Five to Watch: Chiefs vs Bengals

After a disappointing loss at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, the Chiefs went back to work this week in hopes of solving the problems that prevented them from winning their third straight game.

This is familiar ground for the team as they'll enter Sunday's contest against Cincinnati like they did against San Diego two weeks ago. This becomes the biggest game of the season for Herm Edwards' football team.

The quarterback issue aside, Edwards is in for a battle with all the second-guessers in this city and around the NFL who believe his football team is heading south again. I don't share the national perception, but clearly Edwards needs to get this offense on track and while shoring up a couple of issues with the defense.

Going into this season everyone knew the 2007 Chiefs would be a work in progress. Any reasonable fan understood that any compilation of wins would be based on a series of favorable events. The Chiefs had to deal with possibly starting a young quarterback while hoping the star running back would get off to a fast start, the NFL's greatest tight end would maintain his production and the young receiver from LSU would flash skills reminiscent of Terrell Owens or Randy Moss.

Some of that happened, and as a bonus to those items, the defense stepped up it's game and currently ranks ninth in the NFL in scoring. That's a far cry from what we've been used to in these parts for quite some time.

Folks, that's progress!

But is it progress that can be measured by leaps and bounds, or by small steps? This isn't the same football team that we've seen in years past. It's a better team, but it still has some walking to do before it runs away with the AFC West this season.

The Chiefs find themselves in the midst of the worst edition of the division since the early 70s, when the Raiders and Chiefs got old and worn down after dominating for years in the 60s.

Edwards, who has a propensity for being patient, indicated early on this week that some changes were afoot. That's a good thing, and although we might not know anything until game time, these changes are part of his plan.

From a fan standpoint, we all want to see the Chiefs win. We also can clearly see the division is weak, and we're smart enough to realize that 8-8 might end up getting a single team from the AFC West into the playoffs for a home game.

And that might be something that ultimately trumps Edwards' plan. This week Boomer Grigsby will make his debut at fullback. It's a safe bet that running backs Michael Bennett and Kolby Smith (who should be on the field every third down) will get some reps.

The offensive line might see a new face in Rudy Niswanger, who could play some guard in the place of John Welbourn. And despite the fact that Damon Huard has been named starter, we could even see the Brodie Croyle at some point in this game.

The bottom line for Edwards is that for the moment, he can step away from the defense because it's in good hands with Gunther Cunningham. He can shift his focus to the the offensive side of the football.

I've spent a lot of time at Arrowhead this week. I've watched and I've listened, and the silence this week has been deafening. The coaches aren't saying much at all. The players aren't bantering like a band of brothers in the locker room. Instead, they're quiet, trying to watch what they say.

If you ask me, it means the over confidence some of them may have felt after the big win at San Diego has disappeared. That might be the catalyst that leads to a pair of victories this week against the Bengals and next week at Oakland.

Five to Watch:

1. FB Boomer Grigsby - Finally he'll get his shot to bring a little fire to the offense. The one thing that will happen with Boomer in the backfield is that he'll block someone, and he'll bring some energy just like Dwayne Bowe does. Since March, when he converted from linebacker to fullback, he's done everything possible to show he belongs on the field. With Kris Wilson at fullback, the running game isn't as good. Boomer brings a hitting mentality that might spring LJ, Michael Bennett or Kolby Smith for a big gain. And if that happens on more than one snap, he might just get even more reps next week at Oakland.

2. QB Damon Huard - I'll say this about KC's current starting quarterback - he has tons of heart and the internal flame to do whatever it takes to keep his job. This game obviously is key for him to remain the starter, but with Croyle chomping at the bit and Huard battling multiple injuries, he needs to be sharp and must utilize the middle of the field in the Red Zone. Most of his passes are thrown to the outside when the Chiefs are knocking on the door. Defenses are gravitating outside and leaving the spaces between the numbers wide open. That means single coverage on anyone – even Tony Gonzalez – roaming free in the middle of the field.

3. K Dave Rayner - As high as we all were on Rayner for his contributions against Minnesota and San Diego, he needs to show last week's short miss was a fluke. He pushed his kick against Jacksonville because he rushed the ball a bit. Maybe it was adrenaline, but that happens with strong-footed kickers. Let's hope it's just an aberration and not the beginning of a trend.

4. WR Dwayne Bowe - If Bowe doesn't get the ball on the first series this weekend, he needs to climb into the helmet of his quarterback and demand it. Bowe is more of a key for setting the tone offensively than Larry Johnson. He needs to get into the offensive flow right away because he is truly one of the greatest playmakers this team has. As he goes, the Chiefs go. When he ads his element of street-ball to KC's offense, drives usually have a happy ending.

5. QB Brodie Croyle - I generally hold the last spot of my list for a coach, but I think even if Croyle doesn't get into the game this week, he handled himself with great strength this week. On Monday when it appeared he might get the nod, he prepared himself as if he was number one on the depth chart. Sooner or later he'll get the nod and when he does, I expect him to do well. But for now he'll do the next best thing, and that's to help Huard from the sidelines.

Prediction: Chiefs 23, Bengals 21

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