The Kansas City Chiefs cruised to victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, with a 28-2 drubbing that saw Jacksonville cross the 50-yard line only once. In fact, the Jaguars only crossed their own 36-yard line twice.
The Chiefs had their ups and downs throughout the victory as well, struggling in the second half on third down on offense being one of the lowlights. Today, we take a look at how each of Kansas City's position groups fared on a case-by-case basis and break down the hits and the misses.
Alex Smith played efficiently, albeit unspectacular, in his first regular-season start for the Chiefs. He completed over 60 percent of his passes, didn't turn the ball over and only took one sack, but the shadow that has plagued him the bulk of his career, namely his inability or unwillingness to go vertical with the football, was there.
Smith's longest completion of the day was a 26-yard catch-and-run by fullback Anthony Sherman, and while Kansas City didn't need the vertical game hitting on all cylinders on Sunday, having your fullback as your leading receiver hasn't been a recipe for success in the NFL since the 1950s.
Smith gets a "B" for being steady and efficient, but he can't be graded any more highly given his lack of production.
At first glance someone might say, "But Jamaal Charles averaged 4.8 yards per carry" which is true, but the bulk of those yards came on one 18-yard play, and the Chiefs couldn't sustain drives or convert on third down in the second half when Charles went out with an injury.
The run game is vital in salting away leads in the NFL, where unlike in the college game, the longer a team keeps its foot on the gas, the more apt it is to provide the other team with a momentum-changing turnover. The Chiefs struggled with this concept late Sunday, failing to get the tough yards when needed.
Especially disappointing was the four-carry, 12-yard performance of rookie running back Knile Davis, who figures to be the main back spelling Charles moving forward.
There wasn't a whole lot to complain about with the Chiefs wide receiving corps Sunday. They did well in run blocking, they caught nearly everything that was thrown their way and there weren't very many missed assignments.
Kansas City did struggle a bit with the jam. Undersized receivers Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster had trouble getting off press coverage a few times, but that's being perhaps a bit nitpicky. Part of the diminished grade here has to do with the play-calling, which isn't exactly the receivers' fault—it's difficult to put up monster numbers if the play-calling won't allow it.
The compressed sets Andy Reid likes to play out of are nice for masking running intent, and providing extra blockers, but it can make it difficult for smaller receivers like McCluster and Avery to break press coverage. The easy remedy is more motion there, but we'll wait to see how the season plays out before getting too down on it.
Overall, the offensive line was outstanding. The line created decent-sized holes in the run game and only allowed one sack on quarterback Alex Smith. Technically, it did allow the blocked punt that led to a safety as well, but I lump that under special teams.
This unit is looking stronger than it did in the preseason. Interior line troubles were glaringly obvious against San Francisco and New Orleans, but the team seems to have ironed that out, and rookie tackle Eric Fisher looks improved with every game.
I'd like to see more in the run game from the line, something that figured to be a strength of this unit. Holes were there, but they closed just a little more quickly than they should have, and that's vital in support of the run game when this team has a lead. Room for improvement, but well done overall.
The defensive line unit was impressive in its approach Sunday. I haven't seen a Kansas City defensive line this dominant since Dan Saleaumua and Neil Smith lined up together.
They ate up blocks, allowing for gap penetration, they pressured the quarterback and nose tackle Dontari Poe even got in on two of the six sacks the Chiefs put up.
While this unit won't see the production of some of elite defensive lines in the NFL because of the differing assignments of the Chiefs' base 3-4 defense, it deserves the accolades it's getting. Because of the strength of this unit up front, the linebacking corps gets the opportunity to take on opposing offensive tackles on an island, which helped contribute to the six sacks and 12 quarterback knockdowns Sunday.
It'd be difficult to find a better performance from any group of linebackers across the NFL than the one turned in by the Chiefs linebackers on Sunday. Of particular importance to me was how well they solo tackled. This unit looks like it is coached better than in past years. There's an upfield aggression that's been missing, and a focus on fundamental tackling, that will help limit opponents big plays this season.
Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston seemed to be everywhere on the field, and Tamba Hali not only brought the pressure in passing situations, he picked off a pass and returned it for six points.
The linebacking corps (along with the defensive line) is the obvious strength of this team, and if it can play at the level it did on Sunday, the Chiefs have a legitimate shot at the playoffs this season.
While on paper the unit seemed to have an outstanding day, going back and looking at the tape shows a few troubling signs.
The Jacksonville receivers out of the slot were getting open, Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert either didn't see them or didn't have time to get them the ball on most plays. One play where he did, getting the ball to Ace Sanders, the Chiefs wound up surrendering a 55-yard gain. That play was nullified due to a hold, but the Chiefs wound up giving up an 18-yard gain from Gabbert to Sanders just a few plays later.
Brandon Flowers continued to be the lockdown corner he has been, and safety Eric Berry provided pass rush and run support, but the remainder of this secondary still shows some questions marks that will need to be cleaned up quickly against more potent offenses.
The blocked punt was the definitive blemish on an otherwise great performance from the special teams unit. Blemish it was, though. You just can't give up blocked punts for a safety, and the Chiefs struggled with this in preseason as well, having a punt blocked as well as a field-goal try.
The punting unit was otherwise remarkable, pinning the Jaguars deep in their own territory on every drive. The Jaguars only crossed their own 36-yard line twice in the game, which should help frame the field-position battle in the context it deserves.
This unit, while perhaps not as glamorous, may be the unsung hero in the Chiefs' quest for the playoffs. If they can win the field-position battle and play defense as solidly as they did on Sunday, they can compete with any team in the league.