WHAT: Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)
WHEN: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
TV: CBS. Announcers: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
CHIEFS GAME KEYS: Quarterback Alex Smith has already been sacked 13 times, which is especially alarming considering he rarely holds the ball for any length of time in a passing game predicated on underneath patterns and receivers making plays after the catch.
The onus falls on running back Jamaal Charles to get untracked early against the league’s fifth-ranked run defense. He’s also one of only three Chiefs with more than five catches on the season. The other two are wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce, who will both command significant attention. Minus a proven threat opposite Maclin, the Chiefs opened in a three-TE set in consecutive games, and more jumbo sets could be in the offing with the poor protection for Smith.
BENGALS GAME KEYS: Of equal concern to K.C. is the Bengals’ second-ranked offense, which has excellent balance and big-play receiving threats. With a strong backfield tandem in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Dalton has enjoyed excellent protection (two sacks) while posting a 121 passer rating with eight TD passes against just one interception.
The Chiefs must find a way to bust up that rhythm, beginning with Hill, the power to Bernard’s shiftiness who is averaging only three yards per carry. If Dalton gets comfortable at home, the Chiefs’ reeling secondary will be ripe for the picking. Consecutive losses have highlighted potential fatal flaws, including a secondary seriously overmatched by the Bengals’ deep group of playmakers. In a league chock full of suspect offensive lines, there are fewer living down to their billing more than Kansas City’s.
MATCHUPS: Chiefs secondary vs. Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert: Kansas City gets cornerback Sean Smith back from suspension to pair opposite rookie Marcus Peters, but Phillip Gaines has a knee injury and Marcus Cooper was equally ineffective in replacing popular target Jamell Flemming last week. Safeties Ron Parker and Eric Berry could also factor into the coverage of Eifert, who has 13 catches for 153 yards and three TDs through three games, and had a few big gains, including a TD, wiped out by penalty and replay review last week.
Chiefs center Mitch Morse vs. the Bengals' middle of the defensive line: The rookie is getting a baptism by fire in the middle of an O-line struggling across the board. He’ll have his hands full against Cincinnati veteran linemen Domata Peko and Geno Atkins.
BENGALS FAST FACT: They are seeking just their fourth 4-0 start in franchise history.
CHIEFS FAST FACT: Linebacker Justin Houston has 18 sacks and four forced fumbles in his past 13 games.