By Cedric Williams
After opening the 2016 season with five straight matchups against common AFC opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs will make their first venture into non-conference play when the New Orleans Saints come to visit Arrowhead Stadium, Sunday at noon.
The Chiefs are coming off what many consider the club’s best and most complete performance of the season so far, a dominating 26-10 win over the rival Oakland Raiders this past Sunday. While New Orleans is coming off a thrilling victory of its own, a 41-38 last-second win over the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
Both teams figure to come into Sunday’s matchup riding high. The question will be which team can maintain its recent level of excellent play.
New Orleans comes to town with a 2-3 record. Not a glowing mark at all, but those two wins have come in the Saints’ last two games, both of which were last-second triumphs over San Diego and Carolina.
And with last Sunday’s victory, the Saints moved out of last place in the NFC South and into a tie for second place with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Adding another win this Sunday would pull New Orleans to an even 3-3 on the season and put the surprising Saints, who began the year with three straight losses back into at least reasonable playoff contention, with much of its divisional schedule left to be played.
New Orleans on Offense
Through five games, the Saints have the second best offense in the league this season. As a team, New Orleans averages 413.4 total yards per game and 31.0 points per game; numbers that both rank second in the league behind only the Atlanta Falcons.
What the Saints do best though, is pass the ball. The club averages a whopping 335.4 yards per game. Only one other club in the league (Atlanta) averages as much as 300 pass yards per game, but that offense is considerably more balanced than the unit New Orleans puts out every week.
Quarterback Drew Brees, who is in his 11th season in New Orleans (16th overall), continues to lead the Saints offense. He’ll come into Sunday’s matchup with 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, including another Hall-of-Fame worthy effort last week when Brees threw for 465 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers.
Receiver Brandin Cooks was Brees’ primary target last Sunday, as he reeled in nine catches for 173 yards and a touchdown.
New Orleans on Defense
As good as the Saints have been on offense, that’s just about how bad they’ve been on defense. New Orleans is No. 2 in the league in yards per game gained and it is also No. 2 in the league in yards per game allowed (419.4).
And if it’s possible to be worse in points per game allowed, the Saints actually are, as they give up a league-worst 33.6 points per game. Clearly, that’s something the Chiefs are going to have to be able to exploit if they’re going to keep up with New Orleans’ high-flying offense.
Players to Watch
The key player on offense for the Saints is always Brees. He’s got over 62,000 passing yards, 442 touchdown passes, nine trips to the Pro Bowl, a Super Bowl ring, and a Super Bowl MVP trophy in his career. Brees has been the main man in New Orleans since the day he arrived in 2006.
On defense for the Saints, the leader this season has been linebacker Craig Robertson, who leads the team with 53 total tackles. Defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Cameron Jordan, the Saints’ leaders in sacks, also figure to be key in whatever chances New Orleans has at slowing down the Kansas City offense.
With New Orleans scoring so often on offense, but also giving up so many points on defense, Sunday’s game figures to be a high-scoring affair. Kansas City might look to employ the same type of ball control game it used last week in Oakland to hopefully slow the Saints down this Sunday at Arrowhead.