Week 8 Preview: Rams @ Chiefs

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Sep 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO; General view of pregame introductions at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO; General view of pregame introductions at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs (3-3) return to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday for the first time since Sept. 29 to face the St. Louis Rams (2-4) in a battle for the Governor’s Cup.

In order for Kansas City to get the full benefit of home-field advantage, it must win this week’s special teams battle with the Rams.

Minutes before the Chiefs kicked off against the San Diego Chargers last week, the Rams were finishing off a win against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, using a fake punt to help seal the victory.

“The call that he made was a great call,” Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said of Rams coach Jeff Fisher. “Obviously, he had a great feel for what was going on in the game and the fake, they executed it perfectly.”

In addition to the fake punt, the Rams scored earlier in the game on a punt return play made famous by Toub during his time with the Chicago Bears.

“I came up with it,” Toub said. “We had Devin (Hester). Devin draws so much attention and we felt like, the same type of thing that they thought with Tavon (Austin). He draws so much attention, teams just go to him and you have a punter who always punts in one spot all the time. So, you just bring your guy down to that part of the field and he catches it and runs it back.”

Although the Rams special teams unit had a successful day last week, Chiefs rookie kicker Cairo Santos made a career-long, game-winning field goal from 48 yards against the Chargers.

“It’s huge,” Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt said. “He’s hit six straight field goals so that was huge. It’s confidence for everybody because we know, hey, we get to the 35-, 36-yard line, we can count on points.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

Offense

• The Chiefs rank third in rushing yards (140.3 yards per game) and 30th in passing yards (199.7 yards per game).
• The Rams rank 18th in rushing yards (105.3 yards per game) and 11th in passing yards (253.3 yards per game).

Defense

• The Chiefs are 18th against the run (117.7 yards per game) and second against the pass (209 yards per game).
• The Rams are 28th against the run (145 yards per game) and 14th against the pass (234 yards per game).

THE LAST TIME

Although the Governor’s Cup currently resides in St. Louis due to a preseason victory in 2013, the Chiefs have won the last five regular season games against the Rams and hold a 6-4 advantage in the overall series.

The Rams have yet to beat the Chiefs since moving to St. Louis in 1995 and their last win in Arrowhead Stadium came in 1994. This week will mark the Rams first visit to Arrowhead since 2002.

SCHEDULE LIGHTENS UP

Four of the Chiefs first six opponents were playoff teams in 2013, but the next three opponents – Rams, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets – have combined for seven wins this season.

In those three games, none of the opposing offenses rank higher than 24th in total points scored. And while the Buffalo Bills have a tough defense, both the Rams and Jets rank in the bottom-third of the league in points allowed.

Five of the team’s final seven opponents are either currently above .500 or were a playoff team last season, making this stretch incredibly important as the Chiefs attempt to return to the playoffs.

As a sidenote, the Chiefs and Bills are the only two teams in the NFL to not allow a rushing touchdown entering Week 8.

DEFENSE REMAINS STRONG

Despite safety Eric Berry’s (ankle) continued absence and multiple injuries suffered along the front seven, the Chiefs defense has yet to allow a 300-yard passer or a rushing touchdown this season.

Cornerbacks Phillip Gaines and Jamell Fleming saw significant action as starters last week for the first time, and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was happy with the results.

“Fleming has practiced really well for us since he’s been here,” Sutton said. “As it turned out we had a couple new guys in there. It was also Fleming showing us in practice and going against our first offense and that for a couple weeks, maybe this guy deserves a look.”

Coach Andy Reid also liked what he saw from the two newcomers, but knows there’s room for improvement.

“There were some good things that Fleming did. I think he settled down as the game went on,” Reid said. “Gaines, I thought, did a good job on the inside and when he had chances on the outside, he did a nice job there. I came out feeling positive about that. Is there room to improve? Yeah, we’ve got to continue to get better there.”

WHO WINS ON THE FRONT SEVEN?

In 2013, the Rams finished third in the league with 53 sacks but through six games they have totaled just four this season. Meanwhile, the Chiefs offensive line has allowed quarterback Alex Smith to be sacked 16 times through six games.

“Certainly they have the talent this year, for whatever reason the numbers haven’t been there,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said of the Rams defense. “You watch film and certainly they are very disruptive.”

Rams linebacker James Lauranitis may have best put the matchup between the two struggling units into perspective.

“I’m always a guy that looks at the big picture,” Lauranitis said. “I’m sure they’re looking at us like, ‘We can get our pass protection right against these guys, they’ve only got four sacks.’”

QUOTABLE

Chiefs coach Andy Reid on the Governor’s Cup:

“Well I wasn’t sure where the Cup was; I thought the Governor had it. They have it right?”

Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos on putting his slow start in perspective:

“Kicking is sometimes a roller coaster. We just can’t run away from the fact that there’s going to be ups and downs.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson on how to react when a receiver drops a pass:

“Keep throwing it to him, you keep throwing it to him and you keep throwing it to him. And you never lose faith in that receiver … You can’t ever lose trust or faith in that guy.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid, on how the Royals’ World Series appearance affects media presence:

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but as long as those jets keep flying over, then the media stays over there. That’s OK.”

PREDICTION

While both teams are coming off big wins last week, Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking in the Chiefs’ favor on Sunday.

Kansas City’s offense seems to have found a groove in the last few weeks on the road and against strong defenses. Now the Chiefs return home and face a defense that has yet to consistently pressure the opposing quarterback.

Quarterback Alex Smith should have plenty of time to distribute the ball between running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Travis Kelce and the Chiefs wide receiver corps. Additionally, the Chiefs’ running game should enjoy success against a Rams defense ranked 28th in the league against the run (145 yards allowed per game).

Although Rams quarterback Austin Davis has played well recently, the Rams have scored more than 30 points just once this season.

Additionally, the Chiefs defense has done a great job slowing down the league’s elite offenses and has yet to allow more than 26 points this year.

The Chiefs continue their winning ways at home against the Rams.

Outcome: Chiefs 31, Rams 17