Beware the Kansas City Chiefs

Happy Friday, friends. I still haven’t had the four hours or so necessary to watch the All-22 of the Broncos-Giants game, and then write an article on it. I’m planning to do that tomorrow, so check the site on a Saturday. (I know you all have the capability.) I actually planned to watch the film last night, but I got caught up watching the Chiefs-Eagles game instead.

You’re not going to like this, but I thought it was time that we all came to the realization that the Chiefs are legitimate. Briefly, today, I’ll share some thoughts on this most regrettable of topics.

For Kansas City, it all starts with their ability to play defense, specifically man-to-man coverage on defense. They have two above-average man corners in Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, and they also have safety Eric Berry, who’s proving to be very capable at covering TEs man-to-man. 

When you can play man coverage (like the Broncos can, as well), you get more options tactically than you’d have if your guys could only hold up in zone. If you can play 5-on-5, with one high safety, you’re left with a free guy, to either use as an extra rusher, or as a robber type of player in coverage.

What’s maybe even more impressive about the Chiefs is that they’re getting dominant play off both edges (Justin Houston and Tamba Hali) and on the nose, with the vastly improved Dontari Poe. This Chiefs team can really generate some pressure on the QB, and that dovetails nicely with being able to lock down good receivers outside.

I saw some comments in the Lard today saying that the Chiefs looked like an average team. I don’t agree with that. As I watched them, I thought they looked a good deal like the 2011 49ers, and that team probably should have been in the Super Bowl.

Alex Smith has been doing an excellent job of managing the game, and the Chiefs have zero turnovers through three games. At this point, nobody can say that Smith is a fluke when it comes to protecting the football. In 2011, his interception rate was 1.1%, which led the NFL. In 2012, it was 2.3%, which tied with Matt Ryan for tenth. This year, obviously, it’s zero. He is good at not throwing the ball to the other team.

Smith isn’t really a big play guy, but with the defense Kansas City has, he doesn’t have to be. He can matriculate the ball down the field, and do well enough by getting the ball to the open guy short. He’s also added 115 rushing yards in three games, which is a good amount for a QB.

There’s a way to win in the NFL, by playing good defense (particularly against the pass), and by winning the turnover battle. That’s what the 49ers did the last couple years, and that’s what this year’s Chiefs team is doing.

I said in an email to the other IAOFM guys yesterday that the Chiefs were probably destined to regress to the mean on turnovers, but the more I think about it, the less I think they will. Smith is huge in that regard, as mentioned, but it’s notable that the team has only even fumbled the ball once in three games. (That was credited to Smith.)

Recovering fumbles is random, and highly dependent on luck, but not fumbling the ball isn’t random. It’s a skill, and a discipline, and a coaching priority. So far, it looks like this is another skill that the Chiefs have going for them.

I know what some of you are thinking - they haven't played anybody yet!  How do you know?  Is it fully clear yet who is a good team and who's a bad team?  I'll grant you that Jacksonville is in rough shape this year.  Dallas, though, has the talent to compete with anybody in the NFL.  The fact that KC's corners mostly won against Dallas's WRs is compelling evidence of the quality of the Chiefs defense.  As for Philadelphia, they have pretty good offensive talent too, and their scheme makes that talent a step better.  (Admittedly, their defense isn't good.)

I don’t necessarily think that the Chiefs are ready to win a Super Bowl this year, but I do think they’ll give anybody they play a hard time on any given Sunday. To beat their defense, you have to run the ball well, and beat up on their nickel CB with good play from the slot. Philly got them for 260 yards rushing, and 9.3 yards per carry, and it's clear that the Chiefs can still be run on.

To beat their offense, it’s helpful to bottle up the running game, and to keep Smith in long yardage situations. If you let him get to 3rd-and-4 very often, he’s going to beat you. Over the long run of a game, Smith makes up for not being great at drilling the 20-yard deep out by almost always finding the right receiver on 3rd-and-4, and almost always putting the short throw right where it needs to be.

I would say that the Chiefs are probably the second-most impressive team I’ve seen in the AFC so far this season. It’s a credit to Andy Reid, and the smart moves they made, like keeping LT Branden Albert, signing Sean Smith and DE Mike DeVito, trading for Alex Smith, and picking up Donnie Avery (who has skills) off the scrap heap. I think they may have erred in taking RT Eric Fisher first overall (I thought the best players in the class were DT Star Lotulelei and OLB Jarvis Jones), but Fisher is still likely going to be a good player.

It’s early, but we should watch out for the Chiefs. If they can beat Houston at home in Week 7, there’s a pretty good chance we could see 8-0 9-0 Kansas City visiting Denver on November 17th (coming off a bye) to play a 9-0 Broncos team. How exciting would that be?

Edit - 3:50 PM Arizona Time - I'm apparently an accountant who can't count.  The November 17th game will be the 10th game for both the Chiefs and Broncos.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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Ted's Analysis