KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alex Smith was sacked three times and rookie sensation Kareem Hunt managed 21 yards on nine carries in the Chiefs’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago.
Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif should help ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Derek Carr threw for 417 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, and Kansas City never managed to get the Raiders quarterback to the ground in a loss last week.
Steven Nelson should help ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Yes, the Chiefs have used the extended break between their Thursday loss in Oakland and their game Monday night against Denver to get a whole lot healthier. And while coach Andy Reid has refused to commit to anything, it appears he will have his starting center (Morse) and right guard (Duvernay-Tardif) back on offense and one of his top cornerbacks (Nelson) back on defense this week.
“There’s a chance,” Reid said. “We’ll just see how they do out here (in practice).”
Morse has been out since Week 2 with a foot injury; Duvernay-Tardif has missed most of the last four games with a knee injury. That has not only caused trouble for Smith, who has spent most of the past few games dodging blitzes, but also Hunt, who has found far less room to run.
The third-round pick topped 100 yards rushing in four of his first five games, but has been held to 108 yards combined by the Steelers and Raiders. He also doesn’t have a touchdown since Week 3.
It’s not as if Morse and Duvernay-Tardif are a couple of run-of-the-mill linemen, either. Both were grading out among the best at their position leaguewide when they went down with injuries, and backups Zach Fulton and Cameron Erving have not been able to keep up their production.
Their return couldn’t come at a better time, either. Not only are the Chiefs (5-2) being chased by the Broncos (3-3) in a suddenly tight AFC West, they’ll be facing the league’s top defense — a group that is anchored by Von Miller and is ranked second against the run.
They’ve allowed only one opponent to top 100 yards rushing this season.
Oh, and they should have outside linebacker Shane Ray back from his own injury.
“Those guys play hard. They have a good front seven,” Hunt said. “They play hard, they’re real gap-sound, and they’re going to be ready to stop the run. We have to play physical, everybody — me and the offensive line and the tight ends.”
On the defensive side, Nelson could be back on the field for the first time this season.
He spent most of training camp working with the starters, either as the nickel back or opposite star cornerback Marcus Peters. But he injured a core muscle, landing him on injured reserve to start the season. It’s been just this week Nelson has been back at practice.
“I think he’s in pretty good shape,” Reid said. “He did our practice the other day and handled that OK, and that was fairly high speed. We’ll just kind of play it by ear.”
Peters has mostly held his own in the defensive backfield, but that’s also because quarterbacks have been picking on everyone else. Terrance Mitchell and Philip Gaines took the brunt of it from Carr, who sliced up the Kansas City secondary on an eventual game-winning drive.
Then again, the Chiefs have been facing some potent offenses lately. The Broncos are coming off a 21-0 loss to the Chargers, their first shutout loss in 25 years.
“We have had great game plans the last six weeks,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “We have to get better at the details and do it better. Something isn’t clicking. We have to find it, and we will.”