NFL Preview - Arizona (3-6) at Kansas City (5-4)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Todd Haley has made a noticeable difference during his time as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Some would say the Arizona Cardinals haven't been quite the same since he left.
The former Cardinals offensive coordinator faces his former team for the first time since taking over the Chiefs this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in a matchup of clubs that will both be trying to break out of recent slumps.
Haley spent the 2007 and '08 seasons as an assistant under Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt and helped the Cardinals to a NFC West title and a surprising appearance in the Super Bowl during the second of those campaigns. Under his direction, the Arizona offense finished that year ranked second in the NFL in passing yards, third in points scored and fourth in total yards.
Those gaudy numbers dropped off a bit with Haley having gone off to Kansas City last season, and the downward spiral has continued in the aftermath of standout quarterback Kurt Warner's retirement in January. Through the first nine games of 2010, the Cardinals are 31st out of 32 teams in total offense, 30th in passing yards and 29th in rushing.
New triggerman Derek Anderson hasn't come close to matching Warner's remarkable production, with the Cleveland castoff having completed a subpar 53.5 percent of his passes and mustering a shaky 68.1 quarterback rating that's near the bottom of the league's starters at the position.
Arizona's defense hasn't pulled its weight as well, having surrendered a league-worst 29.0 points per game and a troubling 401.8 yards per week. The unit was rocked for 490 total yards in last Sunday's 36-18 home loss to fellow NFC West member Seattle, one week after allowing 507 in a painful 27-24 overtime setback at Minnesota on Nov. 7.
The Cardinals have now lost four in a row following an encouraging 3-2 start, the team's longest skid since an eight-game slide under Dennis Green in 2006, and trail the Seahawks by two games for first place in the division.
Haley, meanwhile, has breathed some life into a Kansas City offense that was a moribund group prior to his arrival last season, albeit by different methods. While his Arizona teams featured a diverse aerial assault centered around Warner and the stellar receiver duo of Larry Fitzgerald and the since-departed Anquan Boldin, this year's Chiefs have built their 5-4 record around a punishing running game that's averaged a league-high 165.3 yards per contest.
Kansas City's five-win total has already surpassed that of each of the preceding three seasons and has placed the upstart Chiefs into a first-place tie in a competitive AFC West. Haley's charges had held the top spot all by themselves, however, until being dealt back-to-back defeats to divisional foes.
The Chiefs had their worst result of the year this past weekend, a 49-29 shellacking at the hands of previously-struggling Denver in which the Broncos scored the game's first 35 points and piled up 452 yards of offense.
A return trip to Arrowhead Stadium could help Kansas City get back on track, as the Chiefs are 4-0 at home thus far in 2010 and have yielded just 13.5 points over the course of those games.
The Chiefs have a 7-2-1 lead in their all-time series with the Cardinals, including a 23-20 road victory when the teams last met, during the 2006 season. Kansas City also won the previous meeting with Arizona, a 49-0 waxing at Arrowhead Stadium in 2002. The Cardinals most recent win in the series came the previous season, a 24-16 triumph in 2001. The Cardinals are 0-3-1 in Kansas City all-time, with the tie (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals) coming in their first visit there, in 1970.
Whisenhunt and Haley will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches. As mentioned, Haley served as offensive coordinator of the Cardinals under Whisenhunt in 2007-08.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
While Anderson (1481 passing yards, 6 TD, 8 INT) hasn't provided the stability the offense enjoyed during Warner's tenure, the sixth-year pro was able to deliver a bit of a spark during last week's loss. He threw for a season-best 322 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, with Fitzgerald (49 receptions, 601 yards, 4 TD) and fellow wide receivers Steve Breaston (29 receptions, 1 TD) and Early Doucet (15 receptions, 1 TD) all enjoying good days as well. Anderson was sacked five times by Seattle, however, and has been taken down 11 times over the past two weeks behind a suspect line that lost right tackle Brandon Keith to a season-ending torn hamstring in Week 10. Despite the inconsistency of the passing game, the Cardinals will likely continue to air it out on Sunday, as they've had the fewest rush attempts in the league this season. Leading carrier Tim Hightower (376 rushing yards, 3 TD, 11 receptions) has been in and out of Whisenhunt's doghouse due to fumbling issues, while talented sophomore Beanie Wells (231 rushing yards, 2 TD) has battled knee problems all throughout the year. He's expected to play this week after sitting out against Seattle, but sparkplug and return specialist LaRod Stephens-Howling (94 rushing yards, 1 TD, 11 receptions) is iffy because of a strained hamstring.
