Chiefs' defense needs to be aggressive, and mindful of Cardinals' Fitzgerald

The Chiefs will try to extend their win streak to four games and remain unbeaten at home this season vs. the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

One of three one-loss teams in the NFL, the Chiefs will host the Cardinals for the first time since 2010. The Arizona franchise is 21-4 in its last 25 regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium.

Here are the keys to victory for the Chiefs going into Sunday’s game.

1. Play aggressively on defense

The Cardinals’ offense ranks near the bottom in the NFL in several statistical categories, including net yards per game (32nd, 233.3), yards per play (31st, 4.32), points per game (31st, 13.8) and third-down conversion (32nd, 26.1 percent). With a rookie quarterback having been sacked 16 times in six games (five starts), the Chiefs can afford to be aggressive as opposed to conservative against this unit.

2. Contain David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald

While the Cardinals’ offense has struggled throughout the first half of the season, they’ve got two of the league’s better skills guys at their respective positions in wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson. Fitzgerald enters the game needing 33 receiving yards to move into second place on the NFL’s all-time list. He had 102 yards receiving and a touchdown in the team’s win over the San Francisco 49ers. Johnson compiled more than 2,000 yard of total offense and 20 touchdowns in 2016.

3. Block Chandler Jones

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, defensive end Chandler Jones is entirely capable of disrupting any opposing offense. He led the NFL in sacks last season (17), and he has 6 1/2 through the first eight games of this season. The Chiefs’ offensive line has done very well protecting Patrick Mahomes against Von Miller, Melvin Ingram and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jones could prove to be one of their tougher tests of the season.

4. Minimize penalties

The Chiefs enter the weekend favored by more than two touchdowns over a two-win Cardinals team playing on the road. In order to set the table for an upset, the Chiefs would likely have to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties that stall their own progress on offense, extend drives for the Cardinals’ offense, or drastically shift field position. The Chiefs have been the most penalized team in the NFL this season.

Scheme

Steve Wilks

A first-year head coach in the NFL, Steve Wilks climbed the coaching ranks as a defensive coach. Before being named the Cardinals’ coach in January, he’d been defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Carolina Panthers. He’d been with the Panthers for six seasons. He spent 12 seasons as an assistant in the NFL and 11 years as college coach (his first head-coaching job came at Savannah State in 1999). The Panthers ranked seventh in total defense (317.1 ypg) and third in sacks (50) under Wilks in 2017.

Offense

Former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich took over as offensive coordinator and play-caller after Mike McCoy got fired after seven games. Leftwich, who worked as an assistant under the previous coaching staff and head coach Bruce Arians, was the quarterbacks coach before taking the reins of the offense. It’s not clear how much of Arians’ coaching tendencies will show up in Leftwich, but Arians’ offensive philosophy included taking chances deep downfield and getting the running backs involved in the passing game.

Defense

Al Holcomb is in his first season as defensive coordinator. He spent five seasons as linebackers coach for the Carolina Panthers before taking the defensive coordinator job with the Cardinals. He’ll lead the defense under Wilks, a defensive-oriented coach. Wilks’ defense in Carolina played more zone coverage (72.5 percent of the time) than any other team in the NFL in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. The Cardinals have used multiple base defensive alignments this season, but they returned to a 4-3 for their most recent game against the San Francisco 49ers.