Styles make fights, and Monday night’s tilt between the 9-1 Rams and 9-1 Chiefs has all the makings of an epic heavyweight bout. In what could be a Super Bowl prelude, this game will feature a battle of wits between Sean McVay and Andy Reid, two of the most innovative play-callers and offensive schemers in the NFL; a duel between two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes II and Jared Goff; and, likely, a nonstop salvo of highlight-reel plays from the likes of Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Brandin Cooks, and Travis Kelce. Add in defensive stars like Aaron Donald, Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Ndamukong Suh, and I’m not sure I can ever remember being this excited for a regular-season game.
So, to preview what should be one of the games of the year, let’s go through each position group to find out where each squad has an edge. Here’s the tale of the tape for the scintillating Rams-Chiefs matchup.
Goff’s staggering early-season pace has slowed slightly, but the third-year pro is still posting great numbers. He’s thrown for 3,134 yards (fourth in the NFL), 22 touchdowns (tied for seventh), and just six interceptions, and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt (second) with a 113.0 passer rating (third). Goff has led the Rams offense on three fourth-quarter comebacks and engineered three game-winning drives. He’s been accurate and aggressive, and has made some big-time throws into tight windows. He looks like a top-10 quarterback.
Despite all that, it’s tough to match what Mahomes has done. As a full-time starter for the first time in his career, the Chiefs’ sophomore signal-caller has thrown for 3,150 yards (third in the NFL), 31 touchdowns (first), and seven interceptions, while averaging 9.1 yards per attempt (third) with a 117.4 passer rating (second). Yet somehow, those numbers barely even do him justice, because you’ve just got to watch him play to understand why he’s one of the best in the game. Mahomes throws with incredible velocity—from every arm angle, from the pocket, on the move, or even falling down—and he can get away from trouble and pick up plays with his feet. He’s shown complete command of the Kansas City scheme, passing with anticipation and going through his reads. He’s playing at an MVP-caliber level, and has already become the NFL’s next superstar passer.
Kareem Hunt is a versatile, physical, and elusive bell cow back for Kansas City, ranking fourth leaguewide in both rushing yards (754) and touchdowns (seven). He consistently shakes defenders with a wide array of moves, from subtle stutter steps to not-so-subtle hurdles, and has racked up an NFL-high 41 broken tackles on rush attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. Hunt is effective as a pass catcher, too, with 23 catches for 337 yards and another six scores, putting his touchdown total this year at 13, third most. He’s built like a rock, has quick feet and incredible balance, and has proved to be a reliable three-down back.
Gurley plays with a different style―he’s more of a slasher, and doesn’t run so much as glides―but he’s plenty physical and has been known to hurdle a defender or two as well. Equally comfortable taking a power run between the tackles or getting to the edge on outside zone plays, Gurley leads the league in rushing yards (988) and touchdowns (13). He’s a menace in the Rams’ devastating screen game, too, with 40 receptions for 402 yards and another four scores, putting his touchdown total at a league-high 17. He’s unstoppable in the Rams offense; just when you think you’ve got him bottled up, he’ll break a big run for a score or take a screen, weave through traffic, and hit pay dirt. Hunt is excellent, but Gurley sets the bar for the entire league.
The Rams boast a top-tier receiver duo in speedster Brandin Cooks (51 catches, 857 yards, three touchdowns) and Robert Woods (55 catches, 832 yards, three touchdowns), and rotate their pair of role-playing tight ends in Gerald Everett (15 catches, 161 yards, one touchdown) and Tyler Higbee (11 catches, 135 yards, two touchdowns). But the loss of second-year receiver Cooper Kupp to an ACL injury is a setback to this group’s overall upside down the stretch.
The Chiefs have the slight edge here: Receiver Tyreek Hill has a unique combination of track speed and short-area quickness that gives him the potential to score from anywhere on the field, and Travis Kelce is a mismatch-maker up the seam and in the red zone. Sammy Watkins, who’s questionable to play Monday night, is a talented no. 3 option.
The Chiefs have one of the best right tackles in the game in Mitchell Schwartz, but the Rams’ line is better and more evenly balanced. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is the anchor for L.A.’s group—the 36-year-old vet ranks first in pass-block win rate, per ESPN—and is bookended by excellent right tackle Rob Havenstein. The team’s interior trio has excelled, too, with guards Austin Blythe and Roger Saffold playing well next to veteran center John Sullivan.
