[PUBLISHER’S NOTE, MARCH 1, 2015: Former contributing writer Desmond Bailey wrote this story in 2014.]
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The saga of 2014 Chiefs continues to unfold for the worse as they traverse a perilous route toward their Week 6 bye.
The same football gods that cloaked the Chiefs in health and good fortune last year, have turned their celestial gaze away from the team this season.
Consequently, their postseason road, paved with yellow bricks and sunlight a year ago, is now a winding dirt path shrouded in thorns and darkness.
The Chiefs (0-2) emerged from their Week 2, 24-17 loss to the Broncos (2-0) with another list of short-term but significant casualties. Most notable among the fallen were Jamaal Charles (ankle, questionable) and safety Eric Berry (ankle, out).
The impact of Charles’ loss was dampened by an inspiring performance from backup Knile Davis who rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos.
Berry’s absence, however, looms with little consolation as the Dolphins (1-1) await the Chiefs for a Week 3 encounter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Ron Parker will likely start in Berry’s place.
TALE OF THE TAPE
• The Chiefs enter Week 3 tied for 30th in scoring (13.5 points per game), ranked 22nd in rushing (100 yards per game) and 18th in passing (212.5 yards per game)
• The Dolphins, meanwhile, are tied for 18th in scoring (21.5 points per game), ranked 10th in rushing (135.5 yards per game) and 24th in passing (189.5 yards per game)
• The Chiefs are ranked 23rd in scoring (25 points allowed per game), 23rd against the run (125 yards allowed per game) and 20th versus the pass (240 yards allowed per game)
• The Dolphins are tied for 21st in scoring (24.5 points allowed per game), 13th against the run (101 yards allowed per game), and 15th versus the pass (214 yards allowed per game)
THE LAST TIME
Arrowhead Stadium was the unfortunate stage for a 31-3 Dolphins victory in Week 9 of the 2011 season. Coincidentally, the Chiefs were then without Charles and Berry after losing both to season-ending ACL tears at the onset of the year.
Historically, the Dolphins own a 16-12 (3-0 in the postseason) advantage over the Chiefs as the clubs prepare for their 29th meeting on Sunday.
The Dolphins have won eight of the last 10 battles between the two teams.
DAVIS IS READY
Running back Jamaal Charles’ return to practice Thursday and Friday was a promising sign for the Chiefs as the team hopes to recover from an 0-2 start.
Given his listing as “questionable” on Friday’s injury report, the Chiefs could choose to err on the side of caution and rest Charles, enhancing his readiness for the Patriots in Week 4.
In that scenario, Davis, who has taken first-team reps in practice, would start the contest armed with a game plan tailored to his strengths.
Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson spoke Thursday about Davis’ improved vision and patience since the Chiefs selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft.
“It’s gotten a lot better,” Pederson said. “He’s allowing the blocks to take place, and he’s being patient as a runner, and that’s a big part of it, and he’s seeing things really well and he’s watching that kind of movie screen move in front of him and he’s making those cuts.
“So credit to him, he spends a lot of time watching tape and coach Bieniemy does a good job with those guys and obviously doing it in here in practice helps him.”
Davis credits offseason focus for his improvement.
“Well, really I was just working on footwork, working on hand placement, different fundamentals over the offseason,” Davis said Thursday. ”Just trying to get them to where they are second nature. And I’ve been improving. I took the whole offseason to do it.”
Since the playoffs were expanded in 1990, only 2.8 percent of winless teams through the first three weeks made it to the postseason. The last time the Chiefs started 0-3 was the 2011 season when they finished with a 7-9 record.
Therefore, to say that it’s imperative the Chiefs leave Sun Life Stadium with a win is a massive understatement. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith spoke Wednesday about the urgency of the situation.
“I mean, it’s certainly not where we hoped to be two weeks ago,” Smith told reporters. ”It’s a long season though; the more I’ve played – you never know what can happen and I think that’s the reason the mentality is win this week and put some things together and you never know what can happen.”
“There’s so many things out of your control you can’t worry about, you can’t dwell on. The one thing we can control is how we prepare and go out and play the Dolphins and let’s just focus on that.”
Thankfully for the Chiefs, coach Andy Reid has experience with 0-2 starts.
Chiefs defensive end Kevin Vickerson on why an 0-2 start isn’t a reason to go into panic mode:
“You’ve got 14 more games left. It’s a long season,” Vickerson said Wednesday. ”A lot of trial and a lot of ups and downs. We’ve got to keep everybody on the same page, same focus, same attitude coming out to practice trying to get better, wanting to get better. It’ll change real soon.”
Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith on the biggest challenge for defending Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace:
“Speed,” Smith said Friday. “That’s it. Speed kills.
Former Chiefs, current Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert on the mentorship role he had with the Chiefs offensive linemen before signing with Miami in March:
“I was the Brian Waters to them,” Albert said during Wednesday’s media conference call, “like Brian Waters was to me.”
The Dolphins have shown a propensity for turning over the football. It’s a weakness the Chiefs may be able to exploit to secure their first win.
In their last two games, the Dolphins turned the ball over six times resulting in a combined 16 points for the opponent. Though the Chiefs have yet to force a turnover this season, Sunday could be when that streak ends.
Offensively, whether it’s Charles and/or Davis toting the pigskin, the Chiefs could see success on the ground. The Dolphins have allowed over 130 yards rushing in six of their last nine home games. They are 3-3 in those contests.
Therefore, an emphasis on the running game could be the most effective strategy for the Chiefs, especially behind an offensive line that showed signs of gelling According to offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, the unit improved last week against the Broncos.
“They were a physical group,” Pederson said, “they kind of took the punch to Denver on Sunday. That’s something they can go into this week and the next couple of weeks just having that confidence as a group. The communication level is good and they just keep building on that.”
Unlike the Broncos and Titans, the Dolphins aren’t equipped with a wide array of offensive weaponry. Wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Charles Gray are the biggest threats through the air. On the ground, running back Lamar Miller steps in for an injured Knowshon Moreno (elbow) and will likely split carries with Daniel Thomas.
With Berry (ankle) out of action, the Chiefs will need to focus on pressuring Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill who was sacked four times and hit five times by the Bills in Week 2.
Though this is a road game, the Chiefs could resemble the team that jumped out to a 9-0 start last season, especially on defense.
Outcome: Chiefs 24, Dolphins 16.