Now that we are eight games into the season, I have been wondering, who are the Kansas City Chiefs?
I have really had a difficult time trying to figure out the identity of this team. And from my observations, so have they.
Going into the season, it seemed relatively simple. They were a team led by defense first and foremost, especially the pass rush. And when they possessed the ball, they were primarily a run and short yardage team. When the opponent had the ball, Justin Houston and company would disrupt the backfield and either stop the play or affect it enough to make everyone else job easier. And when on offense, Jamaal Charles would be the workhorse, forcing defenses to shift and allowing Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce to provide safer targets for the ever-cautious Alex Smith.
Seemed like a no-brainer at the time. But that not really what we have seen. In the early goings the team was actually led on offense by the passing game and not Charles. Smith was even throwing downfield more often, and has been on track to have career-high statistics. And the defense was allowing more than its fair share of points. Tied for most in the league at one point in time.
Nobody would really care about that if it had been translating into wins. But, as you know, that generally has not been the case this season. And the success of the past two weeks has come without the services of the man who is considered the best player on the offense, if not the entire team, in Charles.
So where does the hear to these Chiefs lie? Let’s look at some of the statistics.
The defense has made a definite improvement from the first quarter of the season to the second.
No one had allowed more points than K.C. After their first four games. After the following four though, the Chiefs rank 15th in the league.
There was a definite change in level of competition between those games though. Going up against Houston, Denver, Green Bay, and Cincinnati is quite a bit different than the Bear, Vikings, Steelers, and Lions. Those first four teams are a combined total 23-6, being brought down only by the poor season of the Texans (3-5). The latter teams are a combined 12-18.
So while they have turned things around some, the better test of how much this defense has improved will come in the first week after the BYE, when Kansas City visits the Mile High City for a rematch against the Broncos.
The Chiefs have not felt like the dominant rushing team that we hoped they would be this year. And after Charles went down Knile Davis and Charcandrick West ran for a combined 46 yards against Vikings. Add to that the fact that the longest run of the season just came from quarterback Alex Smith against the hapless Lions in London, and this does not seem like Kansas City’s greatest asset.
However, the stats tell a little different story. K.C. currently ranks at sixth in the NFL in rushing yards. They are also tied for second in rushing touchdowns with ten. One of only three teams in the league to hit a double-digit touchdown talley on the ground, and only a single touchdown behind league leading Atlanta.
The early struggles of West also seem to have smoothed out some as well. In the wins against Pittsburgh and Detroit he had 110 and 97 rushing yards respectively. His yards per attempt average is a very respectable 4.6, only a half yard per attempt shy of Charles’ stats before he was injured. West was the leading rusher for the wins against against the Steelers and Lions, which ranked first and third in highest rushing totals in the first half of the season.
So though it may not have felt like it early on, Kansas City appear to be returning to what has been its bread and butter in the run game.
This is the area we all hoped would be a dramatic turn around this season. And after the game against the Texans it was looking that that wish may come true. In fact, Alex Smith is still in the top ten of passes attempted, completed, and passing yards. That happens to be better than Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers in each category.
Those are probably not the named you would think of looking at the Chiefs passing game this year. Though they have finally started getting touchdown passes to the receivers and have generally looked better rounded than in the last few seasons, it has not been inspiring awe when Kansas City takes to the air.
A large part of that may be due to the fact that the offensive line has continued to be a work in process. Smith has been sacked 28 times already this year. And that is good a tie for second most in the league. He is also at fifth in the league in sack yards lost, at 157.
Things seem to have stabilized some after coach Andy Reid made several changes to the alignment of that unit for the Pittsburgh game. Two weeks later K.C. has two wins and it seems the alterations have been working. Even so, Smith still spends a lot of time scrambling and attempting to dodge opposing pass rushers.
So who are these guys?
If you look at the above stats you will probably notice that the Chiefs are best when playing like the team we thought they were in the off season.
When they were led by the pass, Kansas city tended to lose. The three most pass heavy games came against the Bengals, Vikings, and Packers. And those were probably the worst slate of games over the first half of the season.
The Chiefs three best rushing performances were against the Lions, Steelers, and Broncos. Those include two of three K.C. victories and a game which should have been a victory had they not literally fumbled the game away.
Sure, some of the reason there was more passing in loses was that the Chiefs were trying to come from behind. Certainly true against the Packers. But against the Vikings the game was never out of hand, as Minnesota scored 16 points in the entire game. That means that they were not in true comeback mode throughout the game. Likewise, Cincinnati only led by two points at halftime, and started pulling away in the second half.
Of course, it also helps that the defense has been looking like the dominant unit that took the field through a five game win streak last year. That part of their identity must remain intact.
So in essence, the Chiefs are are who we wanted then to be. A good defense that keeps them in games, and an offense best when it is led by a solid ground game. But they have not been able to assert their game consistently. Especially against their best opponents.
They have momentum going into the BYE. A showdown in Denver waits on the other side. Will Kansas City be able to keep it going?