As the 2013 NFL Season inches ever closer to the post season, the Kansas City Chiefs seem to truly be hitting their stride. When the Chiefs traveled to our nation’s capital and then thoroughly trounced their football team, the Washington Redskins, it was the first complete game the Chiefs have put together all season. Every phase of the game was firing on all cylinders and the final outcome proved it. The Chiefs beat the Redskins 45-10.
Tomorrow, the Chiefs face their next opponent, the Oakland Raiders. After that it’s the Indianapolis Colts and then the San Diego Chargers. While every game in the NFL is “winnable,” some are a bit more than others. With the Denver Broncos loss on Thursday Night Football the Chiefs now have the opportunity to play for the AFC West division title, and not just the playoffs.
A win tomorrow against the Raiders would bring the Chiefs their first playoff berth since 2010. A loss by the Broncos in either of their next two games — at Houston against the Texans and then at Oakland against the Raiders — as well as three wins in a row by the Chiefs would bring them a division title as well. While it’s not yet locked in that the Chiefs are in the post season, their chances are pretty good. But, the Chiefs need to be perfect from here on out. They can’t afford a slip like they had during their three-game losing skid against the Broncos, Chargers and the Broncos again.
In my estimation, here are the top 10 things the Chiefs need to do moving through December and into January.
#10: Offensive Line MUST Continue to Gel
Over the last two weeks, the line has played better than they have all season. Is it the new makeup of the line — including the replacement of Jon Asamoa with Geoff Schwartz — that’s resulted in zero sacks on the Alex Smith and season highs in the rushing game? Head coach Andy Reid has said he would play the best five offensive linemen, and it appears he’s found the right combo. But, nothing is safe in this league. The Chiefs will play against the best pass rusher in football next Sunday when the face the Colts. Robert Mathis leads the entire NFL in sacks with 15.5 heading into tomorrow. Keeping him off of Smith will be a true test for this line. But, not only will the Chiefs face the Colts next Sunday, but most likely — barring the scenario I described above — they will also play the Colts in the first round of the playoffs two short weeks later. This line MUST continue to gel and keep rushers off of Smith and open holes for running back Jamaal Charles.
#9: The Defensive Line MUST Continue to Stop the Run
Last Sunday against the Redskins the Chiefs defensive line led by defensive ends Mike DeVito and Tyson Jackson and anchored by
defensive tackle Dontari Poe held the — at the time — league’s best rushing offense to just 65 yards on the ground. In fact, the defense was so good at shutting down the running game, that the Redskins dropped into second place in that stat by putting up nearly 90 yards less than they averaged all season. That must continue. The Chiefs play the Raiders who have a formidable ground attack in running backs Rashard Jennings and Marcel Reese. Then they face the Colts who are averaging just over 100 yards a game before meeting the Chargers who are 14th in the league in the rushing category. This defensive line hasn’t been overly dominant this season, but they MUST get big and stop the run in order to progress.
#8: The Secondary MUST Stop the Big Plays
The true achillies heel of the Chiefs defense this season has been the “big play” surrendered by the Chiefs secondary. Whether it was Peyton Manning dropping bombs to Eric Decker or Phillip Rivers last minute heroics to a guy whose name I can’t pronounce and won’t even attempt to spell, the Chiefs secondary has given up some huge plays. I understand that the “Attacking 3-4 Defense” lends itself to that. But these defensive backs could be much more physical at the line than they have been thus far. They’re getting ready to play a “big play” quarterback in Andrew Luck — again, most likely twice in three weeks — and they won’t be able to afford too many big plays when the game’s on the line at Lucas Oil Stadium and the winner goes on and the loser goes home. This secondary MUST jam these receivers at the line and break up the big plays before they add up to a loss.
#7: Eric Berry MUST Continue to Play Out of His Mind
If you haven’t heard, the Chiefs have a superstar at strong safety. When anyone says the name Troy Palomalu, everyone knows who that is. That’s what Eric Berry will be after a couple more years in this league. The kid is awesome. He can cover in pass coverage, he can tackle, he can stuff the run and he can get to the quarterback on the pass rush. Of every draft pick the former general manager Scott Pioli made — good and bad — Eric Berry was by far his greatest triumph. He has to keep that going. He MUST continue being that force all over the field and the guy that offensive coordinators have to game plan for.
