Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri:
The flip of a coin
Getting off to a good start is always important. But perhaps it is no more important than Sunday, when the Cardinals must play a team that seemingly scores at will. If the Cardinals win the toss, do they defer to the second half and take the chance of giving the powerful Chiefs the ball immediately? Do they take the ball, trying to quiet one of the loudest crowds in the league but risk struggling early? The margin for error will be lower Sunday – even heads or tails matters.
A good bye for David Johnson
The bye week allowed offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich some more time to adjust his offense midseason. While QB Josh Rosen is at the forefront of those tweaks, running back David Johnson remains a key figure – perhaps no more than this week. The Cardinals still need to get Johnson the ball more often through the air, but this week, a game plan that potentially features Johnson having success on the ground and ostensibly keeping the ball out of the hands of the Chiefs' offense seems prudent. If possible.
Pressure on Patrick Mahomes – or the Cardinals?
When a team is averaging more than 36 points a game, it is doing a lot of things right. The Chiefs – and specifically, second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes – have shown they can handle many different ways a defense will attack. Perhaps the Cards can push Mahomes into a mistake or two (although Mahomes' favorite target when the opposition blitzes is speed demon Tyreek Hill, who can turn an eight-yard pass into an 80-yarder.) The problem is Mahomes has a little Russell Wilson in him, in that once he is on the run, he can make a lot of things happen – especially since, once the coverage breaks down and some of those receivers can find some open space, a completion can turn into a huge play. Maybe just containing Mahomes is the smarter call, although a true Achilles heel has not yet been found.
Josh Rosen, the second half
Rosen is ahead of where he could be in his development, GM Steve Keim said, and that's natural since Rosen has been a full-time starter for more than a month. The crucible of learning is about to ramp up given the places the Cardinals are going to play, starting with Kansas City. The Chiefs' defense hasn't been great statistically, but they should get pass rusher Justin Houston back this week and fellow pass rusher Dee Ford is having his best season. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has had a couple of weeks to work on what he thinks will be best for Rosen going forward. How that looks at Arrowhead Stadium will be a major key of the game.
Guinness says it can be a tough road to hoe
The Guinness Book of World Records has Arrowhead and Chiefs fans measured as the loudest NFL stadium. But records don't mean as much as the din that is inevitable whether it's noted officially. It won't be the first time the Cards have played in a loud stadium on the road (Seattle, for one) but what the Cards don't want is for the Chiefs to get on a roll and bring the crowd in as a constant issue. Easier said than done, but that doesn't make it any less important.