Kansas City Chiefs: How They Can Win the AFC West
The Chiefs had a remarkable season in 2010, as they captured the AFC West for the first time since 2003. Going into 2011, the Chiefs were hoping to repeat as division champions, but they fell to last place.
The Chiefs know that they will have to stay up to speed with the Broncos, who are the heavy favorites to win the AFC West in 2012, having acquired Peyton Manning.
What will the Chiefs have to do this year to come away on top of the AFC West?
1. Keep the Key Players Healthy
Football fans saw what happened to the Chiefs when they played without some of their key players. ACL tears became a trend for three consecutive weeks, as the Chiefs were forced to move on without Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles going into Week 3 of the regular season.
Now, everyone returning from injury is recharging their batteries. The Chiefs know that they can compete with any team in their division if their team stays healthy, like they did in 2010.
2. Don't Give the Quarterback Time to Throw
In a quarterback-driven league, it is hard to say that there are a lot of good defenses in the NFL. Many quarterbacks are finding it easy to throw the football with a good offense to work with.
Ten quarterbacks, including rookie Cam Newton, exceeded the 4,000-yard passing mark in 2011. Ten years ago, Kurt Warner threw for 4,830 yards. Coming in second place was Rich Gannon, throwing for 3,828.
Many defensive coordinators are struggling to find ways to limit the hot hand that quarterbacks have nowadays. However, Romeo Crennel can find a way to get his Chiefs defense to not fall victim of the quarterback domination.
With pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on board, the Chiefs defense can't allow opposing quarterbacks to be given time to make the throws they want to make. By doing so, Hali and Houston will help the team and provide pressure, forcing plays to end sooner than the opposing offensive coordinator would like.
3. Block for Charles and Hillis
Fans did not get a chance to see Charles do what he was projected to do in 2011 due to his injury. He will be joined by Peyton Hillis, another running back attempting to overcome a frustrating 2011 season.
The Chiefs upgraded their right tackle spot, signing Eric Winston in place of Barry Richardson. If Winston and his teammates at the line can do what this team did in 2010, their running game can return to its 2010 form.
Some big key blocks can be more than enough to allow Charles to find a hole and use his breakaway speed to come up with a big run. Meanwhile, Hillis' stature will allow him to move forward, even when defenders are trying to bring him down. This will allow the Chiefs to maintain an average of 4.0 yards per carry as a team. He can also help the Chiefs in short-yardage situations, and better yet, help them improve in their red zone offense.
A strong rushing game will also be the key to winning time of possession and make sure opposing teams don't get as much snaps in games.
4. Get Production out of Poe Early
Even though Kansas City plays a 3-4 defense, their defensive line can still come up with better production outside of occupying linemen. The Chiefs let go of previous nose tackles Tank Tyler, Ron Edwards and Kelly Gregg, hoping Dontari Poe will help end the drought of quiet nose tackles and help the defensive line.
The Chiefs had very few glaring holes on their defense, with the nose tackle position being the only area where significant improvement can be made. Therefore, the Chiefs went after Poe in hoping he succeeds.
Poe's college career in Memphis was not a memorable one, and he is starting camp as a backup.
But being taken early in the draft, Poe will work his way up in preseason games and get acclimated early in the regular season. From that point on, the Chiefs need him to step up and provide a pass rush from the middle. The Chiefs know what they will get from the outside. Getting a pass rush from the inside will create problems for opposing quarterbacks.
5. Cassel Must Be Consistent with His Receivers
Matt Cassel's career in Kansas City has been a roller-coaster ride. He entered 2009 with a role he was never given in college. He put up 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his first year with the Chiefs. In 2010, he had his Pro Bowl year, only to return to mediocrity the following year. But as he finally got his team going in 2011, he missed the final seven games due to injury.
Now that he is back and Jon Baldwin got a full offseason with him, the two are set to surprise a lot of teams and could possibly become one of the top quarterback-receiver duos in the league, especially with Dwayne Bowe continuing to skip training camp.
Cassel has a lot of his teammates returning from injury as well as new faces eager to make their debut with the Chiefs in a game. If Cassel takes advantage of the weapons around him, especially if Bowe shows up, he could be in for one big season.
6. Have the 'Good' Bowe Show Up on Game Day
Dwayne Bowe may be absent for now, but let's assume for one minute he's in camp with the team.
He has proven to everyone before that he can be the best player at his position. His 2010 season was a reflection of that after making up for his crucial end zone drop against the Indianapolis Colts.
But Bowe can't seem to keep his focus and stay consistent. Regardless of who has been his quarterback since 2007, Bowe is known to drop the easy, catchable pass. In the end, he manages to come away with a lot of yards to help his team move forward.
Let's now return to the fact that Bowe is not in camp. By staying out of camp, Bowe is not doing himself any favors by not improving on his drop habits. The sooner he shows up, the better. He needs to work with Cassel and Baldwin and help the Chiefs become a heavy-passing team and participate in the quarterback-driven league.
Bowe's biggest asset is his clutch ability to help his team in close situations late in the game. If he mixes that with an improved set of hands, he will be labeled as a top-five receiver, and get paid like one.