Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) @ Green Bay Packers (2-0)
Monday 9/28/15, 7:30 p.m.
Series: Chiefs lead (7-3-1)
Line: Packers by 6.5
For the first time this year, the Green Bay Packers will be playing Monday Night Football. These are the regular season games that Packers fans live for, and they face a tough and well-balanced opponent in the Kansas City Chiefs.
Quick Hits: Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City comes in to Monday night with a 1-1 record. They beat the Houston Texans 27-20 on the road in Week 1, but that score isn’t a great indication of the game, which the Chiefs controlled throughout. They then lost a heartbreaker at home against the Broncos in Week 2; Peyton Manning led a last-minute touchdown drive and then the Broncos recovered a fumble for a touchdown to win the game.
The Chiefs are led by the ever entertaining head coach Andy Reid, and they sport a roster that is relatively consistent across all positions and has several studs, notably running back Jamaal Charles and pass rushing outside linebacker Justin Houston. The play of Charles, Houston and others will dictate how well Kansas City plays in the formidable Lambeau atmosphere.
Can the Packers stop Charles?
Jamaal Charles is objectively one of the best running backs in the league, and he has been for years, making four out of the last five Pro Bowls. In fact, no running back in the history of football has averaged more yards per carry than Charles. This is nothing new for the Packers; they’ve faced Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch in their first two games, respectively, also two of the best backs in the league.
The Packers run defense has essentially been Jekyll and Hyde between their first two games. Forte ran all over them to the tune of 141 yards on 24 carries, good for 5.88 yards per carry. In that game, the Packers lost starting inside linebacker Sam Barrington for the season, which affected their defensive scheme and personnel.
Losing Barrington meant that star outside linebacker Clay Matthews moved inside for the majority of his Week 2 snaps. The gains were enormous: Lynch only mustered 41 yards on 15 carries, good for a paltry 2.73 YPC and only half of what Forte accomplished on a per-play basis. The athletic Russell Wilson, however, found success running the football without Clay to maintain him on the outside.
Matthews played 58 of his 60 snaps from the inside in Week 2, according to ProFootballFocus.com. As a result, he hasn’t delivered a sack, but he’s been making plays in coverage and stopping running backs at the first level. Crucially, defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels (seven combined tackles, two for loss) and linebackers Mike Neal, Nate Palmer and Nick Perry (12 combined tackles, two for loss) all played pretty well. As I mentioned before, the play of these players will dictate how well the Packers can stop the opposing running game and control the tempo.
This is a key matchup to watch in this one. Charles is a great receiver out of the backfield, a shifty playmaker capable of busting any play open for a touchdown. Andy Reid (mostly) does a solid job getting him the ball in unique ways, allowing him to emphasize his skills in the open field. If Kansas City is able to consistently run the ball and keep Rodgers off the field, the effects will be great. They will be able to control the tempo and make Green Bay’s defense tired.
Unfortunately for Chiefs fans, however, their offensive line just isn’t very good. It seems like Charles runs well in spite of them rather than because of them. If Raji and Daniels can again control the line of scrimmage, it will allow Matthews to spy Charles and should limit a large portion of Kansas City’s offense. Their play, along with the performance of the rest of Green Bay’s front seven, could very well dictate the Chiefs’ offense on Monday.
As previously mentioned, Russell Wilson was successful rushing the football against Green Bay last week; this is something we’ve come to expect. Alex Smith is the epitome of a game-managing quarterback, but he’s decently mobile and willing to use his legs when he needs to. He is by no means, however, even close to Wilson’s caliber as a rusher. He’ll probably gain a few chunks of yards with his legs, but it’s really nothing the Packers need to address very much. Around 20-30 yards rushing for Smith doesn’t really tip the scale much in either direction.
I think that Charles will do his usual job of busting a few plays open, but that the Packers’ penetration will do a good enough job containing him. I also think, however, that he will cause more problems for them in the passing game. Around 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown seems like a reasonable projection.
Can Kansas City’s pass rush contain Rodgers?
When it comes to stopping elite quarterbacks, pressure is the name of the game. We’ve seen how good pressure has affected the likes of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck this year, and it’s usually the one thing a defense can do to get under Aaron Rodgers’ particularly thick skin. The strength of Kansas City’s defense just happens to be creating pressure.
The Chiefs are able to deploy one of the better front sevens in football, highlighted by nose tackle Dontari Poe and the ferocious outside linebacker duo of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Hali has averaged 10.5 sacks per season since 2009, and the younger Poe is a Pro Bowler in his own right. And then there’s Houston, one of the best edge rushers in the league, who recorded a whopping 22 sacks last year and already has three this season.