The Chiefs will be out to atone for last week's poor defensive showing in which Denver quarterback Kyle Orton threw for an effortless 296 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-34 passing, while receiving ample time to pick apart a young secondary. The pass rush has been spotty all year, with outside linebacker Tamba Hali (28 tackles, 8 sacks) and reserve lineman Wallace Gilberry (14 tackles, 4 sacks) the team's only reliable pressure-makers, which helps explain Kansas City's No. 22 overall ranking in pass defense (240.2 ypg) and rather low sum of seven interceptions. The Chiefs have been generally solid in containing the run, but struggled in that department as well last week, with the Broncos' normally non-threatening ground attack compiling 153 yards on the day. The front seven is headlined by inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (77 tackles, 1 INT, 10 PD), who racked up 12 tackles against Denver and is in the midst of an excellent season, with cornerback Brandon Flowers (39 tackles, 2 INT, 11 PD) and rookie safety Eric Berry (50 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) the impact players in the backfield.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Kansas City's offensive approach is a direct contrast to that of the Cardinals, as no team in the NFL has run the ball as many times or for as many yards as the Chiefs. The backfield tandem of speedster Jamaal Charles (760 rushing yards, 26 receptions, 3 total TD) and powerful veteran Thomas Jones (573 rushing yards, 3 TD) has combined for nearly 150 yards a game so far and complement each other well, with Charles a threat to go the distance on every touch and Jones adept at wearing down a defense between the tackles. Kansas City was forced to stray from the game plan after getting behind last week, but proved it can throw the ball as well as ramming it down the opponent's throats. Quarterback Matt Cassel (1881 passing yards, 16 TD, 4 INT) amassed a career-high 469 yards and four touchdowns in the loss, while top receiver Dwayne Bowe (39 receptions, 606 yards, 9 TD) showed off his considerable skills with a monster 13-catch, 186-yard, two-touchdown display. The former first-round pick is now tied for the league lead with nine scoring grabs and has reached the end zone eight times in the past five weeks. Tight end Tony Moeaki (31 receptions, 2 TD) has been Cassel's second favorite target this season, but the promising rookie may be held out of Sunday's tilt after sustaining a concussion against Denver.
The Charles/Jones pairing was held in check by the scoreboard a week ago, but the two should be ready to roll against a submissive Arizona defense that's surrendered the fifth-most rushing yards in the league (132.4 ypg). Opponents have had their way with the Cardinals through the air as well, and that's especially been the case as of late. One week after Brett Favre put up a career-best 446 yards and two scores to trigger Minnesota's comeback win, Seattle produced 380 net passing yards to roll past the Cards last week. The team has had trouble finding a suitable coverman to play opposite 2009 Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (31 tackles, 2 INT, 10 PD), with youngster Greg Toler (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) benched in favor of nickel back Michael Adams (23 tackles) during the second half of last Sunday's setback. In order to protect the vulnerable secondary, veteran outside linebacker Joey Porter (34 tackles, 5 sacks) and down linemen Calais Campbell (37 tackles, 3 sacks) and Darnell Dockett (31 tackles, 2 sacks) will be counted on to bring the heat upon Cassel.
There may not be a better fantasy receiver going right now than Bowe, who's scored multiple touchdowns in three of the past five games, and the Kansas City wideout is an absolute must-start against a very beatable Arizona secondary. Don't read too much into Cassel's extraordinary numbers from last week, however, and the steady signal-caller will likely play a secondary role on Sunday with the Chiefs in line to return to their run-heavy ways. That philosophy makes both Charles and Jones worthy of usage, and Cassel better off on your bench. The Cardinals' backfield situation is much more muddled, and it's probably best to avoid both Wells and Hightower right now. Stay away from Anderson as well, but Fitzgerald and Breaston are both good choices as the two best players on Arizona's uninspiring offense. The Cardinals have actually had a very good fantasy defense, having scored seven return touchdowns for the year, but keep in mind that the Chiefs have turned the ball over less than any team this season.
While the bloom may be starting to come off the rose for the Chiefs, Sunday's game should present a good opportunity for a rebound. Kansas City matches up very well with a Cardinals team that will have trouble dealing with its opponent's physicality on offense and hasn't fared well on the road this season, while the Chiefs have been outstanding on their home turf all year long. Arizona's gotten a good portion of its points on turnovers and special teams, and may need game-changing contributions out of those areas in order to come out on top. Facing a Kansas City outfit that's been as good as anyone at taking care of the football, that appears to be a pretty tough assignment.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 31, Cardinals 21
11/18 18:14:51 ET