Week 14 Preview: Chiefs @ Cardinals

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Nov 30, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) prepares to pass in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 30, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) prepares to pass in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs (7-5) face a tough test in Arizona against the Cardinals (9-3), as both teams look to snap two-game losing streaks.

Kansas City has seen this before.

During an 0-2 start to the season, Kansas City followed up a loss to the struggling Tennessee Titans with a frustrating loss to the Denver Broncos, much like their last two losses against the Oakland Raiders and Broncos.

Although there are differences in the two situations, quarterback Alex Smith has seen his team recover after losing two games in a row and believes that familiarity will help this week.

“It’s a totally different team and we’ve got the Cardinals and they present a unique challenge,” Smith said. “For us, it’s just finding a way to beat them, to win a game. That’s it. Everything we can do this week is to prepare ourselves to win a football game. But yeah, certainly I think it does help knowing that we have been there and have been able to turn it (around).”

In an effort to fix the tackling issues that have plagued the Chiefs over the last two weeks, coach Andy Reid chose to practice with pads on Wednesday.

“We haven’t done too well on it the past couple weeks,” Reid said. “Then you’re going to go through ups and downs and you’ve got to work through those. One of those is our tackling right now so we will do everything we can, without going live.”

Like Smith, Reid believes his team will work hard to overcome their recent losses.

“When things aren’t going well, you find out about people,” Reid said. “I think this group here handles this. They don’t accept it, but they work and they want to change it. That’s the approach that they’ve taken and I wouldn’t expect anything less. That’s kind of how they’re wired.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

Offense

• The Chiefs rank seventh in rushing (129.1 yards per game) and 31st in passing (182.9 yards per game).
• Arizona ranks 31st in rushing (74.8 yards per game) and 13th in passing (247.2 yards per game).

Defense

• Kansas City ranks 30th in run defense (136.4 yards per game) and is the league’s best pass defense (196.8 yards per game).
• The Cardinals rank sixth against the run (89.3 yards per game) and rank 27th in pass defense (263.3 yards per game).

THE LAST TIME

Kansas City leads the Cardinals with an 8-2-1 all-time record, and are 5-1 against them since the Cardinals moved to Arizona.

Since the NFL realignment in 2002, the Chiefs have won all three games against the Cardinals, including a 31-13 victory in 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium.

PLAYOFF CHASE

Arizona currently stands atop the NFC West and is the NFC’s top seed if the playoffs ended right now.

Meanwhile in the AFC, the Chiefs would be one of the first teams out of the playoffs and are one of six 7-5 teams in the conference.

While this game may not be relevant to tiebreaker scenarios for either team, the Cardinals are trying to fend off the other two 9-3 teams in the NFC.

Additionally, the Seattle Seahawks are one game behind the Cardinals in the NFC West.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid is enjoying the unfolding playoff picture around the league.

“I think there’s great parity in the league,” Reid said. “I’m stating the obvious with that. That’s why you’ve got this large group of people kind of fighting for a position there. It gives everybody a chance and that’s a good thing. You’d love to be undefeated, but it gives you an opportunity.”

CARDS D vs. CHIEFS OL

The Cardinals defense may rank 18th in sacks, but they should get an opportunity to add to their total this week. The Chiefs offensive line has struggled lately, allowing eight sacks in the last two games and the entire offense has started slow as a result.

Although some coaches might make changes based on these results, Chiefs coach Andy Reid will likely stand pat. Donald Stephenson, who projected as the starting right tackle before serving a four-game suspension, is available, but Reid says Ryan Harris will continue to start in that spot.

“Harris is the guy,” Reid said. “That doesn’t mean Donald won’t be in, we’ve worked him in a little bit at tight end and he’s gotten in a little bit at tackle. It’s not really what Donald’s been. It’s just Harris has done a pretty good job in there.”

That said, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who was sacked six times in Week 13, hasn’t lost faith in his offensive line.

“I feel great,” Smith said of the protection he’s been given. “Protection is such a total offense deal and we’re all in on it. I know watching that film, I certainly had my fair share of I could have done a lot better job in the pocket, better job of getting rid of the ball at times.”

He may have to get rid of the ball quickly against an aggressive Cardinals defense that has forced 21 turnovers this year. In addition to their takeaways, Reid is impressed with the physical ability of the Arizona defense.

“They’ve got great size and speed,” Reid said. “I’m talking in all positions. Going into their secondary, they’ve got large corners and they’ve got large defensive linemen, linebackers and so forth.”

QUOTABLE

Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on tackling being limited in practice:

“These are the rules, these are what we are playing and there is no reason we can’t be better in run defense with these rules, they are fine.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on Kansas City:

“It’s still one of our favorite places to go. It was a time that my son was a ball-boy so we had a lot of bonding time in that locker room over at Arrowhead Stadium.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson on protecting a quarterback after a late hit:

“I don’t think there is anything about getting a guy back, but I think guys understand that they took a shot on our quarterback, let’s just come back and play football and not let that happen again. Again, it goes back to guys being prideful and protecting the quarterback. There’s nobody out there saying, ‘hey we’ve got to get so and so’ or anything like that. There’s none of that going on.”

PREDICTION

It may not have tiebreaker implications for the playoffs, but this game will define the Chiefs season.

They can remain in the playoff hunt with a win or fall behind the other contenders with a loss. The Cardinals are playing for the postseason as well, looking to remain the top team in the NFC.

Arizona’s aggressive defense will give the Chiefs struggling offense problems. Additionally, the Chiefs run defense has given even the weakest rushing attacks life lately.

Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals poor rushing attack finds success this week.

The Cardinals haven’t lost a game at home this year and they’re not likely to start now. Look for the Cardinals to get a close win at home.

Outcome: Cardinals 20, Chiefs 17.