Kansas City Chiefs: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 16
The walrus-'stached Kool-Aid Man has Arrowhead addicts running around like they're on sugar highs. And for good reason.
But the regular season isn't etched in stone yet; neither is Kansas City's postseason positioning.
The Chiefs will square off against Andrew Luck's Indianapolis Colts (9-5) on Sunday. Coincidentally, if the playoffs began this weekend, Reid, Bob Sutton and Co. would find themselves conspiring against the same stable of players. The only difference? The Chiefs would be the ones racking up frequent flyer miles—an all-important factor that can pen the final chapter to Kansas City's fairytale season.
Arrowhead's favorite 53 aren't content with a mere playoff berth, and the same holds true for their perusing play-callers.
On the heels of last Sunday's heart-hammering 23-point win, eight storylines lay the groundwork for Week 16's home finale.
Key Starters Will Return Sooner Than Later
As 610 Sports Radio's Josh Klingler notes, Reid has given reason to believe that we'll see Justin Houston, Dexter McCluster and Anthony Fasano return to the field in upcoming weeks. This Sunday? Your guess is as good as mine.
Obviously, Houston's absence is the most notable. There was speculation that Kansas City didn't notch a quarterback hurry against Oakland—that's false. Inexperienced passer(s) or not, a team doesn't loft five interceptions with a clean pocket. While there weren't any sacks to speak of, Pro Football Focus (PFF) did record six hurries for the Chiefs.
That being said, No. 50 provides an eternal edge-rushing presence that the Chiefs, minus the Washington blowout, have sorely missed. That's clear to any member of the seeing public. However, an aspect that that has evaded many a radar is the Pro Bowler's coverage abilities.
Frank Zombo is currently allowing 13.6 yards per catch (only six 3-4 outside linebackers average more), and he was repeatedly torched by the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Meanwhile, PFF rates Houston third among 3-4 outside linebackers in overall coverage.
Kansas City's playmaking pass-rusher can't return to the lineup soon enough.
The Offensive Line Is Rounding the Corner
If you didn't follow Kansas City but watched the Chiefs the past three Sundays, you wouldn't come away thinking that both of their starting tackles were nursing injuries.
And while the interior of the line has had its share of struggles this season, the Chiefs, across the board, have athletic 300-pounders that excel in the screen game.
That was never more apparent than it was on last Sunday.
A Healthy Eric Berry Is Living Up to Pre-Draft Hype
Give Eric Berry credit: Despite rebounding from an ACL tear, critics were quick to drown out that fact with endless criticism last year (and for the record, his play skyrocketed throughout the second half of the season).
Now, with two games remaining in 2013, Berry is slotted as PFF's No. 4 overall safety. The former Tennessee standout has assembled an impressive stat line, listing 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, three interceptions and two touchdowns. Calling him a ball hawk is a borderline insult.
His on-field production isn't the only thing offering shades of his days as an SEC terror either. Berry's embraced a leadership role with open arms, constantly jumpstarting his defense's desire in pregame huddles.
In his fourth professional season, the bone-rattling strong safety has become a cornerstone of Kansas City's defense.
Indianapolis' Running Game Is Better Than You Think
Remember when you would watch a Chiefs game years ago, spraying venom at your flat screen because a 20-yard run by Jamaal Charles would be followed by five three-yard handoffs to Thomas Jones or Larry Johnson? Indianapolis fans are reliving that nightmare.
Despite putting up cringeworthy numbers, the Colts coaching staff seems hellbent on justifying the trade for Trent Richardson—a move that sent a 2014 first-round pick to Cleveland. Today's NFL, comprised of up-tempo offenses and athletic linebackers, isn't nearly as welcoming to power backs as it once was. The days of Earl Thomas bludgeoning tacklers are in the rearview.
But don't write off Indianapolis' ground game just yet. The Colts do have Donald Brown, who's averaging a head-scratching 5.3 yards per carry. Why is that head-scratching, you ask? The Colts shun him like some kind of mutilated stepchild...or whatever the hell that thing was at the end of [REC]. (Don't let curiosity fool you: This is one time YouTube won't wind up being your friend.)
Since coming over from Cleveland, Richardson has played in two fewer games (for Indianapolis) than Brown and received 53 more attempts, despite averaging 2.9 yards per handoff—third-fewest among halfbacks with 100-plus carries.
Still, the Colts have managed to average 4.4 yards per rush, primarily due to Luck's scrambling and the rare handoff to Brown.
