The Carolina Panthers (3-8) take on the Kansas City Chiefs (1-10) this weekend in second-year quarterback Cam Newton’s first trip to Arrowhead Stadium. While this game had much more luster when the NFL released its schedule back in April, it still may surprise us come Sunday.
Two of the more exciting players to watch in this league—Newton and Jamaal Charles—should be the focal points on offense and both could be in line for huge games. For the Chiefs to come out on top, they should look no further than containing the former No. 1 overall pick.
Here are the keys to Sunday’s game against Carolina for the Chiefs.
Jamaal Charles has done a remarkable job this season in his return from an ACL tear. Though the Kansas City Chiefs have been forced away from using him on a consistent basis due to game situations, his success is one of few bright spots for the team.
Though the Chiefs may opt to ease his load as the season winds down, Charles enters a relatively soft spot in the schedule as it relates to the run defenses he will face to close out the slate.
That stretch begins Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers allow 126.2 rushing yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry, something the Chiefs would do well to exploit early and often with Charles leading the way.
If Kansas City can keep drives moving and even punch a few into the end zone, it keeps Cam Newton off the field—something imperative to notch their second win on the season.
Though not as impactful as he was during his rookie season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is still dangerous on the football field.
Last week’s 358-total yard, four-touchdown performance in a 30-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles is indicative of what he is capable of on a weekly basis.
For the Kansas City Chiefs to mitigate Newton’s success on Sunday, it is vital the defense get to the quarterback early in his drop back when the play hasn’t quite broken down yet—where Newton really thrives.
A constant push in the middle—coupled with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston’s ability to rush the edge—will force Newton to make decisions earlier than he wants to.
It also keeps the contain on the second and third levels in place before receivers and blockers break from their original assignment.
Newton works well and does most of his damage in chaos, when he can improvise. Keeping things as they’ve been drawn up would prevent the dual-threat quarterback from using both aspects of his game as much as possible.
The Kansas City Chiefs have allowed their opponents into the red zone 49 times this season—good for 30th in the league. Though they are respectable in scoring percentage—ranked 17th with 86 percent—the sheer volume alone has totaled a whopping 226 points given up.
While that number is inflated by their offense turning the ball over 32 times and handing the opponent superb field position to start drives, the Chiefs simply need to figure out ways to do better in this department.
With an offense that features Cam Newton, big running backs in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, a solid tight end in Greg Olsen and wide receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, Kansas City’s has to prevent this team from getting into the red zone.
Though their numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of red-zone success (only converting on 80 percent of their chances), the Chiefs would do well to treat the red zone like pay dirt and tighten up on the entire side of their field on Sunday.
It is likely that wide receiver Dwayne Bowe will be in a different uniform next season and the Kansas City Chiefs already know what they have in running back Jamaal Charles; so it is imperative to start seeing just what they have in the other offensive weapons that will be around in 2013.
The three guys that should get extended work are wide receivers Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster, and tight end Tony Moeaki.
Though each has missed time this season to various injuries, they have only tallied a combined 77 catches for 890 yards and one touchdown.
What is even more telling about these stats is that Baldwin, McCluster and Moeaki are the team’s second, third and fourth leading receivers.
Poor quarterback play and lack of protection from the offensive line can be blamed, but so can offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
He must do a better job of calling plays that get everyone involved—especially guys that have a long-term effect on the offense.
The time is now for Kansas City to build a little confidence and momentum for next season.
Whether that translates into victories is less important than proving that is actually the goal of this franchise moving forward.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @KCPopFlyBoy.