KANSAS CITY – Bruce Arians has never been one to sugarcoat the truth. So naturally, when the former five-year head coach of the Cardinals was asked if his old team stands a snowball’s chance in hell on Sunday against the high-octane, red-hot Kansas City Chiefs, he didn’t mince words.
“Oh, there’s always a chance,” Arians said. “If they can keep it tight like Cleveland did last week in the first half, and even into the second half, there’s always a chance. That (Kansas City) defense is vulnerable.”
That’s better odds than Las Vegas is giving the Cardinals (2-6), who opened as 17-point underdogs against the Chiefs (8-1), who were listed as 16½-point favorites at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday.
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Arians hasn’t watched the Cardinals play in person yet this season, but he will Sunday as part of the CBS crew that is broadcasting the game. He’ll be in the booth alongside play-by-play man Greg Gumbel and fellow analyst Trent Green, the former Chiefs quarterback, and he swears this may not be the rout everyone expects.
“It doesn’t have to be, no,” Arians told The Republic. “I mean, there’s so many little keys to the game. Kansas City scores on their first possession every single game. Well, get ‘em stopped. Cleveland dropped a big interception in the third quarter last week. Don’t drop it. You’ve got to catch it.”
No one else seems to be giving the Cardinals any hope of even making this a game, let alone a potential upset. As well as the lowly Browns fought the good fight in only trailing the Chiefs by six points at halftime last week, for instance, they still managed to lose by 16.
The Cardinals, by contrast, would probably be lucky just to win the opening coin flip. The Chiefs, after all, have won it for nine consecutive weeks.
“It’s very comforting to go into a game that nobody expects you to win,” said Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who needs 33 receiving yards to surpass Terrell Owens for second place on the NFL’s all-time list.
It does look that bad, all things considered.
The Chiefs have an MVP-caliber quarterback in second-year pro Patrick Mahomes, a franchise-savior whom Arians wanted the Cardinals to draft who also already has thrown for more touchdowns (29) and yards (2,901) through his first 10 NFL starts than any other QB since at least 1950.
“It’s his command of the offense, his confidence,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said. “He feels like he can make every throw. He’s mobile, he can keep plays alive and he trusts his skill guys to go make plays for him as well.”
Mahomes has plenty of playmakers, especially in featured running back Kareem Hunt, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
“He’s probably going to be the fastest guy I’ll have an opportunity to go up against,” Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said of Hill, who ranks seventh in receiving yards (774) and is tied for second in touchdown receptions (seven). “The thing with Tyreek is, he’s literally like a cheetah. He can go from zero to 60 in a blink of an eye.”
If the Cardinals are to neutralize Hill, Peterson will likely have to shadow him on every snap and play tight and physical, press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. But even Peterson, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection, knows that might not be enough to slow down Hill.
“The thing about him,” Peterson said, “is that he’s so quick he can slip and maneuver around press technique very, very well so you have to be on your P’s and Q’s and just pray to God that Patrick throws him a bad ball.”
According to Arians, the Cardinals can make things interesting if their defensive front four brings a real fight to this game. A disruptive pass rush and some penetration can upset Mahomes’ timing and slow down the Chiefs’ calling card for having so much success on quick, misdirection plays and everything from jet sweeps to run-pass options out of the backfield.
“That’s every game. That always set the tone,” Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones said. “It always starts with our front four and they have a lot of different explosive players and we’re going to have to try and contain them all.”
If Peterson can somehow contain Hill and the rest of Arizona’s defense can find a way to slow down Hunt, who ranks third in the league in rushing with 683 yards, maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance for an unpredictable Cardinals upset. Arians said it only happens, though, if the Cardinals’ offense can also parlay what it did in the fourth quarter of its last game against the 49ers when rookie quarterback Josh Rosen led the team on two long, convincing touchdown drives.
“They should have a lot of confidence coming off that comeback win,” Arians said, adding of his handpicked quarterbacks coach, Byron Leftwich, who since has been promoted to offensive coordinator, “Byron has had 10 days to get Josh up to speed and do some different things so I think Kansas City is in a bind a little bit not knowing what (the Cardinals) are going to do.”
If Arians had any advice for Leftwich, and both men acknowledged that they talk to each other frequently, it would be that the Cardinals do everything in their power to make Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson the two most focal points of their game plan.
“They’re two of your best playmakers,” Arians said, adding of Cardinals’ rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk, “And don’t forget about keep finding ways to get No. 13 involved because he’s a game-breaker, too.”
It could get surprisingly interesting. It also could get incredibly ugly. Either way, Bruce Arians promised he’ll call a fair game from the broadcast booth.
“If I praise the Cardinals, I’m a homer,” Arians said, chuckling. “If I criticize ‘em, I’m a son of a bitch. I’ve got to be careful which is which, so hell, I’m just going to call it like I see it, baby. That’s what I do.”