Seven weeks ago the Kansas City Chiefs were overachieving despite a lack of production from their lackluster offensive leaders Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs were 3-2 after disappointing back-to-back losses, and their critics and fans alike were wondering if this team could contend in the AFC West with such a nonexistent offense—but that was eight weeks ago.
It's now Week 13, and my how things have changed in the Chiefs household. The offense has matured from looking like the picture of Alice Coopers vision of youth in "18" to that of The Who's empowered ballad "The Kids Are Alright." Where youth and inexperience once reigned supreme, those characteristics have been replaced with maturity and resilience.
The defense is still holding up their end of the bargain, ranked 13th in points allowed (21 per game) and seventh against the run (1,061 yards allowed,) but it's the offense that has kept this team leading the AFC West in every week of the 2010 season. They're ranked fourth in the NFL in points scored (25.9 per game) and made strides every week in becoming a more complete, playoff-ready team by scoring an average of 40 points per game in their last three games. That's the most points by any team in the AFC West in the last three games.
This article chronicles ten key factors to the Chiefs rising up in recent weeks and staying hot when they could have easily fallen prey to the pitfalls that all young teams on the brink face.
The Chiefs' success starts in the front office with general manager Scott Pioli. He's largely credited with building the dynasty of the decade, the New England Patriots. He was vice president of player personnel in New England, and bringing in bodies from his merry band of misfits was his first priority in 2009.
He brought in then Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley ( a no-nonsense type of coach, to take over as a strong leading head coach after the disappointment that was Herm Edwards was gracefully let go. He also brought in some trusted pieces of the Chiefs puzzle to play on the field in linebacker Mike Vrabel and quarterback Matt Cassel.
He knew that 2009 was a rebuilding year, so he patiently waited for the opportunity to add two more very important pieces to the puzzle in 2010. He brought in three time champion coordinators Romeo Crennel (defense) and Charlie Weis (offense.)
Both of these coaches were just as big a part of the Patriots' three championships as Tom Brady or Bill Belichick himself, and now they appear to have the Chiefs on the right track to eventually duplicate that same kind of success.
After taking the sure-shot defensive draft choice, Eric Berry, in the first round of the 2010 draft, the Chiefs set their sights on getting second and third round bargains on the offensive side of the ball. The move paid off, and the Chiefs drafted lightning in a bottle in the second round when they took WR Dexter McCluster and sure-handed reliability over the middle in the third round by selecting tight end Tony Moeaki.
Both players' impact was felt in the first game of the season as McCluster returned a punt 94 yards for a TD and Moeaki caught a red zone TD pass from Matt Cassel in the Chiefs' 21-14 upset win over the incumbent AFC West champion San Diego Chargers. These two give the Chiefs' offense some much needed depth in going forward in the pursuit of legitimacy.
The Chiefs staff put the value of leadership over that of skill. Most, if not all, of the players that the Chiefs took in the draft were captains on their college teams. This has translated into a more polished product on the practice and game day fields.
The Chiefs were struggling on the offensive line, so the staff went out and picked up a couple of veteran linemen who have really been pulling their weight this season. Veteran guard Casey Wiegmann's contract was up in Denver, and veteran tackle Ryan Lilja was also on the market.
The Chiefs jumped at the opportunity to scoop up these two long-time NFL starters, and it's showing on every play. Lilja spent years guarding Peyton Manning, and now he's guarding Matt Cassel with the same consistency. Cassel has only been sacked 15 times this season, a vastly improved number from the 42 sacks he took last year.
Weigmann is responsible for opening up holes in the interior line for the Chiefs running backs to run through. He's doing a fine job as well, leading a Chiefs run blocking corp that has helped produce the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense.
Add to that 2009 first round draft pick Brandon Alberts, and what we have is a unit that isn't talked about much. In the case of the offensive line, no news is almost always good news, and this unit is no difference. We all know that football is a game of inches, and this line is gelling and doing a great job of helping the team produce yards.
Veteran running back Thomas Jones ran for 1,400 yards last season, which was good enough for the Jets to turn him away in the offseason. Their loss was Kansas City's gain, as the Chiefs didn't let him stay in the waters of free agency for long.
Jones brings a hard-nosed style of running that the Chiefs were lacking in Jamaal Charles. Charles is a speedier back who's strength lies in the open field. Charles is in no way incapable of running between the tackles, but as a smaller back he's not built for 25 carries up the middle per game. That's where the addition of Jones was vital.
Jones has been the team's starting RB in the majority of the Chiefs' games, but he is used more to lull and soften opposing defenses. Jones and Charles are the perfect fusion of thunder and lightning, but without Jones it would just be lightning. Haley was widely criticized for playing Jones "too much," but Charles now has fresh legs for the team's playoff run. Well played coach.
Teams that win the turnover battle generally win the game, and the Chiefs are on a yearlong turnover drought in 2010. They have given up fewer turnovers than any other team in the entire NFL. In 11 games, the Chiefs have only turned the ball over eight times. That's a ridiculous number.
The Chiefs protect the ball, which will go a long way in protecting any leads that they get in these last five weeks of the 2010 regular season. If the Chiefs keep this up, they'll be in great shape to stave off the late-charging Chargers.
