There are a number of things that are frustrating to hear out of national commentators about the Chiefs — that its wide receivers aren’t up to snuff, even though two teams with comparable or worse production made it to the NFC Championship game; that its defense is an illusion despite posting historic numbers across nine straight games; etc. — but it’s hard to deny the fact that we saw two distinctly different Chiefs teams last year, and it’s not entirely clear which one was real.
Are the Chiefs the team that allowed just 12.3 points per game through their nine games or are they the one that allowed 29.8 points per game through the next eight?
Are the Chiefs a fluke that went on a nine-game streak while their quarterback averaged just 1 TD per game? Or, is that same QB deserving of the elite discussion given how he played at the end of the season? According to ESPN’s Mike Sando:
Smith threw 16 TD passes with only three INTs from the Chiefs’ 11th game forward, counting playoffs. He trailed only McCown, Peyton Manning, Kaepernick, Cutler and Philip Rivers in Total QBR (68.2) over that span.
The fact is that there were some things that were relatively consistent throughout the Chiefs’ 2013 season, contrary to popular belief. On a whole, the Chiefs’ 26.9-points per game average over the regular season was good for 6th in the league. So, scoring points was not a problem.
The contrast between the first nine and the last eight in terms of points scored also wasn’t as great as you would expect. They averaged 23.8 per game during their undefeated streak and 32.3 points for the rest of the year counting the playoffs.
Kansas City’s special teams also were consistently great throughout the season. Football Outsiders ranked the Chiefs as having by far the best special teams unit in 2013 through its complicated formula and the team led the league with 4 return TD’s.
The team also got a league-high 7 TD’s off of interceptions and fumble recoveries.
Can the Chiefs pull off that same level of defensive and special teams scoring? My guess is that the team will regress towards the mean somewhat, but I don’t see a compelling reason why that production will drop off entirely.
Sure, the team lost returners Dexter McCluster and Quintin Demps, but no one expected either of them to world-beaters last year either. McCluster appeared to be on his way out and Demps was signed for the veteran minimum as cheap depth HC Andy Reid was somewhat familiar with.
RB Knile Davis was responsible for one of those return TD’s and I expect his role to greatly widen in the coming year. Throw in RB De’Anthony Thomas to the mix and I don’t see any reason for panic.
The question marks are all about the defense and those are the ones that will need to be answered on the field. After both OLBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston got injured in the San Diego game, the team was suddenly giving up more than double the amount of points it had averaged all season. The opportunistic man-coverage unit suddenly turned into a terrifying liability without consistent pass rush.
Now, one could make the case that the other thing that changed was that the level of competition and quarterback play the Chiefs were facing was suddenly much higher, and that’s true. For now, it’s impossible to know which was the bigger factor in the defensive collapse late last year — the pass-rush injuries or the uptick in quality opponents.
What I like is that the team is so far betting on itself by drafting OLB Dee Ford in the first round to be injury insurance and a rotational player with Hali and Houston to keep that unit playing consistently throughout the year. In fact, the silver lining of Houston’s holdout is that Ford is getting reps with the first team in the OTA’s and mini-camps.
However, it’s hard to say that the defensive backfield has gotten better. For better or worse, we Chiefs fans won’t have to ponder whether improvements have been made for very long. The team heads to Denver to face GM John Elway’s all-in Super Bowl re-do squad in Week 2.
What say you Addicts? Which Kansas City Chiefs will stand up?