Alex Smith Is Outplaying a Reggie Wayne-less Andrew Luck
Look, losing a receiver of Reggie Wayne's caliber, even at 35 years old, is always going to sting. He's Andrew Luck's security blanket, and when you strip that away, you're left staring at a (supremely talented) second-year quarterback.
Everything considered, there's little doubt in my mind that Luck's career statistics will dwarf those of Kansas City's passer.
But for the sake of my sanity, can we please detach the "game manager" stigma from Alex Smith? Or better yet, completely do away with a term that should seem moronic to anyone with the IQ of Pauly Shore? (And while we're at it, stop labeling every quarterback under the sun with a three-touchdown game as "elite"?) Please?
Here, I'll give you the 2013 stat lines for two NFL quarterbacks. Then honestly ask yourself which appears more fruitful (pretend that you're not bright enough to know that they're Luck's and Smith's).
The first professional thrower of pigskin has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 3,299 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's also added 365 rushing yards.
The second passer has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 3,160 yards, 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. He's scrambled for 384 rushing yards.
Close, yes. But to me, the latter of the two (Smith's) seems more successful.
Again, someone could bet me that Luck's career numbers won't eclipse Smith's, and I'll roll with Indy's Chewbacca-sounding quarterback every time. And again, I'm fully aware that Wayne is now a sideline spectator. But as of now, Smith's 2013 output, in my opinion, has been more impressive than Luck's, and he's not exactly throwing to All-Madden wideouts himself.
Don't Expect the Chiefs to Hold Any Punches
With a playoff berth secured, Andy Reid was asked if the Chiefs should let their foot off the gas to avoid any potential injuries. As The Kansas City Star's Randy Covitz notes, Reid isn't subscribing to that train of thought, adding, "We’re far enough along in the year … you have enough in the playbook that you can draw from on both sides of the ball and special teams-wise. I don’t think there’s any reason to do that."
With the playoff picture still up in the air, nobody can blame Reid for testing destiny.
Outside of the obvious implications, usurping the Denver Broncos' No. 1 seed would be more detrimental to the Mile High monarchs than beneficial to the Chiefs themselves.
Through Week 15, Denver has trounced opponents at home, averaging a gaudy 17-point margin of victory. However, the high-octane offense downshifts a gear on the road, and the deficient defense tends to collapse like a Jenga tower. The aforementioned number dwindles to 4.5 outside of Colorado.
The polar opposite holds true for Kansas City, whose scoring margin resides at 4.9 at home and 15 outside of Arrowhead. Despite that, Reid would obviously rather clinch a first-round bye and force the AFC playoffs to travel through One Arrowhead Drive.
In order for that to have any shot at seeing the light of day, the Chiefs have to trump the Colts this Sunday.
Jamaal Charles Is Primed for Another Memorable Performance
Another thing that's not supposed to take place in the NFL? A running back chewing up 226 yards on the ground (leading to a cosmic total of 13 points because...Brian Daboll), which is exactly what Jamaal Charles did last season against the Colts.
Now, a lot can change in one offseason—Kansas City and Indianapolis are paragons in that respect—but the Colts defense is still being gouged by opposing rushers (albeit not as badly), who are averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Charles is coming off a historic, eye-opening performance, evidenced by Michael Irvin's soul being electrocuted in the above video.
Due to that, No. 25 is finally receiving the national recognition he deserves, and the stage is set for him to author another headline-grabbing effort in (potentially) his last Arrowhead experience of 2013.
The Chiefs Offense Is Severely Underrated
The Chiefs own the No. 3 scoring offense in the NFL. [Drops bombshell]
If I haven't earned your trust and you open a new tab to double-check that I'm not just spouting some kind of "I have a couple of friends that call me Whiskers" nonsense, I won't hold it against you. In fact, check two sites just to satisfy any last doubts—I did.
Thanks to Reid opening up the playbook, as well as Alex Smith's newfound aerial aggressiveness, Kansas City's offense is averaging 28.5 points per game.
Speaking of Smith, want to know what one quarterback signing and a regime change can do for a franchise? Last season, the Chiefs turned the ball over 24 more times than they took it away, tying for last in the NFL. This year, they lead the league with a plus-21 in the same department. That differential is five greater than the No. 2 team (Seattle) and 14 more than the closest AFC club (Indianapolis).
Kansas City has posted 101 points on its last two opponents' watches. The offense itself has scored 80. Say what you want about the competition, but an NFL franchise isn't supposed to average 50.5 points in back-to-back weeks.
Then again, clawing for the No. 1 playoff seed on the heels of having the No. 1 draft pick, the 2013 Chiefs aren't your average NFL team.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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