By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (1-3) are on the road to face the Chiefs (1-3) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game for Chicago.
Offense: Neutralizing the front five
It’s another big challenge for the Bears offensive line against an established defense in Kansas City. Playing in Arrowhead Stadium is no picnic, as it’s right up there in crowd noise with Seattle.
Kansas City’s strength is its front five. Outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston form as dangerous a tandem as there is in the NFL, while the down three in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense is productive and powerful. Nose tackle Dontari Poe is just about at full strength after back surgery, and he’s a force inside.
Rex Ryan disciple Bob Sutton runs the Chiefs’ defense, and while a bit more conservative than Ryan in terms of exotic and frequent blitzes, Sutton will dial up some pressure — and maybe more so against the Bears, given their offensive line questions.
Jay Cutler targeted Martellus Bennett frequently against the Raiders, and that appears to be a matchup advantage for the Bears against the Chiefs. Kansas City cornerback Jamell Fleming has been targeted more than any other corner in the league, and rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, while feisty and talented, has given up four touchdown passes.
The Chiefs are stout and dangerous up front, but they’re also ranked 32nd in red-zone defense and have given up a league-high 15 touchdowns.
Defense: Prevent the big play
In one month, the Bears defense has made significant progress in the shift to a 3-4. The pass rush has produced six sacks in the last two games, led by Pernell McPhee and Jarvis Jenkins. They play well together, and they pose a challenge to a Chiefs offensive line that has already permitted a league-worst 19 sacks.
Kansas City hs already started three different lines in four games. Quarterback Alex Smith has plenty of weapons to inflict some damage, but he stays on the conservative side of the fence. Receiver Jeremy Maclin is fast and tough, and he can beat you deep. However, only 49.5 percent of Smiths’ completions have gone to receivers, representing one of the lowest figures in the league.
Tight end Travis Kelce is emerging as one of the best at his position in the league and is a vertical threat. Running back Jamaal Charles is a breakaway threat every time he touches the ball. He’s tied with Bears running back Matt Forte with 11 rushes of 10 yards or more. He does have some fumbling issues, with 26 in his career, including two this season.
If the Bears can keep everything in front of them defensively and tackle well, they can prevent the big play.
Special teams: Match excellence
Former Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub remains highly regarded for his work with the Chiefs. He has two dangerous and talented returners. Knile Davis handles kickoffs, while DeAnthony Thomas returns punts.
Coverage must be on point for the Bears this week. Davis is fourth in the NFL in return yards, including a long of 56. Thomas is tied for seventh in punt return yards, with a long return of 19.
Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt is one of the best in the NFL, as the Pro Bowler is fourth in gross average and third in net average, with only 51 return yards permitted. Kicker Cairo Santos is tied for the league lead in field goals, including making a club record seven in a loss to the Bengals last week. He’s also hit two of his three tries from 50-plus yards.
Bears kicker Robbie Gould has hit all three of his 50-plus yard attempts, and punter Patrick O’Donnell returns after a one-week knee injury.
Intangibles: Build on the win
Building on the win over the Raiders is the only mission in Kansas City for the Bears. McPhee’s becoming a huge voice in the locker room, displaying leadership the franchise needed. Other leaders are emerging as well.
The coaching staff did a commendable job getting the team ready to play last week and on the fly during the game, due to injuries. The arrow is pointing in the right direction for Chicago.
Kansas City’s defense has allowed 31, 38, and 36 points in the past three weeks, but while it looks broken on paper, it’s a unit with a lot of talent. Injuries have wrecked the Chiefs at cornerback, so teams are forcing them into nickel and running the ball.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.