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Cardinals have tall task against 17-point favorite Chiefs
Justin Pugh had a simple response when he was asked if the Arizona Cardinals can exploit a Chiefs defense that is allowing the second-most yards per game in the NFL when the two teams meet on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
"I don't care how many yards they're allowing," the Cardinals' right guard said. "They're 8-1 for a reason."
The Chiefs might be allowing a staggering 427.4 yards per contest, but they're averaging 433.4 yards themselves on offense and more important, they're leading the league in scoring with an average of 36.3 points per game. The Cardinals (2-6), meanwhile, have the league's worst functioning offense. They're averaging a league-worst 233.3 yards and rank second-to-last in scoring at 13.8 points per game.
Kansas City's defense might be vulnerable, but Arizona doesn't seem capable at all of outscoring the Chiefs. Not with all of their many weapons, from quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt, just to name a few.
"I think their defense is pretty good. I know the numbers don't show it," Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks said. "The great thing about what they have, they have a very explosive offense to be able to compensate and score points. So, we feel like there's an opportunity in the run game. Hopefully, we can run the football against these guys, and hopefully, there's going to be an opportunity in the pass game as well."
The Cardinals haven't had much success this season in either of those two areas. David Johnson is still searching for his first 100-yard rushing game since his All-Pro season of 2016 and rookie quarterback Josh Rosen has yet to have a bona fide good game through five starts since taking over for Sam Bradford, whom the Cardinals just released.
Rosen is coming off a decent enough performance in which he directed two long, fourth-quarter touchdown drives to bring the Cardinals to a come-from-behind victory over the 49ers. But the 49ers will never be confused with the Chiefs.
"I think a lot of those numbers are a little bit deceiving because they're up by 30 in half their games," Rosen said, referring to Kansas City allowing huge chunks of yardage this season. "So, a lot of times they're just playing back. They let the offense do what they want to do, try to bend not break, hold them to field goals.
"I think they're like 32nd in pass defense, but I don't think you should read into that at all. They're a very good football team with a very good defense. A lot of that is just because their offense is scoring so many points."
Is there anything there the Cardinals can exploit?
"Yeah, always," Rosen said. "Every week, there's always something, but I can't tell you guys. They're there."
Arizona's defense has been playing better lately, but it may take a miracle to stop the Chiefs' offense from stomping the Cardinals to death. Mahomes is the first quarterback in history to throw for 29 touchdowns and 3,185 yards in his first 10 games. He's passed for at least 300 yards in eight straight games, tied with Andrew Luck (2014) for the most consecutive games with 300 or more yards in a single season.
If he starts lighting it up, the Cardinals can't suddenly collapse and go into a shell or the score will be even worse than most insiders are expecting. The big plays are coming, no doubt. The Cardinals just have to be ready for them.
"Yes, one thing we talked about all week is really trying to limit those big plays, understanding exactly who they're trying to target, which we know," Wilks said. "Tyreek Hill is one of those guys. We've got to know and understand where he's aligned at all times within the formation. This is a very explosive offense. Going against Andy Reid for several years in different places, going all the way back to the Eagles, this is part of his M.O.
"So, we've got to try to limit the big plays as much as possible, and you're right, when they do happen, we can't allow that to deflate the defense nor the team."
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 8-3-1. The Cardinals are 0-4-1 all-time in Kansas City, having last played at Arrowhead Stadium in 2010. The last time the teams met, in Week 14 of the 2014 season, Arizona overcame a 14-6 halftime deficit to beat Kansas City 17-14. The victory snapped a three-game losing skid by the Cardinals.