This is likely to be the biggest question for Chiefs fans heading forward until one of two things happen: Tyler Palko passes for 300 yards or Kyle Orton is put on Injured Reserve. Short of either one of these scenarios I can’t see Palko ever endearing himself to Chiefs Nation regardless of how much Haley backs him. In his three starts for the Chiefs, Palko has completed 62 percent of his passes with just one touchdown against six interceptions.
The Jets are a solid team defensively, rating in the top half of the league in both passing and rushing defense. The Chiefs will need to be smart with the football and that starts with Palko. With arguably the NFL’s best corner in Darrelle Revis patrolling the Jets secondary, things will not get easier for Palko. Palko finished against the Bears with more touchdowns than interceptions (1-0) for the first time this season though the touchdown was caught on a Hail Mary pass at the end of the half. For the Chiefs to be competitive Sunday, Palko is going to have to put it into the end zone one or two times the old fashioned way.
Coming into the 2011 season, the linebacker position was KC’s weakest in terms of starting position and depth. But the surprising emergence of rookie Justin Houston has taken this team from promising to downright scary. Paired with 2010 AFC sack leader Tamba Hali, the Chiefs have a solid pass rushing set of outside linebackers that could be some of the best in the coming years. The emergence of Houston has been a slow but steady one. During training camp, Houston showed off his natural athleticism and pass rushing ability that had many believing he was a first-round talent prior to failing a drug test shortly before the draft.
Houston was in and out of the starting lineup during the first half of the season but has steadily progressed to become a solid contributor, not just on passing downs, but on every down. The Chiefs will need him to play a major role this week in keeping the inconsistent Mark Sanchez...well, inconsistent. The Chiefs were conservative with their blitz packages early in the season, avoiding bringing pressure against young and inexperienced quarterbacks. With Houston's ability to now play every down, we have seen the pressure heat up on opposing quarterbacks. I expect to see Houston early and often in the Jets backfield Sunday.
Offensive Game Plan
It will be interesting to see what Todd Haley/Bill Muir cooks up for the Chiefs offensive this week. The Chiefs biggest collection of talent on the offensive side of the ball is at the wide receiver position but to this point in the season we haven’t seen it showcased. We have seen spurts from Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and recently from Jonathan Baldwin but not to the degree you would have expected after losing running back Jamaal Charles early in the season.
The Chiefs have been handcuffed in terms of play calling. Kansas City’s offensive line has been extremely porous at times in 2011 which has lead to broken pass plays more often than not. With Jets head coach Rex Ryan’s approach to drawing up blitz packages it would be hard to imagine Haley putting too much on Tyler Palko’s plate. Then again, Haley is notorious for thinking outside the box and is always a safe bet for some surprises.
Keep Defense Rolling
At first glance this appears to be a game where the Chiefs are woefully overmatched but when looking at the Chiefs’ strengths versus the Jets’ weaknesses, Kansas City should have an advantage defensively. The Chiefs’ front seven have steadily improved since Week 1 and are playing their best defensive football in almost a decade. With a struggling Sanchez beginning to show signs of fraying at the seams, Romeo Crennel’s defense should be able to win this battle by doing what they have been doing the last few weeks.
When the Jets have been victorious in 2011 it has come via a solid and efficient ground attack instead of on the arm quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Jets have receivers Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, and tight end Dustin Keller but the Chiefs secondary can take the receivers out of the picture with physical play at the line of scrimmage. Keller, on the other hand, will be a tough matchup as has been the case all season for the Chiefs against tight ends. With the improved play of linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Kendrick Lewis, however, the Chiefs should have no trouble keeping New York’s offense in check.
Good Chiefs or Bad Chiefs
We have discussed the issue of head coach Todd Haley’s job security ad nauseam throughout the season. Although this has been a subject of great debate, regardless of what side of the argument you are on, the evaluation of the head coach will continue for general manager Scott Pioli. To his credit, just when it appears Haley has lost his team, the Chiefs find a way to fight back and get a win. The Chiefs are coming off of a surprising victory against a likely playoff bound Chicago Bears last week and will be considered the underdogs again this week.
But which team will we see Sunday?
The Chiefs have been impressive at times defensively which has kept them in games against teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago but when things go bad, they go real bad. Although Haley doesn’t necessarily need a victory Sunday to keep his job, he certainly needs his team to be competitive. A showing like we saw against Detroit, Buffalo, Miami, or Denver just won’t cut it. Haley has cut multiple players for being what the coach refers to as “yo-yo players” (Jared Gaither, Bernard Pollard, and nearly a dozen receivers) but Haley is possibly the biggest culprit of them all. A good showing in a tough environment against a solid team will go a long way in making the case for a Haley contract extension.