It’s weird having your expectations met and your delusions proved perceptive, but that is exactly what it is like to be a Chiefs fan right now.
For (at least) the last two seasons, we have been saying that this would be a wholly different team if it had just an average-to-above-average quarterback and competent coaching. Low and behold, we were right.
The last time a team went 2-14 and started the next season 4-0 was the 1980 Detroit Lions, and it was clear what magic turned that team around. They drafted a halfback Billy Sims 1st overall that year and he took the league by storm. Sims logged nearly 2,000 offensive yards, 16 touchdowns and was a shoe-in for the Offensive Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs drafted an offensive tackle first overall who has been a mixed bag so far and didn’t play this week with an injury. And yet, the Chiefs made history by pulling away from their dismal 2-14 season last year to go 5-0 (and counting).
I don’t think even the most rabid of Chiefs fans would claim that this is the best team in the league, and anyone who has watched the games closely has seen plenty of stuff not to like. What is clear is that the Chiefs are finally living up to their potential and getting it done like we all knew (thought, hoped) they could.
47-17 – That’s the Chiefs’ score against opponents in the 4th quarter. In short, the Chiefs are a team that will put you away. When heading into the quarter trailing (like this week), the team has shown the poise to take the game back. This alone is a huge improvement for the team. I can’t remember the last time I have been this impressed by the mental toughness and confidence of a Chiefs squad. The bad news? The Chiefs tend to get into major funks in the middle of games after a few strong first possessions.
59-9 – A lot of national commentators have pointed out that two of the Chiefs’ five wins came against two winless teams – Jacksonville and New York. I can’t argue with the fact that those two teams have been horrid dumpster fires so far this season, but the Chiefs beat them by a combined score of 59-9. They destroyed them, which is what good teams do to bad teams. What more do you want?
17-13 – Is Alex Smith Joe Flacco? No, that might seem obvious because they have different names and are different people. But, a lot of the naysaying commentary about the Chiefs has focused on Smith’s lack of elite arm strength and tendency to dink and dunk. I’m not disputing that, but it would be incorrect to say that the Chiefs’ passing game is one-dimensional, or that this is what is hurting them in games. The Chiefs have 17 passes of 20 or more yards so far this season while their opponents have 13. It’s also worth noting that Chiefs’ opponents have been behind most of the time, and thus are attempting more downfield passes than that Chiefs, who are usually trying to grind up clock early in the second half. A lot of those Chiefs passes have been long catch-and-run’s, but WR Donnie Avery hauled in a couple of 40+ yard catches this week that were indeed deep throws by Smith. Watching those two throws, it was obvious why Smith doesn’t turn to the deep pass often – it’s not what he is good at – but he is certainly capable of hitting receivers deep when need be.
15-3 — Although the Chiefs’ special teams haven’t been as consistently dominant in the regular season as they were in the preseason, they are still winning the Chiefs games. Sure, there’s WR Dexter McCluster’s punt-return touchdown against the Giants and CB Marcus Cooper’s fumble recovery for a touchdown on a punt this week that most people think of. But those two dramatic plays are only part of the story. This team is winning the field-position battle by leaps and bounds. So far, the Chiefs have started 15 drives in the opponent’s territory while opposing teams have only gotten the ball on the Chiefs’ side of the field three times, and never inside of the Chiefs’ 40. While much of this has been due to the defense getting turnovers anthe offense protecting the ball, much of this has to do with great overall special teams play and good game planning.
Will all of these trends hold for the entire season? Probably not, because statistics like turnovers tend to regress towards the mean. What they show, however, is that this is a team that is well prepared and disciplined and is finding ways to win. The Chiefs were losing badly by every one of these same indicators in 2012. The picture it shows is clear – these are the stats of team that beats the opponent, not itself.