#6: The Chiefs Receivers MUST Catch the Ball
When the Chiefs are winning, that means that things are working the way they are supposed to. Part of that is the Chiefs receivers catching the ball. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith — we’ll talk about him in a minute — is generally putting the ball right where it needs to be. It’s up to these receivers to haul it in when he does. In the Chiefs three losses there have been plays — and likely points — left on the field because of dropped passes. These receivers MUST get better about making these grabs and paying their quarterback for throwing them good passes.
#5: Alex Smith MUST Lead This Team Through the Stretch
I have made the argument here and on Twitter that I would rather have Alex Smith over other more “elite” quarterbacks with bigger numbers because of his leadership ability. He has proven that he can lead a team and put them on his shoulders when that’s what needs to happen. Well…that time is now. This is a young team. There are only a handful of players with the 2013 Chiefs who were on the squad in 2010; which was the last time the team made a post season appearance. When you look at players who know how to win a playoff game, that number dwindles to nearly zero. Smith is one who does. I am confident in this quarterback, but he MUST lead this team to its first playoff win in 20 years.
#4: Tamba Hali and Justin Houston MUST Get Back to Form
When the season started, the team of Houston and Hali were the most feared pass rushing combo in the NFL. While they still lead the league as the greatest quarterback sacking duo with 11 apiece, some of the fear has died away. Teams aren’t afraid of them anymore, especially with the hiatus in QB sacks the team took from Week 8 until last week against the Redskins. Houston is still out — more on that in a minute — but Hali found his way back to the signal caller once again last Sunday. Once Houston rejoins the mix, the Dynamic Duo MUST find a way to harrass the likes of Andrew Luck and Phillip Rivers in order for this team to get to the post season and beyond in true championship fashion.
#3: This team MUST Get Healthy
The Chiefs have known the pain and heartbreak of injury laden seasons. Chiefs fans only have to remember the 2011 season which saw the blown ACL’s of Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry and then the later season-ending injuries of Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe to know how devastating injuries can be to a team and a season. This year — let’s pause to knock on some wood right here — the Chiefs have gone through the season relatively unscathed. However, when players have gotten hurt, it’s hurt the team. Early in the Chargers game in Week 12, the Chiefs held the Bolts to three points when Hali and Houston were in the game. However, when both pass rushers went down — within two series of each other — the Bolts put up 38 points. With Houston, left tackle Branden Albert and tight end Anthony Fasano still out rolling into tomorrow’s game along with a banged up receiver in Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs MUST get healthy before they hit the post season.
#2: Jamaal Charles MUST Run Wild
Jamaal Charles is the most talented player on the Chiefs roster — offense or defense. Last week against the Redskins, in the snow, everyone around JC looked like they were moving in slow motion as he cut, and zigged and zagged away from their outstretched arms. Combine that with the fact that the man seems much stronger to the point he’s trucking over linebackers and defensive backs, and you have an all around back. Charles has already hit career highs this season in receptions and rushing touchdowns. He has become the first Kansas City Chief in the history of the franchise to rush for four 1,000 yard season. While the Andy Reid offense doesn’t lend itself to as much running, Charles has done it when it counts. For this team to win, Jamaal Charles MUST continue to be that all-around back and run circles around the defense.
#1: The Chiefs MUST Play as a Family for 60 Minutes in Every Game
The biggest thing that has impressed me about this team isn’t the wins (they’ve been nice) or the defense (that’s been awesome) or even the offense scoring points (which is a damn sight better than last year.) The thing that has impressed me is that if there are egos competing with each other on this squad, it’s transparent to me and the rest of the Chiefs Kingdom at large. This team has adopted the mantra of “Family First” and that’s how they’ve played. I’m a firm believer that’s the reason they’ve gotten as far as they have. To win and keep winning, they MUST continue to play as a family.
There it is, Addicts. That’s my top ten things the Chiefs must do to win tomorrow and next week and after that all the way to the Superbowl. Talent will get you so far, at some point you need a little bit of luck and a whole lot of heart. That’s one thing this Chiefs team isn’t short on this season.
Enjoy the game and GO CHIEFS!