Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The first quarter of the regular season is over and the Kansas City Chiefs still have a donut in the right column of the NFL standings. The last time Kansas City opened 4-0, they were being led by another former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles — Dick Vermeil. There’s plenty I still don’t know about the new-look Chiefs, but here are three things I think I’ve learned about them through the month of September.
1. Two members of the Waiver Septet have become key to Kansas City’s short-term success.
Sean McGrath, affectionately known as “Duck Dynasty,” has been a godsend for Alex Smith and the Chiefs’ offense. Coming into the season, tight end looked to be one of the strongest position groups on the depth chart. That was before the team’s top three tight ends were all sidelined with injuries. Kansas City claimed McGrath off waivers just one month ago. The second-year tight end out of Henderson State came into the NFL in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in two games for the Seattle Seahawks, but failed to record a catch.
McGrath’s filled in admirably for Anthony Fasano the past several weeks. He’s shown the ability to get separation and has run well with the ball in his hands. He had a breakout performance on Sunday afternoon, catching 5 passes for 64 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. His presence and productivity gives the offense another reliable pass-catcher. It also gives his fallen teammates a chance to heal.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper is another castoff the Chiefs acquired following the NFL’s final round of cuts. He was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 7th Round of the 2013 NFL Draft (252nd overall). Cooper, like McGrath, has also seen playing time over the past three weeks, but his big opportunity came on Sunday afternoon. He got his chance early in the second quarter when veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson was beaten by Victor Cruz for a 69-yard touchdown. Cooper was targeted a half-dozen times, but surrendered just one reception for nine yards. His performance received a +1.8 grade from Pro Football Focus.
The two of them figure to have their numbers called again next week if there aren’t significant improvements to the injury situations of Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce, and Brandon Flowers. General manager John Dorsey did a masterful job of adding talented players to the bottom of the Chiefs roster. Weathering injuries in the NFL requires quality depth and that’s something Kansas City now has.
2. Alex Smith is getting comfy.
On Sunday, the Chiefs’ first-year quarterback appeared to be more comfortable in this offense than he’s been through the first three weeks of the season. Smith attempted five or six low-percentage passes on Sunday, albeit with mixed results. What’s noteworthy about his performance was his willingness to continue taking chances even after tossing twin interceptions.
The first came on Kansas City’s first drive of the second half. Facing 2nd & 20, Smith fired a pass at Dwayne Bowe on a quick slant. Prince Amukamara got inside position on Bowe and came away with the pick. The second interception came later in the third quarter when Smith threw behind Jamaal Charles on a drag route. The ball went through Charles’ hands, bounced off of Spencer Paysinger’s forearm, ricocheted off of Charles’ leg, and eventually fell into the arms of Antrell Rolle.
Smith wasn’t shaken by his earlier miscues. On a 3rd & 9 play with 3 minutes to play in regulation, Alex Smith threw into a tight window on a back shoulder throw to Dwayne Bowe (he broke free from Terrell Thomas and went on to score). He also took vertical shots on pass plays to Kevin Brock (a 25-yard completion) and Donnie Avery up the left sideline (long incompletion). Pressing the issue downfield should continue and become a bigger part of Reid’s offense as the season progresses.
3. Sean Smith was an excellent acquisition.
Do you remember seven months ago when I said that signing free agent cornerback Sean Smith should be one of the team’s top priorities? If not, I’ll spare you a 1700-word read:
"26-year old Sean Smith will be an attractive option in free agency. The kid is 6’3″, weighs 218 pounds, and has a 40 time that hovers in the mid-4.4 range. Smith is also durable, making 32 consecutive starts for the Dolphins the past two seasons. Miami’s in great position to retain Smith, but it’s been reported that they may not be keen on his contract expectations. There will be plenty of help available in free agency at the Corner position, but Smith is still likely to find a team willing to pay him what he wants. He’s an ascending young player who has made a name for himself by consistently drawing (and handling) an offense’s #1 receiver."
Thus far, he’s been the Chiefs’ best free agent signing not named Alex Smith. Coming into Sunday’s game, Smith had allowed only 7 catches in 17 plays where he was targeted. He’s flashed the ability to be a shutdown corner at times this season (ask Riley Cooper). Having him in Kansas City, gives defensive coordinator Bob Sutton options and the freedom to play a significant amount of man coverage (where Smith thrives). Smith should be assigned to teams’ #1 receivers until Flowers returns. Dunta Robinson’s declining skill set makes him a liability in press coverage.
If Smith continues to play this well, he’ll turn out to be one of the biggest steals in free agency for 2013. John Dorsey brought 26-year old Smith to Kansas City on a modest three-year, $18 million dollar deal. Chiefs Kingdom can finally move on from the loss of Brandon Carr. Eat your heart out, Stanford Routt.
It’s likely that we’ll revisit “Things I Think I Think” as the season wears on. That is until I get a cease and desist letter from SI’s Peter King. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about the team now that the first quarter of the season is over. Have your take below in the comments section. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.
Until next time, Addicts!