I already made mention of two of these role players earlier, but I'll give them a little more exposure. Rookies Dexter McCluster and Tony Moeaki are going to be vital in the success of the Chiefs going forward. These two players have been injured as of late, but Moeaki made it back onto the field against the Seahawks, catching a TD pass in that game, and Dex is expected to make his return this week against Denver.
Add to the mix the strong blocking fullback Mike Cox and the blocking tight end Leonard Pope, and you have another piece of the puzzle in keeping the jerseys of the Chiefs skill position players clean. They can both catch the ball well, though, too.
Undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Verran Tucker is staking his claim on a role in the offense by making clutch catches in the absence of the aforementioned injured rookies, and WR's Terrance Copper and Chris Chambers are sure-handed options in a pinch, even though they don't really have big roles in the offense.
Most importantly, none of these role players have a problem playing their role. They seem to be content with team success over individual success, which is perhaps the biggest reason for the Chiefs' success as a whole this season.
Todd Haley's patience and dedication to his game plan is paying off in large dividends. He has been simultaneously softening up opponents in each game and keeping the legs of star running back Jamaal Charles fresh for the Chiefs last big push for a playoff birth.
Charles has only gone over 100 yard in two games this season, yet he's the league's No. 2 rusher with 1,021 yards in 11 games. He's five yards ahead of Adrian Peterson on more than 50 less carries with an average of 6.3 yards per carry. The guy is having the kind of season that could and should catapult him to elite status and a Pro Bowl birth this season. He's a big play waiting to happen.
The fact that he has fresh legs having only carried the ball 161 times is more than scary for the Chiefs' upcoming opponents. Charles is a monster, and he's now showing everyone exactly why Chiefs fans were so sold on him after last season. He may just be the best back in the league, and if he keeps his average up, he will most likely overtake Texans RB Arian Foster for the NFL rushing title in 2010.
This guy is on fire. He's a flat out beast, and he's taking out all the frustration of underachieving for the past three seasons on everyone that he faces right now. Bowe had a slow start this year, but he is on the fast track to the Pro Bowl now.
After Week 4, Bowe had just 152 yards and one TD reception on nine catches. After dropping a key pass in the end zone that looked to be a sure TD, Bowe finally snapped. It appears now that he was tired of being the scapegoat that cost the Chiefs wins, because ever since then he's been unstoppable.
In the Chiefs last seven games, Bowe has caught 49 balls for 733 yards and 13 TDs. These numbers are off the charts. That puts his season totals at 58 catches for 885 yard and 14 TDs. The only other player to ever have 14 or more TDs in the first 11 games of any NFL season was Randy Moss getting 16 TDs in his first 11 games in 2007, the year that he broke the single season TD catch record.
Bowe is coming off of a 13-catch, 170-yard performance in which he caught three TD passes from Matt Cassel. He's ranked fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and first in TD catches. He also averages 15.3 yards per catch. Bowe is literally playing catch out there these day, leaving all Chiefs fans with no memory of his drop problems of the past. Now that the games matter, Bowe is showing up in a big way.
If aliens landed at Arrowhead and asked the Chiefs to take them to their leader, they would be lead straight to Matt Cassel.
He is playing mistake-free football, or as close to it as any QB in the league this season, having thrown only four interceptions. He's taken all of the criticism pointed at him in stride and has quietly gone about his business. These days, however, his business is getting harder and harder to keep quiet.
Cassel has slowly but surely crept up the leaderboard in two of the most important stats a QB can lead in in the NFL. Cassel has the second most TD passes in the league (22), the fourth highest QB rating in the league (99.7) and the least amount of picks thrown by any QB with 10 or more starts (four.)
What makes these numbers so special is that 18 of his TD passes have come in the last seven games he's played. Also, he's the highest-rated QB during that span. His lowest QB rating in a single game during this stretch is 82.6, and his rating was over 115 in five of those seven games. He's playing lights out right now, and he gives credit for this to his line, backs and star wide out. Yes, he's classy, too.
Out of all the QBs in the league, there are only two that boast more TD passes and a better QB rating. One is named Brady, and the other is RIvers. Cassel's critics sighted his stats in their early criticism of the QB, so those same critics must now sing his praises because of those same stats.
Despite all of the reasons I've laid out in this article, the Chiefs legitimacy is still under fire from their critics. The college-esque strength of schedule argument keeps coming up, which is shooting the Chiefs down in most power rankings.
That might just be the last piece of the puzzle of this team's success in December. The Chargers are going to need to beat the Chiefs if they want to return to the playoffs, and their confidence has been known to border on cockiness. If they don't take the Chiefs as seriously as the Chiefs are taking them, this Chiefs offense could blow up all over the Chargers in Week 14.
If that happens, no one will overlook these Chiefs again.
So you see, it's this Chiefs offense that is really what deserves to be celebrated. On a team that just a few weeks ago had the presence of offensive playmakers under scrutiny, there are three of the hottest offenive players in the NFL right now. The whole offense is coming together at the perfect time, and they'll need to stay hot if they want to win the two-horse race in the AFC West.
It's hard to believe that a team who started out as a one-dimensional offensive unit could have blossomed into what it is now. Seeing is believing, and the way I see it, the Chiefs' king is their Cassel.