The Kansas City Chiefs had shown troubling signs in the preseason. Throughout the preseason, Matt Cassel only threw for one touchdown, Jamaal Charles averaged a lowly 2.3 a carry, and the Chiefs failed to score one rushing touchdown. When the team finally took the field in the regular season against the Buffalo Bills, many of the same problems emerged. The running game was okay, but was abandoned after falling behind quickly. Cassel was unimpressive and unproductive. At the end of the day, the Chiefs fell 41-7.
The Detroit Lions began the preseason with a bang. Five minutes into the first game, Matthew Stafford had already thrown for two touchdowns and the defense had picked off a pass. They didn’t slow down the rest of the way as Stafford finished the preseason with a 154.7 quarterback rating, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Lions destroyed the Patriots in the “dress-rehearsal” preseason game, and optimism was flowing through the streets of Detroit. The hype continued into the regular season, as Detroit had a strong outing in Tampa on their way to a not-as-close-as-it-looked victory, 27-20.
The Chiefs and Lions face each other on Sunday in Detroit, and mostly everyone seems to believe these trends will continue, predicting a dominant win by the Lions. The current Vegas line sees the Lions as somewhere between a 7 and 8.5 point favorite. While I think the Lions should certainly be the favorite in this matchup, I believe many are drawing too many conclusions from too little information.
Prior to the preseason, this game was looking like a great contest. The Chiefs were coming off an impressive 10-6 season and an AFC West crown. Detroit, though finishing 6-10, had capped the season with an respectable four game winning streak. Both teams seemed poised to finish in the top half of the league in 2011.
Though the Chiefs final score looks like they were dominated in all aspects of the game, there were aspects of that game that should keep Chiefs fans optimistic and give Lions fans second thoughts to penciling in a 2-0 record.
The Chiefs offense is better than they appeared on Sunday. The Chiefs were in the game in the first half, trailing only 20-7 at the intermission. However, the score could’ve been even closer than that. Cassel threw a touchdown to Leonard Pope, but it was reversed upon review. The next play, Cassel took a bad sack on third down, forcing a long field goal that Ryan Succop promptly missed. Take away the fumble on the opening kick, and the Chiefs could have realistically been leading the game at halftime. In fact, looking at total yardage, the Chiefs only trailed 183-153 at the break.
After the half, the Chiefs, short on time, were forced to abandon their game-plan and put the comeback on Cassel’s shoulders. That is not what he nor the rest of the offense does well. If Cassel is throwing the ball more than 35 times a game, you can expect a Chiefs’ loss more often than not. In fact, Cassel only averaged 27.1 pass attempts in his ten victories last year and averaged 35.8 attempts in his five losses.
The Chiefs’ running attack is still the identity of the offense and will improve over the season. Detroit’s run defense, though very impressive in week one, is still the biggest question surrounding the team. The addition of Stephen Tulloch has temporarily eased the Lions’ worries, but having looked iffy in the preseason, I won’t believe the run defense is solid until they prove it consistently.
The real reason Chiefs fans should worry when facing the Lions is their defense. Though the Buffalo Bills were aided by two Kansas City turnovers deep in their own zone, Ryan Fitzpatrick had little trouble marching his time down the field. Fitzpatrick utilized his tight ends to perfection on his way to a four touchdown day. Bad news, Chiefs fans, the Lions, too, have excellent tight ends and love to use them. Oh, and they have that Calvin Johnson fella, too.
Maybe the biggest concern for the Chiefs is their pass rush. They only managed to bring down Fitzpatrick once on Sunday, and even then, only Tamba Hali was able to disrupt the play, while every other lineman was nowhere near taking down the quarterback. The rest of the game there was a clear pocket available to Fitzpatrick and he took advantage of it. Detroit comes to town having had the best pass protection of week one according to the New York Life Protection Index. Give Stafford time, and he’s a top 10 (maybe top 5) quarterback in the league. Throw in the season-ending injury to Eric Berry, and the outlook ain’t too bright.
The Chiefs’ run defense wasn’t any better. Linebackers struggled to bring down Fred Jackson all afternoon. The good news, however, is that the Detroit Lions do not have an equivalent to Jackson. Jahvid Best has the ability to break a big run here or there, but is not known for his ability to break tackles. Overall, the Lions’ rushing attack has been less than stellar for the past decade and it isn’t likely to be lethal this year.
In the end, I expect this game to be much more competitive than the Chiefs’ week one debacle. The Lions’ defense is still in question, while the Chiefs’ offense will no doubt be improved. As long as the Chiefs don’t fall behind quickly in this game (which is a definite possibility), they should keep this game within a possession or two. I see this game as a high-scoring battle, but the Lions too many offensive weapons for the Chiefs’ depleted defense to handle.