The Kansas City Chiefs dispatched the Philadelphia Eagles 26-16 on Thursday, to start the season with three wins and zero losses. The Chiefs' hot start has surprised some, given they had a league-worst two wins last season. The Chiefs are led by a very strong defense, and an offense that has played efficiently, not turning the ball over one time thus far this season.
Here is the report card for Kansas City in Week 3.
While Alex Smith has hardly been the epitome of a "star" quarterback, he has been a model of efficiency for the Chiefs thus far. Smith is completing passes at a 61 percent clip on the season, but perhaps more importantly, he hasn't turned the ball over through three games. Last season Kansas City didn't go more than a game without the quarterback turning the ball over.
Smith is still struggling to test defenses vertically, though that isn't entirely his fault. The play calls in the passing game have been mostly conservative, and when they aren't, receivers have struggled to create separation down the field. Kansas City is going to eventually have to work out a vertical attack and take some chances, but for now Smith's steady hand has guided it to three early wins.
Thursday felt like the Chiefs first real commitment to the run game of the season. Kansas City finished the game with 38 rushing attempts, only 11 of which came from quarterback Alex Smith. Halfback Jamaal Charles led the way with 20 carries for 92 yards, and a touchdown.
Charles and rookie running back Knile Davis (six carries for 25 yards) were integral in salting away the Chiefs' early lead. Given Kansas City's struggles in the vertical passing game, production in the run game will be crucial to the Chiefs' early success.
Jamaal Charles also provided two key blocks in the passing game, one allowing wide receiver Donnie Avery to take a pass for a big gain. Given Kansas City's offensive line struggles, having the running backs step up is a huge factor going forward.
Thursday night was a coming-out party for free-agent acquisition Donnie Avery. Avery caught everything thrown his way, finishing the night with seven receptions on seven targets for 141 yards. The Chiefs used Avery's speed and run-after-the-catch ability effectively, by throwing him mid-field screens twice during the game, accounting for over half his yardage.
Kansas City was without its top two tight ends, Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce, but Sean McGrath filled in and was effective, if unspectacular.
Dwayne Bowe continues to struggle getting on the same page with quarterback Alex Smith. Bowe had only three targets in the game, and one reception for four yards. The Chiefs signed Bowe to a brand new five-year, $56 million deal this past March, and thus far have seen very little production for their money. Bowe has nine reception for 90 yards and a score on the season.
The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line has been a glaring sore spot for the team through its first three games. Quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 10 times through three games and hurried, forced to scramble or knocked down, countless more.
Rookie right tackle Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, was getting beat routinely Thursday night. Fisher's inability to hold his own on the line got so bad, the Chiefs pulled tight end Sean McGrath out of patterns and held him in to block side by side with Fisher.
Thus far the Chiefs have managed to survive with mediocre offensive line play thanks in large part to field-position advantages on special teams and turnovers generated by the defense, but if Kansas City is to remain competitive going forward, offensive line play must improve, especially along the right side of the line.
Second-year player Dontari Poe is well on his way to cementing himself as a top-three defensive tackle in the NFL at the nose tackle position. Poe had questions about his conditioning and taking plays off coming out of Memphis; he showed some flashes in his rookie campaign, but nothing like what he's demonstrating now.
Poe has been an absolutely dominant force up front for the Chiefs, eating up blockers, crushing the pocket from the interior and forcing runs outside where running backs are then met by Tamba Hali or Justin Houston.
Poe has 3.5 quarterback sacks on the season, but his real value is measured by what he allows his teammates to do each play, rather than the statistical productivity he brings to the table. His ability to eat up blockers and continue to be a force in the middle will be crucial for the Chiefs defense going forward.
Las Vegas bookmaker Bovada had an over/under on linebacker Justin Houston's sack total set at seven for the season. Houston crushed that number in grand fashion on Thursday night, getting 4.5 sacks, bringing his season total to 7.5 at only three games in.
Tamba Hali also picked up a sack from the other side, his first of the season.
Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson deflected a first-quarter pass from Michael Vick, right into the waiting hands of teammate Eric Berry, who took it 38 yards for a touchdown. The touchdown gave the Chiefs a 10-0 lead less than four minutes into the game and really set the tone for the game early.
Chiefs linebackers have been all over the field early this season, and paired with the defensive line have been the obvious strength of this team. Production like this can't be expected every night, but it can't be discounted with a unit this talented either.
The Kansas City Chiefs secondary played its most complete game of the year on Thursday night. While the front seven harassed and harangued Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, the secondary pressed well and stuck with its assignments for the most part.
The Chiefs gave up only two big plays through he air, one for a touchdown, and held Michael Vick to a paltry 43.3 percent completion percentage. Vick, who had been above 60 percent passing in his previous two outings, with zero interceptions, looked absolutely lost most of the night, and ended his interception-less streak with two picks.
There are still some concerns with this unit, especially in man coverage where both big plays were given up, but overall is was a much-improved outing for a unit that had been eyed as the weaker half of the defense through the first two games.