Where Can the Kansas City Chiefs Improve Most for 2013?

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Where Can the Kansas City Chiefs Improve Most for 2013?
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Following a tragic season, the Kansas City Chiefs are on the clock with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. You would expect them to have many holes to fill after a 2-14 season.

The 2012 Chiefs set franchise-worst statistics for team record (2-14; tying the 2008 Chiefs), points per game (13.2), scoring differential (outscored by 13.4 points per game), turnover differential (negative-24) and fewest takeaways (13).

It was not until the ninth game of the season that Kansas City had its first lead in regulation; a feat of ineptitude that has not happened since the 1929 Buffalo Bisons roamed the league.

For a franchise that has experienced too many tragedies in regards to player deaths, another occurred last Dec. 1 when linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend before committing suicide at the Chiefs’ practice facility in front of coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and several other witnesses.

It was undoubtedly the worst season in the 53-year history of the Kansas City Chiefs.

While you would have expected the outlook for 2013 to be bleak, this is actually a much better team than normal circumstances would dictate. Despite the 2-14 record, the Chiefs managed to send six players to the Pro Bowl, which is unheard of in NFL history.

They have some strong roster pieces in place, already have the crucial signings of a new quarterback, head coach and general manager, and four of the first 99 picks in the draft can help for a quick rebuild.

The Chiefs may not have enough to pull a 2008 Dolphins or 2012 Colts, meaning an 11-5 season and the playoffs, but there is no reason this team cannot get back to 8-8 with real expectations the following year.

 

Chiefs Must Limit Turnovers to Give Themselves a Chance

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Last season the Chiefs started out looking every bit as the worst team in football. This was the worst fear of simply promoting Romeo Crennel to head coach, which was largely due to his win over Green Bay (who had won 19 in a row) as the interim coach in 2011.

Through eight games, the Chiefs were 1-7 with one miracle comeback in New Orleans.

The big problem was ball security. The Chiefs had committed 29 giveaways in those first eight games. You rarely give yourself a chance with that many giveaways. Those were the most giveaways through eight games in a season since the 1997 Saints had 30.

Technically, the Chiefs finished the season tied with the Eagles and Jets for the most giveaways (37), though Kansas City ran fewer plays than those two. Logically, you would expect the Chiefs to turn the ball over less in 2013, though that has not always been the case.

Here is a list of the teams to lead the league in giveaways since 2000 and how they did the following year. The “Rank” is where they ranked in giveaways the following season.

Believe it or not, Mike Martz’s St. Louis Rams led the league in giveaways three straight years, including a 14-2 Super Bowl season (2001). That was the only time a team came back the following year (2002) and actually had more takeaways.

On average, these teams had 11.8 fewer turnovers the following season, ranked 20th in the league and won 1.8 more games. You can see the last five teams each were able to rank in the top half of the league in giveaways the following season. Nine of the 12 teams won more games the next season.

For the record, Alex Smith did not play a single game in the 2008 season for the San Francisco team that appears on the list.

The good news is the Chiefs were already improving in this department last season. They had eight turnovers in the final eight games, but were still just 1-7 because they scored a grand total of 78 points in that span. Only five teams since 1978 have scored fewer points in the second half of a 16-game season.

But even with the bad statistics, the Chiefs did show they could be competitive with some of the league’s better teams.

They held the eventual-champion Ravens to nine points, coming up an offensive pass interference penalty short of a potential win (Ravens won 9-6). The Chiefs were up 10-0 in Pittsburgh and lost in overtime.

They held Denver to a season-low 17 points and were in that game until the final minute. They lost to the Colts despite rushing for 352 yards, which never happened in NFL history before that game.

Better quarterback play certainly can guide you to more wins during those close games that are in reach. The Chiefs had other problems, but the passing game was the biggest flaw.

If it wasn’t turning the ball over, it was pathetic, unproductive offense. At least if you take some risks with the ball, it may pay off in big plays and points. The Chiefs turned in the worst offensive-scoring season in team history.

Matt Cassel only played in nine games and still had 19 of the team’s turnovers. Along with Brady Quinn, the quarterback position accounted for 27 of the team’s 37 turnovers.

Fortunately the quarterback/passing offense is the area the Chiefs have looked to improve the most this offseason.

 

A Fresh Start at Coach and Quarterback

Chiefs like to go through veteran quarterbacks.

As is often the case in the NFL, a team acquiring a new head coach and quarterback can be the start of a successful era.

Andy Reid and Alex Smith make for the seventh notable case in the Super Bowl era of a coach on his second job with a traded quarterback. Reid already did this as one of the most successful pairings when he took the Philadelphia job and drafted Donovan McNabb in 1999.

However, it was just four years ago when the Chiefs were in a similar position with a new general manager (Scott Pioli), coach (Todd Haley) and a quarterback (Cassel) acquired through trade, which was amazingly with the same draft slot (34th overall pick) used this year to get Smith.

But history should not repeat itself as we are dealing with a bit more pedigree this time.

Reid was often very successful in his 14 years as coach of the Eagles, reaching five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.

Smith is not a high-school quarterback with one good season on a loaded team, though he frankly does not come with that much more of a proven track record than Cassel had in 2009.

Both drafted in 2005 (Smith with the first pick and Cassel with the 230th), their career stats are downright scary side by side:

Of course, recent play is a mismatch. Smith lost his job to Colin Kaepernick after a concussion last season, despite holding a 104.0 passer rating and completing 70.0 percent of his passes at the time.

We really have never seen anything like that before, and the offense even was better under Smith in the red zone and on third down than it was with Kaepernick.

