Keys to Chiefs’ success heading into season’s second quarter
By Joel Wright
Well, the Chiefs dismantled New England Monday night, and it didn’t feel fluky. And yes, the Chiefs have seemingly morphed into a good team over a month, albeit playing regular backups in roles normally occupied by Pro Bowlers.
But it’s still only one game. Or four weeks, however you look at it.
The first quarter of the season has ended on a positive note, and there were aspects of the team’s play, that, if continued into the second quarter, could have Kansas City in line for (to some before the season) an improbable playoff run. If the team continues to excel in a few areas, the postseason is possible.
Offensive Production outside of Jamaal Charles
Oct 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (82) celebrate after Smith
Alex Smith has progressively improved his completion percentage, yards per pass, and passer rating each game, and the offense’s production has improved with it. Jamaal Charles is the best player on the offense, but Smith is the most valuable. Smith routinely hooked up with Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery Monday night, throwing well-timed balls out of the receivers’ cuts. It’s worth mentioning that Bowe and Avery ran crisp enough routes to get open consistently.
It all comes back to playcalling, and Andy Reid is allowing Smith to spread the ball to a growing list of playmakers. With the outside receivers beginning to make plays, it frees up some of the attention guys like Charles and Travis Kelce will garner due to their big-play capabilities.
Flexible Husain Abdullah
With Eric Berry missing action, Abdullah has shown his versatility in a flex safety role. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Abdullah only played 12 of his 50 snaps Monday from the traditional free safety position. The rest of his time was spent either at linebacker as a box safety, or in the slot as a corner. He has played every down so far this season for the Kansas City defense.
Last week was his best game thus far. The first play of New England’s first drive, he dove around a blocker to tackle a screen for four yards – saving a much larger gain. He was around the ball all night, whether defeating a Julian Edelman route in space, or taking out a pulling guard to create a run-through lane for Josh Mauga. His PFF grades have been up the last two weeks, and if he continues his current play when Berry returns, the defensive backfield should be nasty.
Defensive Back Play
Sep 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper (31) breaks up a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
The loss of Brandon Flowers has looked less damaging, maybe since the Denver game. Ron Parker, Marcus Cooper, Sean Smith, and Chris Owens have made nice plays on the ball and rallied to short receptions – which is what the defense is predicated on in the first place.
The pass rush is important because corners can’t cover receivers forever, and since defensive coordinator Bob Sutton often creates pressure on the quarterback, the ball comes out quickly. When defensive backs play man coverage, it is not so much an issue if a receiver catches a hitch pattern or short crossing route, but rather that the ball is tackled at the point of reception. Short routes will not beat a defense, but missed tackles will – case in point being Cooper missing a tackle on a Brandon LaFell slant, resulting in a long touchdown.
Conversely, deeper routes should be aided by the pass rush and safety help over the top. When that doesn’t happen, you’re screaming at Kendrick Lewis and Quentin Demps through your TV.
Eric Fisher’s Continued Growth
Dec 22, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Fili Moala (95) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher (72) after recovering a fumble in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Indianapolis won the game 23-7. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s be honest, Fisher hasn’t necessarily gotten a clean chance to show what he’s got until now. He’s been hurt, and this season he now faces the top pass rusher on each team. Factoring in the jump from Mid-American Conference competition last year, he’s been on a decently-steep curve at each turn. Hopefully he can get in a full season’s and off-season’s work, and by next year become what is truly expected from a No. 1 pick.
Each week he has noticeably improved, and despite giving up a sack early Monday, he made a few nice sealing blocks to open the edge for Charles. If you’re not noticing him in the passing game, that’s usually a good sign as well.
- Phillip Gaines has looked nice on special teams the last two weeks. Hopefully gaining some confidence that will spill over to his development as a corner.
- I love seeing Travis Kelce shoot arrows into the crowd almost as much as seeing him make three guys miss, then sprint toward a pylon. He’s a beast with some swag.
- Reid and Alex Smith were not on the same page at the end of the first half Monday. It seems like nitpicking, but they handled the clock poorly, and were an illegal hands to the face penalty away from coming up empty handed when they could have scored 7.
- Charles’ vision seems to improve with every run. I don’t know if it was the ankle slowing his step, but he patiently finds holes and exposes them with agility almost no one has. He reminds me of a horse for some reason.
- KC’s now 2-0 in their all-reds unis, which is a nice changed from the all-whites they seem to always lose in.