Building on third-down success important for Chiefs against Lions

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs (2-5) are feeling good after snapping a five-game slide and have an opportunity to build momentum Sunday against the Detroit Lions (1-6) at Wembley Stadium in London.

Oct. 30, 2015; London; Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) during practice at the Allianz Park rugby stadium. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Oct. 30, 2015; London; Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) during practice at the Allianz Park rugby stadium. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

But if the Chiefs hope to reach the Week 9 bye on a two-game win streak, the team must carry over an area on offense that came alive in the Week 7 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Chiefs entered that contest with a dismal 27.8 percent third-down conversion rate, which ranked last in the league, before converting a season-high nine of 16 (56 percent) chances against the Steelers.

“I think the one thing you look at is you look at first and second down and how well you stay ahead of the chains on those two downs,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “And we really, last weekend, were fortunate enough to stay out of those third-and-long situations – very manageable third downs.

“And then it’s a credit to the guys and their efforts to convert. Sometimes games go that way, I think the key is more on first and second down – having success in those two areas.”

Sluggish starts on offense plagued the Chiefs before Week 7, but in-game adjustments and execution combined to fire on all cylinders for the entire game.

“I think that was it,” quarterback Alex Smith said, “just four quarters of execution, there in the second half, we continued to execute. I think in the red zone early, we had our problems, but we were moving the ball and continued to make adjustments, stay out of it and there in the fourth quarter, we were able to make the plays that helped us win the game.”

Smith and the offense have prime conditions to continue success against an accommodating Lions defense, on paper at least.

The Lions rank in the bottom half of the league in numerous statistical defensive categories, including yards allowed per game (392.3, 27th), yards allowed per play (6.08, 29th) and points allowed per game (28.6, 29th).

Detroit also enters Sunday’s contest allowing opposing offenses to convert 41.2 percent on third down, which ranks 24th in the league.

The Chiefs offense did their damage against the Steelers without wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who sat out with a concussion. Rookie wide receiver Chris Conley and second-year wide receiver Albert Wilson stepped up to combine for 134 yards receiving and a touchdown on nine catches.

“We went through the whole week of practice with Chris at the X (split end), me at the Z (flanker),” said Wilson, who had three catches for 71 yards in Week 7. “We had a great week of practice, so it wasn’t no surprise at the production we had.”

The Chiefs also kick started the ground game behind running back Charcandrick West’s career-high 110 yards rushing, marking the first individual 100-yard rushing game for the Chiefs since Jamaal Charles, who is out for the year with a torn ACL, rushed for 125 yards in Week 2.

Maclin, who practiced fully the entire week, is officially listed as probable and West has an opportunity to exploit a Detroit run defense ranked 24th in the league (123.4 yards allowed per game).

Provided the players are recovered from the nine-hour overseas flight, the Chiefs have plenty of takeaways from Week 7 to apply Sunday before the break.

And that includes one very important area for a team looking to get back on the right track.

“I think you take that confidence,” Smith said. “You take that confidence in a game like that and as the game moves on, it is a four-quarter game, you’re not always going to make them and maybe you miss some early in the red zone, but you continue to make adjustments and do all the little things. And there late, you make the one play that changes the game.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

OFFENSE

• The Chiefs rank 19th in rushing (106.3 yards per game) and 19th in passing (239.9 yards per game).
• The Lions rank 32nd in rushing (68 yards per game) and seventh in passing (278.6 yards per game).

DEFENSE

• The Chiefs rank 10th against the run (103.4 yards allowed per game) and 23rd against the pass (264.6 yards allowed per game).
• The Lions rank 24th against the run (123.4 yards allowed per game) and 24th against the pass (268.9 yards allowed per game).

THE LAST TIME

The Lions defeated the Chiefs, 48-3, at Ford Field in Week 2 of the 2011 season.

Sunday’s matchup is the 13th time the Chiefs and Lions have met with the Chiefs holding a 7-5 edge in the all-time series.

Sunday also marks the Chiefs’ first game in London, while the occasion is the second for the Lions, who played in the International Series in 2014.

The Chiefs last played overseas in a 1998 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers in Japan.

CONNENCTIONS

• Lions senior coaching advisor Gunther Cunningham served twice with the Chiefs (1995-2000, 2004-08) as a defensive coordinator (1995-98, 2004-08) and head coach (1999-2000).
• Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter served as the Chiefs offensive quality control coach in 2012.
• Lions running backs coach Curtis Modkins served in the same position with the Chiefs in 2008.
• Lions offensive line coach Ron Prince was raised in Junction City, Kan., and is a former head coach at Kansas State.
• Lions offensive lineman Cornelius Lucas played collegiately at Kansas State.

QUOTABLE

Chiefs offensive lineman Jeff Allen on if he enjoyed staying in the U.S. as long as possible before traveling overseas:

“I like my bed.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson on if the offensive line play in Week 7 had anything to do with how well the offense played:

“I don’t really think that had much to do with it as much as our guys just wanting and willing and had the heart to play a good Pittsburgh Steelers team.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s opening remarks to reporters in London during his Wednesday press conference:

“Good afternoon for those of you who are in the right time zone.”

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, a three-time first-team All Pro, to the media on London on Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters and the Chiefs pass defense:

“Good player, young player, fast. Still watching film on those guys, trying to get a better feel for them, but they have some good talent on their backend.”

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Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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