Three Key Matchups: Chiefs vs. Rams

Brendon McCullin
The Rams played the Seattle Seahawks in the first NFL game in Los Angeles in over 20 years

After fairly pedestrian wins over Cleveland and Arizona, Kansas City (9-1) steps back into the ring with the big boys on Monday night. The Chiefs travel to Southern California to take on NFC leading Los Angeles (9-1).

Originally, the teams were supposed to meet in Mexico City in one of the NFL’s international showcase games. But then there were issues with the field at Azteca Stadium.

Subsequently, the game was moved to LA’s Memorial Coliseum. Obvious logistics aside, football players tend to be creatures of habit. Last minute changes can throw a monkey wrench in teams, even well-oiled offensive attacks like the Rams and Chiefs.

Beyond dealing with rearranged travel plans, what else does Kansas City need to do to capture the best record in the NFL? Coming out ahead in these matchups will help.

Tyreek Hill vs. Marcus Peters

Last season, Peters was one of the leaders of the Chiefs defense. That unit was pretty porous, however, so the cornerback was traded to Los Angeles for a pair of draft picks.

The former first round pick has had his ups-and-downs for the Rams, but the team’s pass defense has been stellar. Los Angeles is in the top 10 in the league, surrendering just 233.1 yards a game through the air.

The Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City attack is second in the NFL, averaging 306 passing yards a game. Something is going to give on Monday night.

Peters used to practice against Hill, so he already knows how fast the Chiefs’ deep threat is.

With Sammy Watkins still dealing with a foot problem, Hill’s ability to stretch the field becomes even more important in Andy Reid‘s offense.

As for Peters, if he wants the big money contract that he believes that he deserves, Hill is exactly the type of player that he needs to shut down.

Brandin Cooks/Robert Woods vs. Kendall Fuller/Steven Nelson

Almost neck-and-neck with Chiefs passing attack is Jared Goff and the Rams offense. The difference in this game is that Kansas City’s defensive backfield is not in the top half of the league — they’re near the bottom.

Cooks doesn’t quite have Hill’s speed, but he’s one of the most dangerous receivers when he gets room. In his first year in Los Angeles, he’s averaging 16.8 yards a catch. Woods is more of a possession receiver but has 55 catches and is averaging 15.1 yards per reception himself.

The Chiefs’ defensive stats can be skewed slightly because of how often teams have had to try to match pace with Mahomes and Co. There is no metric, though, that comes out in their favor. They’re near the bottom of every pass defense statistic.

Fuller was brought in to replace Peters, and to be fair, he’s doing better than his predecessor managed last year.

Nelson has picked off passes the last two weeks, but Kansas City’s defense is too soft, giving up receptions in bunches.

With Cooper Kupp lost for the year, Goff will rely even more on his starting wide-outs. That injury will also probably bring Woods into the path of Chiefs’ slot corner Orlando Scandrick. That’s not good news for defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

Kansas City is already going to have its collective hands full trying to stop Todd Gurley. The defense can’t afford to let Goff have every weapon at will. Taking away even one increases the odds of the Chiefs winning a potential shootout.

Aaron Donald vs. Austin Reiter/Cam Erving

Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL. As a defensive tackle, he’s leading the league with 12.5 sacks. His impact is far more pervasive than just the quarterback takedowns. He can destroy an offensive line single-handedly. That’s not hyperbole, that’s just stating a fact.

Kansas City’s normal starting center, Mitch Morse, has been out since suffering a concussion in Week 6 against New England. Reiter has done a nice job filling in, and the offensive line as a whole has been solid despite multiple injuries. Erving and left tackle Eric Fisher have been keeping blind-side rushers away from Mahomes for the most part. That is, until last week when Arizona sacked the Chiefs’ passer five times.

The pressure from the Rams, however, will be coming straight up the middle. Ndamukong Suh might not be the consistent force that he was when he was younger, but he can’t be ignored, either. The veteran is making life easier on Donald, and that’s just almost unfair to opposing offensive lines.

Los Angeles has been susceptible to the run, giving up 122.1 yards per game on the ground. One way to keep Donald from breaking Mahomes is to run Kareem Hunt early and often. He might not be able to match Gurley, but he’s a weapon that Rams’ defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is sure to be concerned about.

No one entirely contains Donald. He’s going blow up plays no matter what. Keeping him from completely wrecking the game plan is going to fall on Reiter and Erving. There’s a good chance that how well they do will decide if Kansas City can remain with just a single loss on the season.