The Kansas City Chiefs have a tough matchup on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Here are three things they must do to win.
Kansas City is going to Charlotte without Jeremy Maclin and Justin Houston, to name a few. This will make winning even tougher, although the Panthers are certainly a bit banged up as well. Carolina will be playing without left tackle Michael Oher, special teams ace Colin Jones and potentially center Ryan Kalil.
Certainly, Carolina needs the game more than the Chiefs, but this contest has plenty of meaning for Kansas City as well. A win, and Andy Reid’s team is 7-2 and in first place of the tough AFC West.
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So how do the Chiefs win? Here are my three keys…
1. Limit the ground game
The Panthers are always going to be a challenge on the ground. Carolina has a dual-threat in Cam Newton, who is on pace to rush for nearly 500 yards. Combine him with Jonathan Stewart, and it’s a potent attack. However, the offensive line is poor and holding them back, with Stewart averaging only 3.7 yards per attempt. As a team, the Panthers rank 18th with 4.1 yards per carry, while the Chiefs sit 21st at 4.0.
The big problem here is Kansas City’s defense against the run. It has been ugly, allowing 4.8 yards per attempt. Only the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers have been worse. Perhaps defensive coordinator Bob Sutton plays more base and tries to choke off the run. If he can do so, Kansas City is in good shape.
2. Win the turnover battle
This is a huge one in ever game, but especially here. Carolina led the league in turnover differential last year, but that has not been the case in 2016. The Panthers are -6 in turnovers, largely because of seven fumbles to go with 10 interceptions (six from Cam Newton).
The Chiefs are the best in football in this category. Kansas City is +13 and is leading the league in interceptions with 12. If Alex Smith can continue to take care of the ball, and the defense can be opportunistic, the Chiefs have a nice chance to continue their ways here.
3. Earn better field position
The Panthers are not good at covering punts. Carolina is allowing 14.4 yards per punt return, better than only the Chicago Bears. Conversely, the Chiefs have Tyreek Hill and are averaging 15.8 yards per return, second only to the Washington Redskins. Dave Toub’s punt coverage unit is excellent, checking in second at only 5.4 yards per return allowed.
Kansas City has to flip field position a few times here. Set up the offense with a few short drives for touchdowns, while making Carolina drive the length.