KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Andy Reid has given the Chiefs players a week off to rest up, lick their wounds and prepare for the second half of the 2015 season.
Seems like a good time to sit back and look at the good, the not so good, and the ugly of the first eight games of a season where the club is 3-5.
Marcus Peters and Mitch Morse lead contributions from the 2015 draft class.
Every team comes out of the annual NFL Draft hoping to see immediate contributions, especially from players taken in the premium rounds, one and two.
The Chiefs have scored quick contributions from first-round choice cornerback Marcus Peters and second-round pick center Mitch Morse. They’ve started all eight games.
Only Tampa Bay and New Orleans have seen more starts from first and second-round choices, but they had more selections. The Buccaneers have four picks that started all seven games for 28 total starts. The Saints have three players that started 18 games.
Peters stepped into one of the toughest jobs for any first-year player and it did not take NFL offensive coordinators and quarterbacks to target him at left cornerback. But Peters has answered all challenges and solidified the position.
Morse moved into the starting spot at center in the preseason and has not left, playing through numerous changes among the starters set up beside him. Like Peters, there have been moments where Morse was overwhelmed, but those have diminished each week.
Wide receiver Chris Conley, inside linebacker Ramik Wilson and tight end James O’Shaughnessy have seen plenty of snaps, some as a starter due to injuries among veterans (Jeremy Maclin and Josh Mauga.)
Linebackers: Strongest part of the roster is performing at a high level.
On paper there are few teams among the 32 operating in the NFL that can field the quality of linebackers that are at the disposal of Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
Pro Bowlers Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are all having strong seasons, with Johnson and Houston rated among the best players at their position in the NFL. Hali isn’t far behind, even though his efforts are somewhat hampered by continuing knee inflammation, a product of his 10 seasons in the league.
In his 11th season, Johnson has shown he’s made it back from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in the 2014 season opener. By dropping weight and a strenuous rehab program, he’s producing just as he did before the injury; he’s leading the Chiefs defense with 43 total tackles, two sacks and an interception.
Gifted coming into the season with one of the largest contracts for a defensive player in league history, Houston has been forced to deal with more attention from opposing offenses after his 22-sack season in 2014. But he’s contributed 26 to total tackles with 5.5 sacks and an interception. Hali has 22 total tackles and 3.5 sacks.
The Houston/Hali duo is among the top one or two outside combos in the league, right there with Denver’s DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
Dustin Colquitt, Cairo Santos provide consistent and reliable production.
There have not been many big plays in the Chiefs kicking game over the first half of the 2015 season. But there have been consistent performances from the left foot of Colquitt when punting and the right foot of Santos when he’s been kicking.
Colquitt’s consistency is nothing new; he’s been doing that for 11 seasons with the Chiefs. His ability to hit punts inside the 20-yard line with an average hang time of just over five seconds changes field position several times per game.
Santos not only hit seven field goals in seven attempts against Cincinnati, but he’s been very good on kickoffs. There have been 45 kickoffs, with two onside kicks and one of his kickoffs went out of bounds. Among those 42 other kickoffs, 40 reached the end zone or 95 percent. Opponents have an average starting field position of the 21-yard line.
NOT SO GOOD
Too many big passing plays given up by the Chiefs defense.
In the 2013 season, the first year the Chiefs were under the Bob Sutton defense, they racked up 21 interceptions, but also gave up 69 pass completions of 20 yards or more. In that group, nine went for 50 yards or more, and 18 for 40 yards or more. The longest positive pass play against them was 77 yards.
Last season, the Chiefs allowed 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and the longest completion against them went for 48 yards. They allowed seven pass plays of 40 yards or more. But they also had only six interceptions on the season.
Translation: the Chiefs went after the turnovers in ’13, but dialed back their aggressiveness in coverage during ’14 so they could cut down on big plays.
They appear to be back to the way they covered two years ago. So far in eight games they have eight interceptions, already surpassing last season’s total.
But they also have given up 30 passing plays of 20 yards or more, including four that have gone for 50-plus yards, with the longest being 55 yards.
In the season’s second half, Sutton and his defense must find a way to do both: force interceptions and clamp down on long plays against them.
Dee Ford not a factor on Chiefs defense/special teams.
It doesn’t help the case of the 2014 first-round draft choice that he’s got Pro Bowlers like Tamba Hali and Justin Houston ahead of him. But Ford is just not getting enough opportunities to move his career forward, even with Hali banged up with inflammation on his knee.
In eight games, he’s been on the field for 125 defensive snaps according to NFL statistics. Opponents have had 515 offensive plays, so Ford has been able to contribute on 24.3 percent of the available snaps. He has not played more than 37 percent of the defensive snaps in any game this season.
In London last Sunday, Ford saw 22 plays of action. The Chiefs held a 24-3 lead at halftime, and in the second half Detroit ran 29 plays. There was no reason for Hali and/or Houston to participate; if Ford had the confidence of the coaching staff, he would have been on the field for all 29 of those snaps. And, it’s not like he contributes on special teams – Ford has not been credited with a single play in the kicking game.
No touchdowns on special teams returns.
In the first two seasons under Reid and special teams coordinator Dave Toub, the Chiefs were likely to score on a kickoff or punt return at any time. They had four return scores in 2013 and two in 2014. Over those 32 regular season games, the Chiefs never went more than nine games without a return TD in the kicking game.
They’ve now gone 10 games without a score, two to close out last season and eight in the first half of the 2015 schedule. The Chiefs need the special teams to reach the end zone.
That Alex Smith could walk into his bye week on two feet is an amazing feat of strength and resilience. Few teams have been worse at protecting their quarterback than the Chiefs. Opponents have 29 sacks in 299 passing plays, with the easy math showing one sack for every 10 passing plays.
That ranks them at No. 29 of 32 teams in the NFL in sacks per pass play. None of those bottom four teams in pass protection have a winning record:
SACK PER PLAY
There has not been a single culprit on pass protection that has allowed Smith to be pummeled.
According to the website Pro Football Focus and their analysis of each NFL play, these are the individuals sacks the Chiefs offensive line has allowed: 5-left guard Ben Grubbs, 4-right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, 3-center Mitch Morse and right tackle Jah Reid, 2-left tackle Donald Stephenson, 1-right/left tackle Eric Fisher and right guard Zach Fulton.
If PFF is correct in their judgments, then the Chiefs protection problems are inside, rather than at the edges with the left and right tackles.
The sanity of Clark Hunt’s decision to give up a home game so the Chiefs would play in London will always be debated.
Even if Hunt, due to his position on the league owner’s international committee, felt he had to set an example, he should have made sure the NFL office did not screw the Chiefs on their 2015 schedule.
When Hunt saw the rough draft of the 16 games in 17 weeks, he should have raised an all-time fuss. It will not be until Nov. 29 that the Chiefs will play their fourth game at Arrowhead Stadium. That’s week No. 12 of the season. That is beyond ridiculous. The Chiefs play in London, get the normal relief with the bye week, and then play three of their next four games on the road, all in the AFC West, including two trips to the West Coast.
Marty Schottenheimer used to say about the schedule that it’s not who you play, but when you play them. Let me add another caveat: it’s about when and where the game goes down. Hunt said in London last weekend he hopes the NFL office sends some love back to the Chiefs in the 2016 schedule. He should not hope; he should demand.