Smith was peaking last year, while many in Philadelphia may suggest Reid peaked years ago. However, Reid’s West Coast offense was often among the league’s best at ball security prior to this Michael Vick era where the Eagles were very reckless with the ball.

Perhaps it is fitting that both the Eagles and Chiefs had a negative-24 turnover differential last season. So why should it be any different this season?

Smith is a perfect fit for Reid. He will not force the ball deep. He will not often waste a good running game or defensive effort. The offense can run through Jamaal Charles with Smith taking advantage of play-action passing and limiting mistakes.

The 2011 49ers tied the NFL record with just 10 giveaways behind Smith. He has only thrown an interception on 2.29 percent of his passes since 2007. Once criticized for having small hands, he has limited his fumbles since 2009.

This team has the talent to be competitive with most teams, and to win games right now.

Dwayne Bowe returns as the No. 1 receiver and should have a good season. The team also acquired Donnie Avery from the Colts, though do not expect him to mesh well with Smith. Avery struggled to get separation in Indianapolis down the field.

The team almost had to get someone like Avery, because 2011 first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin has shown very little so far. If he does not come alive under Reid’s offense this year, that could be the end of him in Kansas City.

Newly signed Anthony Fasano and fourth-year player Tony Moeaki should see plenty of targets at tight end.

Charles may be the best pure runner Reid has ever coached. Thanks to Adrian Peterson’s record-chasing season, it was glossed over that Charles returned from a torn ACL to rush for 1,509 yards and average 5.29 yards per carry on an offense with a pathetic passing game.

Reid does have the reputation to air it out, but do not expect the old-school McNabb days or the recent, turnover-filled exploits with Vick.

Reid would best be served to run his offense the way he did in 2006 when Brian Westbrook had 1,916 yards from scrimmage and Jeff Garcia was playing efficient, smart football to lead the Eagles into the playoffs.

You do not want to get into many pass-happy shootouts with Smith at quarterback. For his career (including playoffs):

  • Smith is 2-25-1 (.089) as a starter when the 49ers allowed at least 24 points in a game. Colin Kaepernick actually finished the tie last season against St. Louis.
  • Smith is 4-13 (.235) as a starter when attempting at least 35 passes in a game.
  • Smith’s three-highest passing games are just 310, 309 and 303 yards in an era where 400-yard games feel like a weekly event.

Smith does not have to come in and be the savior of the Chiefs, but he does need to continue playing smart, efficient, mistake-limiting football for this to work.

The jury is still out on Smith as a franchise quarterback, but he gets to be paired up with a coach that has a long history of maximizing his quarterback’s play. Just look at McNabb, Vick, A.J. Feeley, Garcia and Kevin Kolb.

This new environment for Reid can also do him wonders after 14 years in Philadelphia. Things may have gotten too stagnant after such a long time, and problems in his personal life certainly did him no favors as a coach at the end of his Eagles’ tenure.

For a 2-14 team, there are surprisingly few glaring weaknesses in terms of starters. Stronger quarterback play could have bought this team nearly a handful of wins last season, and Reid and Smith instantly clicking will be the biggest factor in whether this year is a success. On paper, it appears to be the right fit.

 

The 2013 Draft Will Put a Bow on This New Era

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This upcoming draft is a big one for Kansas City, even after having to use the 34th overall pick to get Smith. Normally, a big-time quarterback would be available at the top of the draft, but that is just not the case this season.

When is that ever the case for the Chiefs?

The Smith trade should keep the 414-game streak (dating back to 1987) alive of the Chiefs not winning a game with a starting quarterback they drafted. You do not trade the 34th pick and use No. 1 on a quarterback as well.

Once they decided it was not going to be Geno Smith or any other rookie, then it must be Alex Smith for the next couple of years.

New general manager John Dorsey has never held that title before, but he has scouting experience from Seattle and Green Bay, learning behind Mike Holmgren and Reid. The Packers have been one of the league’s best drafting teams in recent years.

With the first pick in the draft, it would make the most sense for Kansas City to take an offensive tackle in Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.

Reid is an offensive coach who loves linemen, so this pick would help his offense right away while the line still has Branden Albert (franchise tag) returning.

What the team does with the 63rd pick should be interesting. The Chiefs can go for another wide receiver prospect, a backup to Charles, a right guard or a role player in the secondary. This team is already loaded with recent prospects on both sides of the trenches taken in the first three rounds (premium picks).

If that does not sound like searching for a starter, then take a look at this potential depth chart of starters and suggest what needs to change (new additions in bold):

Some of these players (especially Tyson Jackson and Dontari Poe on the line of that 3-4 defense) need to play better, but the Chiefs will not be replacing them this year.

Again, that’s pretty good for 2-14. This should be an 8-8 team that can even sneak into the playoffs as a sixth seed should enough things break their way.

In addition to a division that really only has Denver, the Chiefs will play the AFC South (two good teams), the NFC East (land of mediocrity), Cleveland and Buffalo. The Chiefs are better than or as good as half of that schedule.

A quarter of the league changed head coaches this offseason. Normally with a 2-14 record and first pick in the draft, the Chiefs should have been the least attractive job, but it may turn out to be the best for Reid, Smith, Dorsey and anyone else the team adds as the starting pieces to the next era of Chiefs football.

With only two seasons generating a playoff win in the last 43 years, Chiefs fans are starving to see a consistent winner again. This era should have no problem being better than the last one. Besides, when hasn’t snatching a San Francisco quarterback worked for the Chiefs?

 

Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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