AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If Bob Sutton had never become the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, it wasn’t going to be for a lack of trying. When Herm Edwards was head coach of the Chiefs, he unsuccessfully tried to hire Sutton away from the New York Jets.

Andy Reid made it his annual quest when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles to make Sutton a part of his staff.

“Andy Reid tried to get him every single year,’’ Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “He would call and try to get him and I’m like, ‘No I’m not letting you, not letting you have him’ and things like that.

“I never wanted to lose Bob. Obviously, he was my assistant head coach and everything, but it was the best thing for Bob and his career to get an opportunity to be a coordinator, and I knew the kind of coach he is. He’s a great coach and a great person.”

When he joined the Chiefs last year, Reid finally pried Sutton away from the Jets. It’s looking like Sutton was worth the wait.

The Chiefs, in Sutton’s second season as coordinator, are third in the league in total defense and points allowed and first in passing defense. This is happening despite the fact the Chiefs have played almost all of the season without four starters, including a pair of Pro Bowlers, linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry.

The Chiefs had a dominant defense for the first half of last season as well. They were on an NFL record pace for sacks and were forcing turnovers in bunches. But the Chiefs ran out of gas in the second half. They allowed a lot of big pass plays, a lot of points and eventually wasted a 28-point third-quarter lead in losing to the Indianapolis Colts 45-44.

What the Chiefs are doing now looks to be sustainable. They’re still sacking the quarterback with frequency, but not at the expense of allowing big plays. They’re a lot more solid defensively, something San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers noted before the Chargers’ game against the Chiefs two weeks ago.

For that, the Chiefs can thank the 63-year-old Sutton, a longtime college assistant and nine-year head coach at Army before he joined the staff of the Jets in 2000. He was an assistant to Ryan and much of what the Chiefs are doing defensively, he adopted from Ryan.

“It’s a lot of what we did in New York and what Rex brought to New York from Baltimore,’’ Sutton said. “I think each system goes off a little bit on its own as you get to a place, a lot of time it’s driven by either what you’re faced with and also what your personnel can do. We always think about this system that it has a lot of flexibility. We can play a lot of different ways, and I think that’s one of the real strengths of the system. You kind of push it over to one side or the other based on your players or the issues that you’re facing from the opponent. But a lot of it honestly is driven from what we did in New York.”

The Chiefs are certainly playing it better now than the 1-7 Jets.

Chiefs vs. Jets preview

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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The Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, teams headed in opposite directions, meet Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. After losing their first two games, the Chiefs climbed to 4-3 after Sunday's 34-7 win over the St. Louis Rams. The Jets, after beating the Oakland Raiders to begin the season, have lost seven straight games, including Sunday's 43-23 defeat to the Buffalo Bills. This week, the Jets replaced struggling quarterback Geno Smith with veteran Michael Vick.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Jets reporter Rich Cimini preview Sunday's game.

Teicher: Rich, do you think the Jets are making the best decision for this game by replacing Smith with Vick?

Cimini: I don’t think the change will solve the turnover problem, but Vick might bring a spark to the offense. He isn’t the Vick of 2010, but he’s still capable of escaping trouble with his legs. That alone will be good for a few first downs a game. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to a full week of practice reps with the starters, something he hasn’t had with the Jets, including training camp. I know one thing: The players were ready for a change after last week’s brutal performance by Smith. The downside to Vick is that he will fumble; he’s always been careless with the ball. He had four fumbles last week (and lost two). Obviously, Andy Reid knows him better than anyone, having coached him in Philadelphia. That insight will help in the game planning.

It looks like the Chiefs are taking dink and dunk to a new level. How would you describe their passing game and what’s the deal with Alex Smith’s shoulder?

Teicher: It is a dink-and-dunk passing game. Smith last Sunday was the first NFL quarterback in two years to win a game by attempting just one pass longer than 10 yards down the field. While that’s an extreme, Smith has had similar games earlier in the season. Shaky protection is part of the problem. The Chiefs have allowed more sacks per pass play than all but four other teams, so the Chiefs put a premium on Smith getting rid of the ball quickly. The Chiefs have no pass play of longer than 33 yards. All the other teams have at least two pass plays of 34 yards or longer. The Chiefs ask their receivers to earn yards after the catch. Tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Jamaal Charles do that well.

