Chiefs vs. Rams: Five Things to Watch

Here are five things to watch for in the game on Sunday:

1. Don't sleep on Donald

While defensive end Robert Quinn gets most of the headlines, for good reason, rookie Aaron Donald is quietly, or not so quietly, wreaking havoc up front for the Rams defensive line this season.

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Last week in their win against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, Donald had five tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits, along with three tackles for loss.

He'll be matched up with left guard Mike McGlynn on Sunday, and it's a battle the Chiefs must win for the offense to find success.

"He'll be probably the best we've faced all year," Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said of Donald. "He's a game wrecker. [Quinn] is a game wrecker. It's a good front. The thing is offensively, we can't get caught up in the stat game. They led the league last year in sacks and it's still a good front.

"They still put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, they fly around and those guys are active enough up front that it frees up their linebackers to make plays and that's what you see on tape. Their secondary is aggressive. This is a really good defense and we just have to be able to handle that front seven."

2. More plays = tired defensive line = slower defensive line

Much has been made about the lack of sacks from this Rams front four so far this season. They have just four sacks through their first six games, which ranks last in the NFL.

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But Chiefs coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith say they don't see a group struggling to cause problems up front.

"The hits on the quarterback have been there," Reid explained of the Rams defense. "Their interceptions are up a little bit, and they have scored a few touchdowns off of those. So they are still very efficient. This is a good defense. We look forward to that challenge."

Smith agreed.

"You watch film and certainly they are very disruptive," Smith said of the defensive line specifically. "The talent is there. Those guys can get after it."

Most people already know about defensive end Robert Quinn, but William Hayes, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford make up a defensive line group that can cause you problems.

The easiest way to slow down an effective front four, especially one that likes to get up field and make plays in the backfield, which the Rams have done in leading the NFL in rushes for negative yards (26), is to make them tired.

The best way to get a defensive line tired is to keep them on the field, which means converting on third down and sustaining drives. This is something the Chiefs have been good at this season, ranking third in the NFL in third-down conversions at 50.6 percent. 

3. Confuse the young quarterback

Austin Davis' story is now known by most people. The third string quarterback to begin the season has now taken over as the starter for the injured Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill.

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Then, when fellow Southern Miss Golden Eagle and future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre said Davis could be "the next Tom Brady or Kurt Warner," the focus surrounding Davis' last game against the Seahawks was even more amplified.

Davis played stellar against the Seahawks, completing 18 of 21 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He completed two or more passes to six different receivers in that game, and throughout the course of the season has done a nice job of taking care of the football.

Davis has just four interceptions in 206 pass attempts.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been known throughout his career for his exotic blitz schemes, and he showed us all last week against Philip Rivers and the Chargers' explosive offense that he's flexible and can adapt to the offense they're matched up against.

The Chiefs didn't blitz much early in the game against the Chargers and played a lot more off coverage than we've seen from them so far this season. They held Rivers to just 17 of 31 for 205 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Rivers came into that game with the highest passer rating in the NFL.

View photos of the St. Louis Rams starting roster.

As they face a quarterback on Sunday who is making just his seventh NFL start in Davis, Sutton knows it's important to mix up their looks and coverages.

"You need to change up the looks on anybody," he said.

One reason the Chiefs defense has found success this season is because of the play of defensive lineman Allen Bailey, whom coach Sutton talked about after practice.

"I think he's a really unique player," Sutton explained of Bailey. "He's very athletic for a big man and the fact that he very seldom gets fatigued at all is a great thing too. He can play anywhere along our front. He can move out on the edge and be an edge pass rusher which gives us a different look. It allows Justin (Houston) to jump inside sometimes and all those things.

"The more jobs you can do, the better it is for our system defensively because it's harder for the offense to ID players, you know, he's this, he's that. Well, he is, but sometimes he's not. As long as we can have 'sometimes he's not,' I think it's a benefit to us."

Bailey and the rest of the Chiefs defense will try and mix up their looks on Sunday in the hopes of creating some doubt for Davis and the Rams offense.

4. Rotating the defensive line

The Rams offense likes to use both of their tight ends, Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook, who both have seen more than 60 percent of the snaps this season.

 With a lot of heavy-personnel looks, that means the Chiefs defense could be using their base packages, meaning three defensive linemen, more often than they have done against teams that were trying to spread them out.

Sutton has done a good job rotating the defensive linemen so far this season, which has helped to keep them fresh throughout the game.

"It's crucial," Sutton explained. "The rotation concept really is big picture for 16 weeks. Our D-line, we have two unique guys in Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe. These guys really don't get tired. We just try to keep them fresher and fresher for the long haul as much as a particular game.

"I think it's worked out and obviously I think the other factor in there is the other guys rotating through, they're engaged at a different level in preparation and getting ready because they know they're going in the game."

Through six games, the Chiefs have five different players that have rotated along the defensive line.

Defensive Snaps Played this Season
Dontari Poe Allen Bailey Jaye Howard Kevin Vickerson Vance Walker
320 308 133 54 49

It will be important to once again do that this week as you could often see three defensive linemen on the field for the Chiefs.

5. Get Chiefs Kingdom involved

For the Chiefs, the best way to get the crowd involved is to get a lead and let the crowd make life very difficult for an opposing offense trying to move the ball.

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The ridiculous amount of noise generated by Chiefs fans at Arrowhead Stadium makes life difficult for any quarterback, even the veterans. But with a young quarterback in Davis coming into this environment, the best way to make things even more difficult is to make their offense one dimensional.

The Chiefs can do that by getting up early and taking away the running game, which would force the Rams to throw the ball by having obvious passing situations. It seems like the plan every week, but it's amplified by the home-field advantage and fact that Davis is going up against a creative defensive coordinator in an environment where communication could be very difficult.

That's when the crowd makes their impact, which Arrowhead is no stranger in doing.

"Our crowd has always been great and I would think nothing different on Sunday," Pederson said. "This is a defense that you have to keep pounding and pounding away. They're going to do the same thing. They're going to pound right back, pound right back and it's one of those heavyweight fights.

"If you could somehow establish the lead early in this football game, put pressure on their offense, their quarterback, then your crowd becomes a big factor in games like this."


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