The Kansas City Chiefs are at serious risk of starting the year 0-3. To avoid a disastrous start after being a trendy pick to win the AFC West, they will have to beat the New Orleans Saints on the road.
Beating the Saints would have been a tall order just last year, but they are experiencing a Bountygate hangover and, like the Chiefs, are 0-2.
Kansas City fell behind by two scores in each of their first two games and the run-first offense is not built to come from behind. The offense kept them in the first game until the third quarter, but they desperately need the defense to keep the score close against the Saints.
It’s setup for the Chiefs; Drew Brees is off to one of the worst starts of his career and the Saints' defense has allowed a league-high 75 points through two games. Kansas City’s offense should finally be able to get rolling and the defense might be catching the Saints' prolific passing offense at the right time.
Of course, the Chiefs actually have to score points on a bad defense and prevent Brees from busting out of his funk. The Chiefs have two games of game tape and will use it to create a game plan against the Saints.
The Saints' defense has been about as bad as the Chiefs' defense. Both teams have surrendered 6.9 yards per play and 75 points through two games. If Matt Cassel and Kansas City’s offense can’t get going against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, they aren’t going to get going against anyone.
One thing the Chiefs can do is attack the Saints through the air. Normally, the Chiefs would be a run-first team. But when facing Brees they have to anticipate him scoring and the Saints run defense has been above average.
The Chiefs can’t afford to fall behind in this game. Their best bet to stay in the game early is to exploit the Saints' pass defense. With Jamaal Charles expected to be limited and Peyton Hillis being productive in the passing game, it’s the right strategy for scoring against the Saints.
The Saints faced the zone-read offense last week, which isn’t anything near what the Chiefs run. I went back to Week 1 against the Washington Redskins, who use more zone running and traditional passing.
The Saints' secondary has had a lot of trouble in coverage and the Chiefs need to attack with Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin.
Robert Griffin III connected on this 88-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon in Week 1 on a play very similar to one the Chiefs ran in Week 2.
The Saints loaded the box and blitzed a safety. The cornerbacks played the receivers off and covered them man-to-man with a single deep safety over the top. Notice both cornerbacks are caught looking in the backfield.
The Redskins ran a double post route to attack the deep safety. The cornerbacks played outside leverage, so both receivers got a clean break to the inside and the deep safety is forced to make a choice. The safety blitz from the weak side is unblocked.
The cornerback is fooled by the play action and lost track of his Garcon because he had his eyes in the backfield. The blitzer was momentarily fooled, but quickly put the pressure on Griffin.
The safety came up to support one of the post patterns, but didn’t see Garcon also coming across the formation until it was too late.
Not too dissimilar was a long completion from Cassel to Bowe in Week 2. Bowe ran a slant and the opposite receiver ran a dig route. This route combination is similarly designed to the double post to attack the space in front of the single deep safety.
The difference here is that the Buffalo Bills pressed at the line of scrimmage and the safety, while still in the box, did not blitz.
The safety read run because of the play action, took a step forward and Bowe beat the press coverage. Bowe got a free release from the cornerback and Cassel knew Bowe was going to be running into open space.
Cassel delivered the ball perfectly over the linebackers and the strong safety as he desperately tried to recover from his mistake. The deep safety came up and made the tackle, but only after a big gain. In the double slant variation the Redskins ran, the opposite receiver picked the safety and sprang Garcon for the big play.
These are passing plays out of running formations that can fool the defense and result in big plays. The Chiefs shouldn’t hesitate to pass early and often from heavy sets and try to attack one-on-one match-ups.
Should the Chiefs allow their cornerbacks to shadow the Saints' wide receivers?
Not surprisingly, getting pressure on Brees is the key to limiting him. According to ProFootballFocus, Brees has a 90.4 quarterback rating when he is under no pressure. That’s still below his normal production, but is more than 50 points higher than his quarterback rating under pressure (37.5).
There is difference between natural pressure and blitz pressure. Natural pressure with just four rushers allows six players to stay in coverage, while blitzing sacrifices a player or two in order to get pressure more quickly.
Brees has thrown all four of his touchdowns and all four of his interception under natural pressure per ProFootballFocus. When blitzed, Brees production jumps slightly, suggesting the Chiefs should send one of Tamba Hali or Justin Houston, but rarely both.
Hali should be productive going against left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who has surrendered one sack, three hits and 12 hurries in two games according to data compiled by ProFootballFocus. He has graded out as the site's second-worst left tackle so far this season.
The Chiefs should probably take one of Houston or Javon Belcher off the field in favor of a nickel cornerback or safety that can cover Darren Sproles in the flat. Sproles is almost strictly a receiver now and Mark Ingram rarely catches any passes. The Chiefs should make sure they have the correct defensive personnel on the field as the Saints have personnel that can tip the run or pass.
To limit Jimmy Graham, defenses have been double covering him and leaving Marques Colston and Lance Moore in man-to-man coverage on the outside. This is ideal for the Chiefs, because Flowers can cover the shorter, faster Moore and Stanford Routt the taller, slower Colston.
The Saints will undoubtedly try to flip those matchups, so the Chiefs might consider allowing their cornerbacks to shadow particular wide receivers.
Graham is the greater challenge and the Chiefs should probably cover him with defensive back Travis Daniels and give him support from both safeties. In running situations the Chiefs could use Derrick Johnson to play Graham physically at the line of scrimmage, but safety help would be required to prevent Graham from making big plays.
The Chiefs need the defense to show up and for Cassel to avoid the mistakes he is prone to make when the offense is forced to pass.
It’s going to be hard for the Chiefs to steal a victory on the road, but if they can open up the passing game and pressure Brees, they will have a chance at the upset. Kansas City’s defense needs to rebound from two horrible performances and another defensive collapse might prove fatal for a once-promising season.
Christopher Hansen is the AFC West lead writer for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow @ChrisHansenNFL on Twitter and "like" the AFC West blog on Facebook. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.