The Jets are allowing a lot of points and their pass defense has been horrible. Give me a scouting report on the Jets defense and detail some of the reasons they’ve been so bad on that side of the ball.

Cimini: You’re right; the defensive performance has been stunning. Blame injuries and poor personnel decisions at cornerback. Rex Ryan is playing cards with half a deck, and the results have been lousy. They’re giving up big plays (nine pass plays of 40-plus yards), they stink on third down (a league-high 12 touchdowns) and they can’t steal the ball. Incredibly, they have only three takeaways -- one interception and two fumble recoveries. They don’t have anyone who can play man-to-man, so Ryan is playing more zone than ever before. Now, I will say this: The Chiefs don’t have an explosive passing attack, so this matchup plays to the Jets’ strengths, stopping the run and rushing the passer.

Obviously, Justin Houston is having a great year. What makes him so effective in Bob Sutton’s scheme, which is similar to Rex Ryan’s scheme?

Teicher: Houston would be a good fit in a lot of schemes, but he’s the perfect outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. He’s a solid all-around player, good against the run and in coverage as well as rushing the passer. He’s getting plenty of help in pressuring the quarterback. Tamba Hali, a relentless player, is a nice complement to Houston as an edge rusher. Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe have been effective inside rushers.

The Jets traded for wide receiver Percy Harvin last week and they got him involved immediately in the game against the Bills. How did they utilize him and what difference, if any, should he make in the Jets’ offense?

Cimini: Harvin didn’t make much of a difference in his Jets debut -- seven touches on offense for a total of 50 yards. Instead of using him as a “gadget” receiver -- bubble screens, jet sweeps, etc. -- the Jets used him as a traditional X receiver. I guess they think they’re smarter than the Seahawks, but the only plays that worked were his old Seattle plays. Two of his three catches came behind the line of scrimmage. Elsewhere, he caught only one of seven targets. His four rushes came from a running-back position. He played 44 of 84 snaps last week, so look for that total to increase after another week of absorbing the system. He’s fast, all right, but he’s not the kind of player that can elevate those around him.

After an 0-2 start, the Chiefs seem to have their act together. Could they pull a reverse of last year, finishing strong and becoming a factor in January?

Teicher: It’s possible. I think the Chiefs will be a strong contender for a wild-card spot. They’ve greatly reduced the number of big pass plays they’re allowing. That was a big problem for them last season, even during their 9-0 start. They aren’t a big-play offense, but they run the ball well and are very effective on third downs. They finally got a significant contribution last week on special teams, where they won on a weekly basis last year. If they continue to get that, the Chiefs will be tough to beat during the second half of the season. If they do make the playoffs, their chances of winning a game or two would be better than they’ve been in a long time, depending on the matchup.
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Chiefs’ patience with Knile Davis pays off

October, 29, 2014
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ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher says the team should be applauded for waiting for Knile Davis to develop as a kick returner.

The Film Don’t Lie: Chiefs

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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A weekly look at what the Kansas City Chiefs must fix:

Perhaps quarterback Alex Smith will go downfield with the ball more during Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at Arrowhead Stadium than he did in last week’s win over the St. Louis Rams. But even given the problems the Jets’ pass defense has had, it’s probably smarter to think the Chiefs’ dink-and-dunk passing game will continue.

Against the Rams, Smith was the first NFL quarterback to win a game while attempting only one pass of 10 yards or more down the field. While that was an extreme, the Chiefs have taken very few shots down the field with their passing game. They are the only team without a touchdown from a wide receiver. Their longest pass play of the season is 33 yards.

This is something the Chiefs will probably have to learn to live with pass protection issues. The Chiefs have allowed more sacks per pass play than all but four teams. Left tackle Eric Fisher, in particular, has struggled with pass blocking.