Mike McCarthy and the Packers are fully aware of this and will game plan accordingly. Though I’m sure they trust in their offensive line, which is one of the best units in the league, I still expect McCarthy and OC Tom Clements to use fullback John Kuhn more to help keep the Chiefs’ penetration at bay, as well as tight end Andrew Quarless. Bryan Bulaga’s right tackle replacement, Don Barclay, played well against Michael Bennett last week, but his task is even tougher against Houston. The Packers will need to address this if he can’t hold his own.
Rodgers has only been sacked twice thus far this year, and he’s done a good job at getting the ball out quickly to help his offensive line and to maintain the Packers uptempo offense. Look for him to continue this trend, so as to minimize the Chiefs’ pressure. As we saw in the fourth quarter of last week’s game, Rodgers is often at his best when he can run the offense at a fast pace; it allows him to get into a rhythm and it tires out the defense because the opponent doesn’t have time to change its personnel.
Kansas City’s pass rush is the identity of this defense and clearly important, but its significance is heightened more so by the condition of the Chiefs’ secondary. Their secondary isn’t bad per se, but thus far it’s been pretty mediocre. They’ve allowed 268 passing yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game so far, which is even worse when you consider they played the uninspiring quarterback duo of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett in Week 1.
In one of the few uplifting off-the-field NFL stories, Chiefs safety Eric Berry is cancer-free and back on the football field. He has looked solid through two games, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can be the playmaker he was before his diagnosis. The bright spot for the Chiefs’ secondary has been rookie cornerback Marcus Peters who already has two interceptions to his name, one of which he took back for a touchdown against Peyton Manning. He will look to make his presence felt, though it will be interesting to see how he handles the Lambeau crowd during primetime. If Rodgers has time to throw, he shouldn’t have much trouble picking apart this secondary.
Cobb is clearly the Packers’ best receiving option and has great chemistry with Rodgers. He runs crisp routes, gets open with ease and often makes plays after the catch. The Packers offense looked great last week when Cobb was lining up in different spots on the field, so I expect McCarthy and Clements to continue this trend and allow Rodgers to get him involved early and often. With Lacy hobbled by an ankle injury, he is far and away the Packers’ best offensive weapon after Rodgers.
This all will come down to how well the offensive line can contain the Chiefs’ pressure. If Don Barclay can do even a decent job with Houston (a big if) and Rodgers gets the ball out quickly in his uptempo offense, the benefits will be great. Either way, it should be a treat to watch.
Players to Watch
Kelce is a monster 6’5”, 260 lbs. tight end who some have dubbed “Gronk 2.0.” Thus far this season, he leads the team with ten receptions, but the more telling stat is his 16.4 yards per catch. He’s a big chain-mover who has already compiled two plays of more than 40 yards. The Packers are without safety Morgan Burnett on Monday night so it will be up to someone else to contain Kelce.
DeAnthony Thomas/Knile Davis
The Chiefs have a pretty mean return duo in Thomas and Davis. Thomas averaged 11.9 yards per punt return last season as a rookie, one of which he took all the way to the house. Davis, meanwhile, has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of his last two seasons. A special teams touchdown could mean the difference in the game.
The Packers third-round pick out of Stanford, Montgomery was most likely drafted to help give the special teams unit a spark. Last week, however, he saw a lot of meaningful offensive snaps when the Packers went to a hurry-up offense in the second half. He ended up catching four passes for 37 yards, showing his open field playmaking ability on a nice 17 yard gain. Now with a full week of preparation, Montgomery should be involved in the offense even more. Trying to keep up with him and Cobb could become almost impossible for opposing defenses.
Kansas City is a sneaky team with a well-balanced roster, a couple elite players and a solid coach. They were the only team last season to beat Seattle and New England, the two teams who played in the Super Bowl. I expect Charles to make a couple big plays and Houston to be a nuisance for most of the night against the overmatched Barclay.
That said, we’re talking about Aaron Rodgers playing at home in primetime; I expect him to win and continue his clutch ways. I do think, however, that six and a half points is a pretty steep line for a hungry and skilled team. It will be a close game, and it will again be up to Rodgers to lead an important fourth quarter drive or two. Expect him to deliver.
Green Bay 27, Kansas City 23
My Packers record so far this year: Straight up: 2-0; Against the spread: 1-1