Two of the NFL’s best teams, equipped with two of the best young quarterbacks, will meet on Monday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum when the Kansas City Chiefs face the Los Angeles Rams.
The game was originally scheduled to be played in Mexico City, but the poor conditions of the playing surface at Estadio Azteca caused the game to be moved to Los Angeles, giving the Rams an unexpected home game.
The Rams (9-1) are 5-0 at home, while the Chiefs (9-1) suffered their only loss in a 43-40 road defeat against the New England Patriots.
The Chiefs’ star is 23-year-old quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who leads the league in touchdown passes (31) and passing yards per game and is second in passer rating, behind only New Orleans’ Drew Brees.
“You know the consistency at which Patrick has operated and taking good care of the football and made plays in rhythm but then off schedule has been phenomenal,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
Mahomes directs an offense that ranks second in the league in scoring at 35.3 points per contest. Running back Kareem Hunt ranks seventh in the league in rushing, averaging 75.4 yards per game, while the key receivers are wideout Tyreek Hill (16.2 yards per catch, nine touchdowns), tight end Travis Kelce (57 catches, six touchdowns) and Sammy Watkins (39 catches, 515 yards).
“It’s fun if you’re watching as a football fan; it’s not fun when you’re watching it getting ready to play them,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
McVay has a pretty good offense, too. The Rams are right behind the Chiefs in scoring, averaging 33.5 points per game, and third-year quarterback Jared Goff is third in the league in touchdown passes with 22 and fifth in both passing yards per game and passer rating.
Goff has the advantage of having the league’s leading rusher in his backfield in running back Todd Gurley, who is 12 yards shy of 1,000 for the season and has 40 receptions for 402 yards. He rushed for 120 yards and added 40 receiving yards in the Rams’ 36-31 victory over Seattle last week.
The Rams suffered a setback in that game when they lost wide receiver Cooper Kupp for the season with a torn ACL, but they still have Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, each of whom has over 50 catches and 800 receiving yards.
“You have to be disciplined,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They’re a disciplined offense, so you have to be disciplined from a defensive standpoint. Then practice that way and then you go play.”
Neither team has outstanding defensive numbers. The Chiefs rank 29th in total defense and are in the middle of the pack in scoring defense, yielding 24.0 points per game. Defensive end Dee Ford is third in the NFL in sacks with nine.
The Rams are 20th in total defense and 12th in scoring defense, giving up 23.1 points per contest. But the Rams have defensive end Aaron Donald, who leads the league in sacks with 12.5.
One of the significant side stories involves Chiefs receiver Watkins and Rams cornerback Marcus Peters, both of whom will be facing the teams they played for last season.
Peters started the trash talking for his matchup against his former teammates back in February, telling the NFL Network he expected turnovers and a win and that Mahomes “knows how to get me the ball.”
Peters has struggled this season, but McVay defends his cornerback.
“I think that the numbers can tell an entirely different story than what the reality is,” McVay said, “because the reality is we’ve put him in a lot of difficult spots where he’s one-on-one with the opposing team’s best receiver.”
Watkins already has as many receptions this season (39) as he did all of last season with the Rams. He sat out Sunday’s 26-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinal with a foot injury, but he is expected to play against the Rams.
“He’s so physical with the speed, he’s someone that can really stretch the defense as well as put pressure on them in a lot of different ways,” Mahomes said. “I thought guys did well, stepped up and played well in replacing the role, but at the same time it’s hard to replace a guy like Sammy.”
The change in venue did not affect the Chiefs’ preparation, since they planned to stay in Kansas City to practice.
“With the extra day and it being a Monday night game, we were going to prep like we normally do, but we really never got to that point,” Reid said. “Players are a little bit resilient, just like coaches, wherever you put us, we are going to go and do what we do. So, you kind of prepare for the team, which is what we spend our time doing.”
The Rams moved their game preparations to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., to prepare for the altitude of Mexico City and to escape wild fires near their training facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
“As far as affecting our preparation, we’re out in Colorado Springs, we’re going to go stay here until Saturday and then go back to L.A.,” McVay said. “But we’ll never complain about an opportunity to get a chance to play in front of our home fans and it’s something we’re looking forward to.”