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Chiefs vs. Seahawks: Five Things to Watch

The Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) take on the Seattle Seahawks (6-3) Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium

Here are five things to watch in Sunday's game:

1. How the Chiefs handle Seattle's running game

It's been the storyline of the week.

The Chiefs haven't given up a rushing touchdown all season and the Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing at 170 yards per game, all while starting running back Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with nine.

"We take every game the same," Chiefs inside linebacker Josh Mauga explained of facing the NFL's top rushing team. "We want to go in and be the most physical team out there so this will be our test to show the league we are the toughest team.


"This will be our challenge."

One player who might be able to help is veteran linebacker Joe Mays, who missed the first eight games of the season after suffering a wrist injury in the preseason.

Mays was strictly limited to special teams play against the Buffalo Bills last week, but he was a projected starter at inside linebacker coming into the season.

He's known as a physical run-stuffer, which would fit well against Lynch and the Seahawks' downhill rushing attack.

"We'd love to have Joe [Mays] for obvious reasons this game," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said on Thursday. "The big thing with Joe is he's got to feel like he's comfortable. It takes a little bit of time here. Hopefully we can get some plays out of him this week."

Mays would look forward to playing a physical Seahawks offense.

"This is what football is made of," Mays said. "This is why a lot of us started playing the game, because of how physical the sport is, being able to go out there and tackle someone and not get in trouble. That's the type of football that they play and with the guys in here, we play the same style.

"We feel like it's going to be a great game and I'm looking forward to it."

2. Discipline against the play-action pass from Russell Wilson

Much has been made of the Seahawks rushing attack for good reason.

So it'd make sense that they utilize the play-action passing game to their advantage.

According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson and the Seahawks use play action on 33 percent of their dropbacks, which is the highest percentage in the NFL.

On those plays, Wilson is completing 57.1 percent of his passes for 548 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

On non-play-action passes, Wilson is completing 65.1 percent of passes for 1,293 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

Even so, Sutton talked about the challenge of facing a good rushing team and the effect it has with play-action passing.

"That's just a great challenge and you certainly have to play the run hard or it's not going to work," Sutton said. "You try to use whatever keys you can to get your run-pass read. The [Seahawks] have a lot of bootleg-type plays which are full-fledged run blocking so that's even harder [to recognize].

"You have to mix up your coverages so you have some relief on some of those routes, particularly the boots and that. It's just a big challenge."

3. Handling the pressure: Alex Smith vs. Russell Wilson

Against the blitz, Alex Smith has a passer rating of 112.8, which ranks fifth in the NFL.

For the Seahawks, Wilson ranks 22nd in the NFL with a rating of 85.1 when opposing defenses send four or more players after him.


Last week in their win over the New York Giants, Wilson was blitzed eight times and sacked once while completing 3 of 7 passes (42.9 percent) for 74 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Against the Bills, Smith completed 4 of 8 passes for 50 yards with three sacks in 11 plays against the blitz.

Over the entire season, Smith is completing 64 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz, while Wilson is completing just 54.5 percent with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The way these two quarterbacks handle the pressure on Sunday will go a long way in determining who could win this game.

A lot of headlines for the Seahawks defense center around cornerback Richard Sherman, who has proven to be among the best in the NFL at his position.

But don't expect Smith to avoid throwing in Sherman's direction.

"It's just not the way we operate here and not really my mindset either," Smith said of avoiding Sherman. "I've told you guys this before. I'm dropping back and throwing the ball where it's supposed to go. We're not necessarily forcing the ball to anybody or shying away from anybody either so really the play and situation and all that stuff is going to dictate to where the ball goes."

4. Opening intermediate passing game with Travis Kelce

This season, the Seahawks defense has allowed 40 receptions for 336 yards and 10 touchdowns to opposing tight ends.

Coming into last week's game against the Bills, Chiefs second-year tight end Travis Kelce was leading the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

After a big game from receiver Dwayne Bowe, Kelce now ranks second on the team in receptions and yards, but getting him involved this week is something offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said is crucial.


"It's crucial every week," Pederson said of getting Kelce involved. "It just so happened Buffalo did a nice job of scheming him and took him away. He only had a couple catches, but he's got to really have a bit more of an impact this week and we just have to call plays that go to Travis Kelce, bottom line."

He said he likes what Kelce could bring to the table this week.

"I like Travis (Kelce) working the interior of that linebacker group," Pederson said. "It's going to be another interesting matchup I think with he and the middle linebackers and then of course our offensive line with the D-line goes without saying, but it's going to be interesting to watch."

Pederson explained another matchup he's looking forward to watching on Sunday.

"I really want to see how Dwayne (Bowe) and Richard Sherman match up against each other," he said. "You have two big [players]. Richard can run with you. He's a taller corner. He likes to be a little aggressive at the line of scrimmage. Now Dwayne (Bowe) has a physical presence about him. That will be a nice little matchup right there."

The Seahawks come into Sunday's game ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in both passing and rushing defense, and Pederson explained what he sees from that group.

"It's a simplistic defense with great players," Pederson explained. "They're able to play fast. You see team speed on defense. You see great tacklers. You don't see a lot of mistakes. These guys do a nice job of flying around and again they keep their scheme very simple. They're not a big blitz team. They don't need to.

"They have a great front four that can rush your passer so we're going to know exactly where they're going to be. It's just a matter of execution on our part."

View the starting roster for the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.

5. Third-down/red-zone scoring efficiency

Chiefs coach Andy Reid will always point to third down and the red-zone numbers as to whether or not there was success on either side of the ball.

For the Chiefs, they rank in the top four in the NFL in both categories on offense and defense.

Offensively, they're scoring touchdowns on 69 percent of drives inside the red zone, which ranks fourth in the NFL, and they're converting third downs 48.7 percent of the time, which ranks third in the NFL.

"Once you get in the red zone, a whole other accountability comes to life," tight end Travis Kelce said. "You really have to lock in. The throwing lanes get a little bit tighter, the running lanes get a little bit tighter and you just have to go out there and display pure 'will' to get into that end zone.

"It's just a whole other execution level that you have to really take into mind."

Part of that success on third down is what happens on first and second down, when the Chiefs can put themselves in manageable situations by gaining positive yards.

In the Chiefs' six wins this season, they've averaged 7.8 yards per attempt while passing on first down. In the three losses, that number drops to 4.9 yards per attempt. 

Defensively, the Chiefs only allow 34.5 percent of third-down conversions, which ranks third in the NFL. Inside the red zone, the Chiefs are only allowing 42.3 percent of drives to end with a touchdown, which ranks second in the NFL.

"It's an amazing statistic that we have going on right now," safety Kurt Coleman said. "I think as a defense, you have to thrive especially in adverse situations, whatever the situation may be. I think we've been able to say 'We're on the field, they're not getting in. We're not going to let them.'"

The Chiefs will try and keep the Seahawks out of the end zone on Sunday as they go for their fifth straight win.

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