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Cardinals Embracing Matchup With High-Flying Chiefs

Defense has tough task against MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes

DT Rodney Gunter (left) celebrates his sack against the 49ers with DE Markus Golden
DT Rodney Gunter (left) celebrates his sack against the 49ers with DE Markus Golden

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After canvassing the Cardinals' locker room this week, it became clear there is a healthy amount of respect for the Chiefs' offense, and why wouldn't there be?

Kansas City leads the NFL with an average of 36.3 points per game, which has it on pace to finish as the third highest-scoring team of all-time, behind the 2013 Broncos and 2007 Patriots.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the MVP favorite and throws to arguably the best collection of skill players – wideout Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, running back Kareem Hunt and wideout Sammy Watkins – in the NFL.

But that respect does not cross the line to dread. Veteran safety Tre Boston has felt great satisfaction from slowing down high-powered offenses before, and passed along a key message to his younger teammates this week.

"Don't make it a game of fear," Boston said. "'Oh my God, these guys do this and that.' Go out there and play ball, man. They've got to beat us just like everybody else."

The Cardinals (2-6) understand they are substantial underdogs on Sunday -- Kansas City is 8-1 with Super Bowl ambitions and gets this game in raucous Arrowhead Stadium – but they pledge not to lay down.

"That's Vegas," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "That's what they think. I believe that does give us a little added juice to this game. Everyone is obviously writing us off. No one's giving a chance, more than a two-touchdown underdog. The game still has to be played regardless."

The Chiefs offense has been nearly impossible to stop this season because of its numerous ways to attack. The skill player quartet takes turns making big plays, while coach Andy Reid continues to innovate at the age of 60, using misdirection to keep a defense on its heels.

Mahomes, who has a quarterback rating of 116.7 this season and 29 touchdown passes, can be a strong-armed pocket passer, but is also elite throwing on the run.

"The way he gets the ball out, it reminds me of baseball players, the way they throw the ball," safety Budda Baker said. "It's crazy to see on film, especially when he gets out of the pocket. He's more accurate when he's on the run, so we're definitely going to try to keep him in the pocket."

Baker paused for a second as his mind flashed back to the tape he has been studying.

"He's been doing a lot of things in the pocket, as well," Baker said.

In order to stay close, the Cardinals' best defense may have to be its offense. Quarterback Josh Rosen is coming off a phenomenal fourth quarter against the 49ers in which he threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns for an 18-15 win.

That success has been an outlier this season, but it needs to continue because short drives will play right into Kansas City's hands.

The Cardinals know their margin for error in this game is slim. The Chiefs have scored 27 points or more in every game and the Cardinals' defense will search for ways to slow them down.

"It's a challenge each and every week, but when you look at an offense like this, yes, it brings a little more to the table," coach Steve Wilks said. "Very explosive, putting points on the board. Is it a statement game? Every game to me is a statement game. I think it's an opportunity for our defense to go out here and take another step against a great offense."

Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs