The Kansas City Chiefs have jumped out to an NFL-best 8-0 start to the surprise of many, myself included. There are some who try to detract from the Chiefs' hot start, saying, "They haven't played anyone," or "The Chiefs are just lucky."
I can assure you, dear reader, if it were possible to luck your way into 8-0, there would be more undefeated teams in the NFL right now.
The Chiefs have pulled off their hot start thanks to a stifling defense that hasn't allowed more than 17 points to any opponent this year and a special teams unit that gives the offense the best field position in the league with which to work, as outlined by Jim Armstrong of Football Outsiders—and opponents the worst.
Without further ado, here is the midseason report card for the Kansas City Chiefs.
While the numbers are rather pedestrian, quarterback Alex Smith has been efficient and effective with the football. He doesn't turn the ball over and finds ways to chip in yardage wherever possible.
One of the biggest things Smith brings to the table is his athleticism. His ability to pick up yardage with his legs has helped sustain many Chiefs drives after the play has broken down. Smith is the Chiefs' second-leading rusher on the season, averaging just over 31 yards per game.
Smith has been better than average and smart about his plays despite a suspect offensive line. However, he hasn't demonstrated the above-and-beyond playmaking to earn an "A" grade.
Jamaal Charles has been the workhorse and saving grace in many of the Chiefs games this year. He leads the team in rushing yardage and in receptions. In many of the games, Charles has quite simply been "the offense."
The Chiefs have been trying to integrate rookie running back Knile Davis into the offense more as the season wears on, but he has yet to prove on a consistent basis that he can be the man to pick up the slack in Charles' stead.
Charles is averaging 19 touches and six receptions per game. Without him, this Chiefs team would be a .500 team or worse.
While the wide receiver corps was initially considered a potential strength, this unit has really struggled with mediocre and, in some cases, poor play most of the season. Dwayne Bowe has failed to live up to the large contract he signed back in March, former first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin was traded and free-agent acquisition Donnie Avery has been hit or miss.
The Chiefs wide receivers have struggled to get open deep and have had their share of drops as well.
For the Chiefs to make a deep playoff run, this unit and the offensive line must make dramatic improvements.
It's difficult to fault the receivers for not creating separation when the offensive line gives the quarterback no time to throw. Still, this unit has just not lived up to its potential.
The Chiefs' tight end group has been surprisingly steady this season. Despite injuries plaguing the unit, the TEs have been some of the Chiefs' most reliable players.
Anthony Fasano is a favorite target of quarterback Alex Smith, and Sean McGrath, with his blue-collar work ethic and neck beard, has quickly become a fan favorite in Kansas City.
The Chiefs will need to lean on their tight ends both for blocking and receiving help, as they continue their march toward the playoffs.
Much of Kansas City's offensive woes originate with the subpar play the offensive line has given them this season. Quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 24 times through eight games, third-worst among quarterbacks this season.
Rookie right tackle and top overall pick in last April's draft, Eric Fisher has been a huge liability, and the team is having to assist him on nearly every play. If Fisher doesn't step it up and soon, the Chiefs could replace him with Donald Stephenson, though Stephenson wasn't much better in relieving Fisher when the rookie was out with a concussion.
Game in and game out, the Chiefs' offensive line is utterly failing to get the job done.
The emergence of second-year nose tackle Dontari Poe has been a welcome surprise. Poe has become a one-man wrecking crew inside, forcing teams to double-team him and giving the Chiefs the ability to generate quick pressure from the outside.
Mike DeVito, Tyson Jackson and Allen Bailey have shown flashes of great play in rotation at the defensive end position as well.
While it might not be reflected in the box score, the key to the Chiefs' pass rush starts up front.
The Chiefs' linebacking corps is, arguably, the best in the NFL. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have combined for 19 sacks on the outside, and Derrick Johnson is a tackling machine from the middle.
No team generates more pressure or gives opposing quarterbacks less time to throw than the Chiefs. This is largely due to a linebacker corps that doesn't allow opposing teams to roll their protection to one side or the other. Focus on Hali, and Houston will burn you; turn your attention to Houston, and Hali gets to the quarterback.
It's a nightmare for opposing offenses.
This is the best linebacking unit in the NFL—'nuff said.
Kansas City's secondary has been another bright spot on a defense filled with them this season. Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers have lived up to their Pro Bowl reputations, and Sean Smith has been a nice addition as well.
The real story, though, is unheralded sixth-round rookie and San Francisco 49ers castoff Marcus Cooper. The first-year corner out of Rutgers has been a revelation filling in for Flowers when he was injured. Cooper has been so effective that it's been difficult for the Chiefs to keep him off the field.
He has surpassed Dunta Robinson on the depth chart, and though he's listed third, Cooper really shares the second cornerback duties with Smith.
The secondary has at times had some minor lapses this season, but it has held up remarkably well overall.
Ryan Succop and Dustin Colquitt simply don't get enough credit for what they do. The Chiefs' game plan, week in and week out, is to win the field-position battle, get points when and where they can and let the defense generate turnovers.
Succop has been remarkably effective, missing on only three field goals all year, all three in excess of 50 yards.
Colquitt has earned every penny of his new contract, placing half his punts inside opponents' 20-yard line and giving the Chiefs the upper hand in the field-position battle.
The Chiefs couldn't ask for a better special teams unit.