The Kansas City Chiefs featured one of the league’s truly elite defenses in 2015 and it carried them into the playoffs. But, as expected, there have been changes on that side of the ball. More concerning, Kansas City could be without Justin Houston for some time. Therefore, for the Chiefs to keep up with the Super Bowl champion Broncos, continually improving Raiders and a Chargers team that very well could be vastly improved this season in the division, their offense, led by their rushing attack, might need also have to be improved.
But is it up to task?
After starting the season 1-5, the Chiefs were not again beaten during the regular season. It was not an especially difficult stretch of games, but winning 10 in a row in the NFL is a massive feat and their average margin of victory during that stretch was an even 15 points.
Say what you want about Andy Reid, but the facts are that this is a coach that has won a lot of games (161) at the highest level of football, is a fantastic offensive mind and someday, should garner Hall of Fame consideration (his clock management aside) when it is all said and done. His offensive coordinator is now the head coach in Philadelphia, but little should change with Kansas City’s system on this side of the ball. Few coaches play to their personnel as well as Reid and few offensive minds have gotten as much out of mediocre quarterback talents as the Chiefs’ head coach.
Only three teams were better with time of possession than Kansas City in 2015 and that will be a key component to helping their defense once again. Another key will be limiting turnovers, something Alex Smith does as well as any quarterback in recent memory.
Carolina was insane with their +20 turnover ratio last year, but the Chiefs were better than everyone else in the league in this category. The Patriots gave away the ball one less time than Kansas City during the regular season, but otherwise, no one did it better. Now, this isn’t to say that Kansas City’s defense will be a liability and need to be protected like Dallas’ for example, but expecting them to play as fantastic as they did the second half of the 2015 season might be asking a little too much, especially considering the advanced age on that side of the ball.
At this point of his career, Smith is what he is. Those in his corner point to his win/loss totals over his career and how he protects the ball. Those more in the know appreciate those qualities, but also recognize that there are many passes that most starting quarterbacks let fly that Smith won’t even consider. That, in turn, leaves a lot of plays in the passing game off limits.
He is conservative to a fault and we really see this come to fruition on third downs. Is that Smith’s DNA or is it something that Reid has coached into him? We don’t know that answer, but we do know that he is a limited passer that runs very well and in the end, with Reid’s management, the score at the end of the game is often in Kansas City’s favor. Again, this goes back to Reid and he is extremely knowledge of what and who he has at his disposal.
Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce are very good at what they do and present matchup problems as well as fitting what Reid needs in his scheme while complementing what Smith is capable of quite well. But no one will mistake the Chiefs’ passing attack for a free wheeling aggressive downfield passing game. No offense threw deep less often. Instead, Reid is a master of using route combinations to free his receivers, which also fits Smith’s mental aptitudes.
The running game is key here. And now Kansas City returns one of the elite runners of this generation in Jamaal Charles. What is surprising (as well as super impressive) is that the Chiefs’ running game didn’t really lose a step when Charles went down. That isn’t to suggest that Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West are at Charles’ level, but the facts and stats here are difficult to ignore. Adding Charles back to the mix, assuming he is even 90% of what he was at his best, should pay off in a huge way to what was arguably the league’s best running game last year. What is extra impressive about this running game is that it does its best work in the red zone, which is a recurring trend with Reid in charge.
The biggest concern though with this running game right now is at guard. Kansas City should be vastly improved at right tackle after signing Mitchell Schwartz. And that should benefit the rushing attack, but really help in keeping Smith upright against the likes of guys like Von Miller and Khalil Mack, who often line up against right tackles and face the Chiefs twice every year. Right tackle was a big problem area last year in both phases.
Mitch Morse absolutely looks like a hit as Kansas City’s starting center. Last year’s second-round pick should be a fixture on this line for years to come. But wow, are the Chiefs’ guards a massive question mark right now. It was shocking that they didn’t address this position higher in the draft. The Chiefs used a fourth round pick on Parker Ehinger, who basically has no choice but to start from the get go. If that isn’t frightening enough, the other names in the equation to start at guard right now are Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Jordan Devey and Jarrod Pughsley. And if those names aren’t ringing any bells, that’s exactly the point.
Can Reid scheme around and are the Chiefs’ runners good enough to overcome this deficiency? In Reid the Chiefs trust. And that is a smart move.