As a unit, the Rams entered Week 11 ranked first in pass-block win rate (61 percent), just ahead of the second-ranked Chiefs (60 percent), and fifth in offensive pressure rate allowed (23.6 percent), according to Football Outsiders. The Chiefs were 25th in that metric (31.6 percent). It’s close, but L.A. comes out in front.
Kansas City got a boost from the return of pass rusher Justin Houston last Sunday; the Chiefs D pressured Cardinals rookie Josh Rosen on 54 percent of his dropbacks (most in a game for any team this year), sacked him five times, and added 13 quarterback hits and a forced fumble. And despite missing Houston the previous four games with a hamstring injury, the Chiefs have been one of the league’s best pass-rushing teams this year, collecting 31 sacks, tied for sixth-most in the NFL and matching their total from last season in just 10 games. Dee Ford has been a breakout star, racking up 9.0 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, and four forced fumbles, and defensive tackle Chris Jones has done a great job of creating pressure from the inside. With Houston back, the Chiefs’ defensive front has the ability to make opposing quarterbacks’ lives miserable.
But for as good as Kansas City’s pass rush has been, they don’t have Aaron Donald. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has been dominant again this season, leading the NFL in sacks (12.5) and overall pressures (67)—incredible considering he rushes almost exclusively from the inside. Playing next to Ndamukong Suh, Donald has spearheaded a defensive front that came into the weekend ranked first in the NFL in pass-rush win rate (64 percent), per ESPN, and first in defensive pressure rate (36.9 percent), according to Football Outsiders’ charting. Donald is the runaway favorite for another DPOY award, and he’s already getting a little bit of help from newly acquired edge rusher Dante Fowler, whose strip sack of Russell Wilson in Week 10 helped seal the Rams’ win.
Both squads have been porous against the run: Through Week 10, the Rams ranked 29th in run defense DVOA and the Chiefs dead last. Kansas City starters Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens have both underwhelmed as tacklers—Ragland has missed 12 tackles this year, per PFF, tied for fifth worst among linebackers, and Hitchens has contributed another missed six—and the team’s pass coverage in the middle of the field hasn’t been a whole lot better. For the Rams, Cory Littleton and Mark Barron haven’t missed quite as many tackles, but both undersized ’backers frequently take bad angles in run support, an issue that showed up last Sunday when L.A. gave up 273 rushing yards to the Seahawks. Linebacker is a vulnerability for both squads, so neither team gets the edge here. Both the Chiefs and Rams will look to attack each other over the middle of the field.
There’s no way to completely separate a team’s secondary from its pass-rushing fronts, but let’s take a look at the numbers: The Rams have surrendered 233.1 passing yards per game (eighth in the NFL) and an opposing passer rating of 98.9 (25th). Plus, the team’s defensive backs have combined for six picks and 25 passes defensed. The Chiefs are giving up 289.0 pass yards per game (31st) and an opposing passer rating of 87.5 (sixth), and their defensive backs have combined for nine interceptions and 34 passes defensed. The Rams came into Week 11 13th in DVOA against the pass, while the Chiefs ranked 12th.
L.A.’s got the edge at the safety position, with Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson III patrolling the middle of the field, but the Chiefs have played better on the outside with corners Kendall Fuller, Steven Nelson, and Orlando Scandrick. The poor play from cornerback Marcus Peters has been a major vulnerability for L.A., though, which gives Kansas City the edge in this category. Peters has given up 613 yards in coverage (third most) and six touchdowns (tied for second worst), with a 143.7 passer rating against. The former Chief played through an injured calf early in the year, but opposing quarterbacks have been picking on him all season.
The Rams feature a four-time All-Pro punter in Johnny Hekker and their kicker’s nickname is Legatron. Yet the Chiefs get the ever-so-slight nod in this category. Special teams coach Dave Taub’s crew is ranked first in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA for a reason: With Dustin Colquitt’s precision punts combined with the team’s steely downfield coverage, Kansas City has given up a league-low 32 yards on punt returns this year, an average of just 2.7 yards per kick (also first), and ranks fifth in net punt yardage (44.2); kicker Harrison Butker has connected on 16 of 17 kicks this year (94 percent), and hit all but two of his 43 extra-point attempts; and Hill, who ranks tied for fourth in the league with a 12.5-yard punt return average, is a threat to return one to the house every time he fields it. Greg Zuerlein is healthy now after sitting out five games with a groin injury, so that gives L.A. an edge on long-yardage field goal attempts, but Kansas City’s excellence in the field-position game this year puts it over the top.