After a 9-0 start that was shocking to say the least, the Kansas City Chiefs have fallen back down to earth with three consecutive losses to divisional foes. A game back from Denver with no hope of winning the tiebreaker, there is a strong chance that the Chiefs will be playing on the road in the wild card round of the playoffs rather than fighting for a bye. Halting their current slide must be the No, 1 priority, even though they need to win just two of their final four games to be guaranteed the AFC’s fifth seed. In fact, with losses by the Ravens and Dolphins, combined with a win of their own would lock that spot up this week for the Chiefs — and what better opportunity than against the slumping Redskins?
There’s been no shortage of speculation on what’s gone wrong in DC this year. Some of the popular theories blame some combination of Robert Griffin III’s hesitancy with his surgically repaired knee, the read option being found out, or even team leadership problems. While these positions may have some merit, it must be noted that they are without a first-round pick this year and facing heavy salary cap penalties thanks to some contract shenanigans in 2011’s uncapped year. While there’s some solace in knowing that Washington has the top rushing offense this season, there’s no consolation in tanking for a high draft pick, as their first-rounder next season has already been shipped 870 miles west as part of the RGIII trade. Here are a few key points that will help snap one of these teams’ losing streak.
Dontari Poe vs. Will Montgomery
During their unbeaten run, much of the credit was given to the Chiefs’ defense. And while the secondary has been exposed badly in recent weeks, Kansas City has been stout against the run all year, with three defensive linemen grading at +11.0 or higher in run defense on the season. With more than twice as many snaps as any other lineman on the team (and more than any other DT/NT), Dontari Poe has been the most impressive. He has tallied 26 stops in run defense without a single missed tackle, showing great improvement on an underwhelming rookie season. The line’s play at redirecting runners and beating blocks have given Derrick Johnson the task to clean up behind them. Johnson once again has shown how criminally underrated he is at stopping the run, recording a Run Stop Percentage of 11.6, seventh among inside linebackers.
With Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, and Griffin all averaging 4.5 yards per carry or more, it’s hard to blame this team’s woes on the running game. Having a quality run blocking center in Will Montgomery, it should come as no surprise that the Redskins’ biggest strength is running right up the middle. On either side of Montgomery, Helu and Morris have collectively averaged 5.4 yards per carry, an astounding figure for runs through the A-gaps. A strong ground and pound approach will start with how well Montgomery can move Poe away from running lanes and limit the damage he can do on his own.
Recently passing 1,000 career carries, Jamaal Charles has an astounding 5.5 yards per carry on his career. Already guaranteed his fourth 1,000 yard season, Charles has been the star of the Kansas City offense. At his most dangerous, when he can reach the sideline and display his speed, Charles has averaged 5.4 yards per carry on runs outside the tackles, scoring six of his nine rushing touchdowns on these runs and forcing 23 of his 29 missed tackles on outside runs.
Charles capability on outside runs means he isn’t likely to see a whole lot of defensive linemen from Washington’s 3-4 front, and it will often be on the linebackers to chase him down before he can do real damage in the open field. London Fletcher, once the most underrated player in the league, has seen his play drop off dramatically in the past couple of years. His 14 missed tackle are tied for most on the team, and only three inside linebackers have a worse Run Stop Percentage than Fletcher’s 5.5. His partner in crime, Perry Riley has been better, although 27 run stops on nearly 300 run plays is a rate bettered by 18 inside backers. How quickly this duo can track Charles to the sideline will go a long way to limit his ability to break the game open with a huge gain.
Pierre Garcon vs. Chiefs Corners
Washington’s passing attack has been a shell of its former self this season, though you can’t place the blame on Pierre Garcon. Thought to be overpaid back in 2012 when Dan Snyder handed out a massive contract to a relatively unproven player, Garcon has shown what he’ s capable of as a healthy No. 1 option. Despite a disaster of a game against the Giants (two drops and a fumble), Garcon climbed to 980 receiving yards on the season, already a career best with four games to play. He is the model of consistency on an otherwise inconsistent offense, recording at least five catches and 46 yards in every game. It helps being the most targeted receiver in the NFL (tied with a certain receiver in Detroit), but his 2.16 yards per route run are far from a bad figure, just edging him out of the Top 10.
The combination of Sean Smith and Brandon Flower will be tasked with slowing down Garcon, with Marcus Cooper chipping in for nickel packages. After getting torched three weeks in a row by Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, all three have surrendered four touchdowns. Not one of the trio is in the top half of corners in terms of the QB rating they’ve surrendered. Flowers in particularly has struggled, allowing 70.1% of balls thrown his way to be completed, resulting in quarterbacks achieving a rating of 113.3 when throwing at the former Pro Bowl corner.