The Kansas City Chiefs landed in London, England on Thursday and are preparing to double their current one-game winning “streak” by beating the Detroit Lions Sunday morning at legendary Wembley Stadium. And by “morning”, I really mean it as the game will be kicking off at 8:30 a.m. CT, so make sure you have set your clocks back an hour Saturday night before you go to bed after your trick-or-treating festivities. Time changes and too much candy corn can sometimes be too much for the brain. The game will be televised on FOX (FOX4-KC locally) and broadcast over the Chiefs Radio Network and 1340-AM La Gran D Radio for the Spanish-speaking audience.
As you probably recall, this is the game that made everyone’s heads explode last spring when it was announced that the Chiefs would be giving up a home game at Arrowhead to play this game in London. Grizzled, formerly ink-stained writers across the Chiefs Kingdom howled their protests that Chiefs owner Clark Hunt was sabotaging his team by voluntarily giving up a home game to play a playoff-caliber Lions club essentially on the road.
Furthermore, this almost now-certain loss to Detroit would come back to haunt the Chiefs as the Men In Red would inevitably come up one game short of the 2015 playoffs. Oh, you will RUE the day, Clark Hunt … you will rue the day you selfishly took your team’s brand across the pond!!! (Extra exclamation points added to demonstrate the fury of many Chiefs reporters.)
Yeahhhhhh, well, eight weeks into the season and the howls of protest have died down in the midst of a five-game losing streak by the Chiefs and the near-total implosion of the Lions under the watch of head coach Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately for the people of London, the Chiefs and their 2-5 record will be the big boys in this game as the Lions are 1-6 and have just fired their offensive coordinator this week, replacing him with a guy that has never called a play in the NFL before. Remember how you laughed at some of the previous London games that featured the Jacksonville Jaguars against teams like the Patriots and 49ers (back when they were good) that ended up with scores like 42-7 or 1,348-3? Well, right now both the Chiefs and Lions are closer to Jacksonville than the Patriots so it will probably be a close game.
So while you’re getting over your Halloween or KC Royals World Series celebration hangover, here are five ways the Chiefs can beat the Lions in London that don’t involve painting their faces blue and invoking Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”:
1. The new O-line needs to build on the momentum gained against Pittsburgh. Last week, the Chiefs unveiled a new configuration for their struggling offensive line that I thought would end in disaster, but instead played their best game of the year. Eric Fisher moved back to left tackle with Laurent Duvernay-Tardif being reinserted to right guard, and Jeff Allen getting his first action of the year at right tackle. Allen was hurt in the Arizona pre-season game and had not played more than a handful of special teams plays as he got back into playing shape. All they did was open the way for Charcandrick West to gain 110 yards rushing and kept Alex Smith somewhat upright, which was a huge reason the Chiefs got the win. Friday, left guard Ben Grubbs was declared “Out” for the game in London and there is no word yet on how head coach Andy Reid will replace him.
Outside of their outstanding defensive end, Ziggy Ansah, Detroit doesn’t have anything near the Steelers’ quality in the defensive front seven and they rarely blitz, which is the one area of pass protection that the Chiefs have struggled with most of the year. Smith should be able to hang in the pocket for a few more seconds which will give his receivers time to get more than two yards past the line of scrimmage before he is forced to get rid of the ball. This might be the first time since the opening week in Houston where the Chiefs will have an actual downfield passing game. It depends on if the offensive line can keep it going.
2. Hit Matthew Stafford. The 2015 version of Stafford isn’t the Golden Boy of years past and certainly not the same guy that torched the Chiefs for nearly 300 yards passing and four touchdown passes the last time the two teams played in 2011. Stafford has already been benched during a game once this year (a 42-17 loss to Arizona) and seemingly struggled mightily with former offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s offense. The Lions hope the switch from Lombardi to former quarterbacks coach, Jim Bob Cooter, will simplify the offense and get everything back on track.
Regardless, when the Lions give up sacks and pressure, they come in bunches. The Lions have only given up 16 sacks this season which puts them around the middle of the pack in the NFL, but last week against Minnesota, Detroit gave up seven sacks and Stafford was hit another 13 times. Those are numbers Alex Smith to which Alex Smith can painfully relate. If Stafford can sit in the pocket without being rushed, he’ll throw for 350+ yards and multiple touchdowns, so it is imperative that Justin Houston and Co. make their presence felt.
3. Marcus Peters can’t make rookie mistakes against Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson. So far in his young career, cornerback Marcus Peters looks like he will have a Pro Bowl appearance or two in his future. He has a nose for the ball and the athletic skills to quickly recover if a wide receiver gets a step on him. He is currently tied for second in the NFL with three interceptions and has had his chances to get at least three more at the halfway point of the season. However, he is still a rookie and can still get schooled by veteran receivers, like he was last week against Antonio Brown. This week, he’ll be covering two of the better receivers in the league in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, both masters at making even veteran corners look bad from time to time. Peters will undoubtedly see some double-moves during the game and he’ll have to keep on his man otherwise the Lions will be picking up 30 and 40-yard chunks of field position.
4. Smith needs to go downfield. Only the Indianapolis Colts have given up more plays of 20+ yards than Detroit. And only the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns have given up more plays of 40+ yards than Detroit. Smith is somewhat reluctant to throw downfield but with Jeremy Maclin back after his concussion and the emergence of Chris Conley as a force in the offense, Smith really needs to start taking more chances throwing downfield to his wide receivers. Throw in the fact that Travis Kelce leads all tight ends in yards after the catch (YAC) then this is the game to attack the defense.
5. And, as always, cut out the mind-numbingly stupid mistakes. During the five-game losing streak, the Chiefs were almost gifted in finding ways to pull disaster from success as it seems they wanted the title of their 2015 season retrospective film to be, “The 2015 Chiefs: Shooting Themselves In The Foot”. Last week against Pittsburgh? No turnovers and just six penalties for 66 yards. While six penalties isn’t great, none of them were of the catastrophically-stupid variety. Kansas City will need another crisp and clean performance to beat the Lions, who aren’t nearly as bad as their record indicates.
Bottom Line: As crazy as it sounds with a five-game losing streak on their record, the Chiefs are in a position to actually make a run at the playoffs. However, they cannot lose games that they are supposed to win as they have virtually no leeway left in the season. A win against Detroit will give them a 3-5 record going into the bye week with a game on the road against Denver in two weeks. The way they played against Pittsburgh offers some hope that KC can still have a successful season if they play with some urgency. I think the Chiefs open up an early lead against Detroit and then hang on for life in the fourth quarter but, unlike the Denver and Chicago games, hold on for a win.
Chiefs – 27, Lions – 24