Barkley ran the ball 18 times for 106 yards and a touchdown for the Giants.
And then in their only loss of the season in Week 3, the Jaguars had the Titans run the ball 35 times against them, which was compared to just 21 passing attempts.
Neither of those things mean the Chiefs should lean on the running game simply because of those things, but they don’t have to because they still boast the league’s reigning rushing champion Kareem Hunt, who reminded everyone last week what kind of impact he can have on a game.
Hunt, who currently ranks fifth in the league with 289 yards rushing, had 175 total yards from scrimmage against the Broncos and scored the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
The most impressive part of Hunt’s performance last Monday night is that 93 of his 121 yards rushing came after first contact with a defender, which means for all the talent and ability the Jaguars possess on defense, Hunt is going to make them prove it every time he runs the football.
“We think he’s the best in the business,” Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid said this week of Hunt.
The Broncos were one of the best defenses in the league against the run, and so it’ll be interesting to see how Hunt is utilized in this game.
4. What kind of impact will Dee Ford have if he plays?
This has been the best start of any season in Dee Ford’s five-year career.
He currently ranks second in the NFL with 23 quarterback pressures, and his three sacks are tied for the team lead with Justin Houston.
Last week, Chiefs’ outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said he feels that Ford has made huge strides this year in adding some counter moves to his already-elite get-off, which is the basis of that speed rush that ultimately made him a first-round pick of the Chiefs back in 2014.
The ability was always there, but his availability wasn’t. He came into this season healthy, and we’re all seeing what that looks like now.
But Ford injured his groin in the win over the Broncos on Monday night and he was limited at practice during the week. He’s officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
If he’s able to go on Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s the same player that’s been one of the league’s best edge rushers through four weeks. The Chiefs could use it as this will be one of their most difficult games of the season.
5. Six Stats you might not know