How much do the Chiefs need to improve?


Sep 17, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; The scoreboard shows through an entry way before the game between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Denver won the game 31-24. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It is only two weeks into the NFL season, and we have already seen two distinct versions of the Kansas City Chiefs. One that looked sharp in almost every aspect of the game in Houston. And one that repeatedly beat itself in Arrowhead.

Against the Texans we saw a Chiefs team that jumped out to an early lead and did not look back.

We saw Alex Smith play with confidence and complete 22-of-33 attempts for three touchdowns and no interceptions. He led a passing attack that was very effective, even in the face of a stout Houston defense led by pass-rusher J.J. Watt.

Seven different Kansas City players caught passes. And Smith targeted receivers deep downfield on four occasions according to Pro-Football-Reference.

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The defense was solid, tallying five sacks and keeping the Texans to only nine points at the half. K.C. also forced two turnovers, both of which resulted in touchdowns. One of those turnovers was a pick snagged by Marcus Peters on his very first NFL snap. Impressive by any measure.

Then came Thursday night and some other kind of Chiefs took the field.

That may not be entirely fair to say, as the defense still turned in a very nice performance. It kept Peyton Manning to 238 yards passing and sacking him three times. Peters also earned his second career interception and returned it for a score.

There were also holes, as it felt like Emmanuel Sanders was open on every single third down Denver faced, but the defense held its own overall.

The offense, however, looked like a different team. While Jamaal Charles was able to get the ground game going, rushing for 125 yards including a 34-yard touchdown run, the stats for the rest of the offense were not so good.

Smith ended the game 16-for-25 with 191 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He only attempted a pass to five different Chiefs. And of those five Jeremy Maclin and De’Anthony Thomas were the only wide receivers targeted. The Chiefs also failed to convert a single third down.

But the absolute worst part was the fact that Kansas City had a whopping five turnovers on the night. Two of which led to Denver touchdowns. That is not what we saw Week 1, and not something any of us hope to see again moving forward.

The Chiefs need to improve from before they meet the Packers on Monday Night Football. But how much is really necessary?

I think it is both quite a lot, and not all that much.

Quite a lot because, well . . . five turnovers. That should never happen. It is catastrophically bad.

On their way to a 42-14 loss in Week 1, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only had two turnovers. Five turnovers means that the Chiefs are averaging 2.5 per game right now. Which, if maintained, would give them 40 turnovers on the season. The Philadelphia Eagles, the team with the most turnovers in the league last year, only had 36.

To drive this point home, the Chiefs had only 17 turnovers for all of last year. Meaning that in a single game, K.C. managed to commit almost one-third of the combined turnovers from all 16 games last year.

You can attribute those turnovers to whatever you would like. Bad play-calling by coach Andy Reid. Poor throws by Smith. A mental lapse by Charles. Each of those things played some part. But it does not matter, as handing the ball over that many times is simply not winning football.

Except, against all odds, it almost was winning football.

Despite all the turnovers, despite the fact that the offense was less effective than against Houston, it still took Denver picking up that fifth and final turnover with less than a minute remaining to win. That is why in the end, I say the Chiefs don’t really need to change that much.

There is still work to be done, no doubt. But if you can play a quality team with an elite quarterback that close despite so many mistakes, then that tells me something about how good you can be when you bring your “A” game.

Absolutely, they need to protect the ball better. By improved play-calling, improved decision-making from Smith, or simply holding onto the rock a little tighter than last week. Those are all simple adjustments that we know this group  can make.

Each of those items could have easily been done against Denver. And if they had, then you would have spent this week reading jubilant posts about finally breaking the curse of Manning, and probably a few posturing about the Chiefs as a championship team this year. Instead, you have articles telling you that the season is not over yet, and finding positive aspects to pull out of the game. And I think those articles are right.

The Chiefs may find a very tough environment waiting for them when they enter Lambeau Field on Monday night, but if rankings mean anything then offense should have an easier time. Where Denver’s defense ranked first in passing and 18th in rushing, the Packers’ defense is 12th in passing and 31st in rushing.

Though they won the game, the Packers were outgained by the Chicago Bears in Week 1. That included letting Matt Forte run wild for 141 yards with a touchdown on the ground and Jay Cutler tossing a 50-yard bomb to Marquess Wilson through the air.

By no stretch of the imagination will Aaron Rodgers and crew be an easy out. But the Chiefs defense, and especially the pass rush, can take care of themselves. And if the offense can play a clean game, the Packers have shown that you can move the chains on them.

So long as they keep their focus, I see no reason why Kansas City can’t pull off the victory in Green Bay.