Fortunately for the Chiefs, they have a few receivers who excel at running after the catch. The Chiefs need to do a better job of getting the ball to players such as tight end Travis Kelce, running back Jamaal Charles and wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and De'Anthony Thomas in the open field.

The Chiefs threw a bubble screen to Kelce for a big gain against the Rams. That type of play would work in many instances with Kelce, Bowe or Thomas. The Chiefs have had trouble with timing issues in throwing the screen pass but have made it work in the past with Charles, who is superb in setting up blocks.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The New York Jets made the only move they could reasonably make at quarterback for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. They are replacing the struggling Geno Smith with veteran Michael Vick.

The Chiefs last season faced several quarterbacks making their first start after replacing a starter who was either injured or ineffective. This is the first such instance this season and it allows Vick to cross paths once again with Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

Reid coached Vick for several seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Vick was the quarterback for the Eagles last season when the Chiefs, in their first year under Reid, beat Philadelphia 26-16. The Chiefs intercepted Vick twice and forced him to fumble once.

The Chiefs are playing well defensively. Their pass defense is best in the league in terms of yardage and they had seven sacks in Sunday's win against the St. Louis Rams.

Vick gives the Jets a better chance than Smith, who threw three interceptions among his eight pass attempts Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. But Vick, who also committed three turnovers against Buffalo, won't have it easy against a defense that has been causing problems for opposing quarterbacks for the past several weeks.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A couple notes on the Kansas City Chiefs' passing game courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:
  • The Chiefs are the only NFL team without a touchdown catch from its wide receivers this season. The last teams
    to go at least seven games into a season without a touchdown from their wide receivers were the 2009 Browns (10th game into the season) and Panthers (seventh game into the season).
  • Alex Smith is the first starting quarterback since Miami's Ryan Tannehill in 2012 to win a game without attempting multiple passes deeper than 10 yards downfield. Smith completed his only pass that went more than 10 yards down the field in Sunday's 34-7 win over the St. Louis Rams at Arrowhead Stadium.

My reaction: If the Chiefs keep playing as well as they have been on defense, if their special teams score a touchdown as they did against the Rams and if the Chiefs continue to play inferior opponents, as they will this Sunday against the New York Jets at Arrowhead, then this won't matter. The Chiefs can dink and dunk all they want against the Jets and they'll still win, as long as the other elements are in place.

Sooner or later, the Chiefs will need to open up their offense and get some big pass plays and even a touchdown from Dwayne Bowe or one of their other wide receivers. Their longest pass play of the season through seven games is 33 yards. That's a difficult way to survive over the long term. The Chiefs are 26th in yards per pass play. The teams below them in that category are mostly bottom-feeders: the Jets, Vikings, Jaguars, Raiders, Buccaneers and Dolphins.

To their credit, the Chiefs have survived that way so far. It will get more difficult, though probably not Sunday against the Jets.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With a comfortable fourth-quarter lead on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs pulled from the lineup several of their best defensive players, including pass-rushing linebacker Justin Houston. But Houston, who already had a couple of sacks, soon had to re-enter the game after backup Josh Martin strained his hamstring.

Houston wasn't complaining.

"Oh, yeah," Houston said after the Chiefs completed their 34-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams, smiling at the thought. "For a sack guy or any guy that loves to put pressure on the quarterback, six minutes left in the game when you're [leading] big like that, we know what time it is. It's time to pin your ears back and go. Every time you can put pressure on them in that situation, that's fun."

[+] EnlargeJustin Houston and Austin Davis
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaJustin Houston had three sacks against the Rams and now leads the NFL with 10 this season.
Houston, in the extra time necessitated by Martin's injury, had one more sack of Rams quarterback Austin Davis. His three sacks put him in the NFL lead with 10 and leave him halfway to Derrick Thomas' team record of 20 set in 1990.

Before giving Houston the regular-season sack title or the Chiefs' single-season record, recall that Houston was on a similarly torrid pace last season. He had 11 sacks through eight games, making him a legitimate threat for both standards.

