What to Watch: Can Chiefs keep pace with Packers?

To hang with the undefeated Broncos in the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) must do the near-impossible on Monday night: Take down the Packers in Lambeau.

It's a task teams have failed at repeatedly, with Green Bay passer Aaron Rodgers compiling an outrageous 31-2 mark over his last 33 games at home, while tossing 89 touchdowns to just 12 picks in the process.

Chiefs fans will remind you that Kansas City has never lost in Green Bay, but that 3-0 record means next to nothing, with the last such matchup taking place in 2003. The Packers (2-0) won't be coaxed into a loss in their own stadium unless the Chiefs wreak havoc on defense. If Kansas City hopes to erase the memories of Thursday night's soul-collapsing loss to Denver, they'll need to find a way to slow down the finest quarterback in the game today.

Here's what we'll be watching for tonight:

  1. Is Chiefs pass-rusher Justin Houston the NFL's most overlooked luminary? "How come nobody talks about Houston?" one personnel man told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "They build (J.J.) Watt up and (Von) Miller up and (DeMarcus) Ware up. He's one of the subtle superstars nobody talks about. He's the best player on their defense. He's nasty, powerful."

Houston has registered a sack in eight straight games, the longest active streak in the league. With interior linemen Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard eating up Packers blockers, last year's sack champion has a shot to do damage against fill-in right tackleDon Barclay. It's worth noting that Green Bay has allowed 27 quarterback hurries through their first two games.

  1. The Packers expect to have running back Eddie Lacy on the field after Green Bay announced he is active with an ankle injury. The third-year back gives the Packers an elusive, tackle-breaking machine who sets the tone on offense and makes Rodgers all the more dangerous. While James Starks consistently delivers as the No. 2 runner, Lacy is among the NFC's most physical backs at the point of attack, and one who shines in prime time, galloping for 223 yards and a pair of touchdowns in two career Monday-night appearances. If he gets going early, the Chiefs might not recover.
  1. Alex Smith crashed to earth against a nasty Broncos defense in Week 2. His 64.7-point drop-off in passer rating from Week 1 was the steepest decline league-wide, reminding us that Kansas City's veteran passer can't consistently control games like a top-10 quarterback. When everything clicks, Smith is a clean, efficient signal-caller who makes use of the weapons around him. That said, unless you've been hidden away in a CIA-run flophouse for the past two seasons, you're well aware that Smith hasn't thrown a touchdown to a wideout since 2013. That will change with Jeremy Maclin on the roster, but the key to Kansas City's air attack is Travis Kelce. The playmaking tight end was held in check against Denver after destroying the Texans in Week 1. Seeing the Packers hold Seattle's Jimmy Graham to one catch for 11 yards on Week 2, we'll be watching Kelce's matchup against Green Bay's top-10 passing D.
  1. Kansas City's secondary faces their biggest test yet. While Jordy Nelson is out for the year, fellow Packers wideout Randall Cobb is on pace for a monster campaign after hauling in a team-leading 13 receptions for 154 yards over two games. And only Green Bay can re-sign a castoff wideout nobody wanted in James Jones and turn him into a touchdown machine overnight. With "Making the Leap" candidate Davante Adams and promising target Ty Montgomery also on the field, ball-hawking Chiefs rookie Marcus Peters and his fellow cover men will be put through the fire on Monday night.
  1. The Chiefs still channel through Jamaal Charles, a runner burning for redemption after losing a pair of game-crushing fumbles to the Broncos in Week 2. Beyond the turnovers, he's looked sensational this season, galloping with speed and grace and showing up as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. If Charles and the Chiefs can carve out a string of clock-chewing drives, this game has upset potential.
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