He didn't get another sack the rest of the season, in large part because he missed five games because of a dislocated elbow.

Whether Houston winds up leading the NFL or setting the franchise record, he's already established himself as one of the league's premier pass rushers. He has 21 sacks in his last 18 games.

That kind of pace, assuming he stays healthy, will win plenty of individual honors. More importantly, it will guarantee that the Chiefs will continue to have one of the league's best pass defenses. They were second in the league heading into Sunday's game and didn't hurt themselves against the Rams.

They allowed a 43-yard pass from Davis to Kenny Britt on St. Louis' first drive of the game and then nothing more than 20 yards. They had seven sacks and yielded just 116 net passing yards.

It should go without saying the Chiefs wouldn't have any of these glossy stats without the help of Houston.

"My goal is to get as many sacks as I can every game," Houston said. "That's my job. Every time I can put pressure on the quarterback, that's a plus."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The training camp practice field for the Kansas City Chiefs in the summer of 2013 was littered with kickoffs that Knile Davis fumbled, bumbled, mishandled, misjudged and just plain dropped. The Chiefs were trying to make Davis into a star kickoff return specialist and clearly they saw something in him that wasn’t evident to anyone else paying attention.

Credit belongs to the Chiefs now that Davis has emerged from that humbling start to become one of the NFL’s most dangerous kickoff returners. Davis delivered a big play at a crucial moment Sunday when he brought back the second half kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. It put the Chiefs ahead by 10 points in a game they would go on to win 34-7.

Special teams coach Dave Toub wouldn’t give up on Davis despite the early mishaps. Davis started to reward the Chiefs last season, when he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in a game against the Denver Broncos.

He further validated Toub’s faith on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeKnile Davis
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaKnile Davis scored on a run and a kickoff return against the Rams.
“Knile is big and strong and fast," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He hits it. You’ve got to have somebody that does that on kickoffs. You can’t have somebody back there that’s dancing. You have to have somebody that’s willing to see the hole and then go get it. He’s wired that way."

If the Chiefs can get the kind of big play on special teams they got against the Rams, they might be difficult to beat. They scored four special-teams touchdowns last season but had none this year until Davis had his return Sunday.

"This whole season we've been one of two blocks from getting in the end zone," Davis said. "Right before we took it, [Toub] said, 'We're overdue.'"

One look at the solidly built, 227-pound Davis and it’s easy to tell he has the power that Reid talked about. His speed is more of a surprise.

He put it on display on his touchdown return. He broke into the open around the Kansas City 40-yard line and then it became a footrace. Davis not only wasn’t caught, but he pulled away from the Rams who were chasing him.

If Davis isn’t as fast as fellow Chiefs running backs De’Anthony Thomas and Jamaal Charles, both college track stars, he’s close.

“Our whole backfield can run," Davis said. “We can all flat outrun."

Returning kicks is a relatively new experience for Davis. He was not a return man in college at Arkansas, so he had much to learn last year after being drafted by the Chiefs in the third round. For instance, the Chiefs don't just want Davis to catch the ball when returning a kick but catch it with his momentum heading up the field. That was the difficult part for Davis. Among other flubs, he dropped a return in the fourth quarter of a game last season against the Dallas Cowboys with the Chiefs holding a slim lead.

But through sheer repetition, he was able to get it down.

“It was a matter of him securing the football on the kicks," Reid said. “He had never done that before. Toub overloaded him with an abundance of returns during [last year’s] training camp and [offseason practice] and saw he was improving. So he decided to go with him last year a little bit and then this year.

“Good things have happened.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Kansas City Chiefs' 34-7 win over the St. Louis Rams:
  • Reid
    The first person Andy Reid shook hands with after emerging from the Chiefs' locker room was Donovan McNabb, Reid's former quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles. Reid asked McNabb, who was working his first game as a TV analyst on the Fox telecast, whether he was nervous. McNabb replied by saying he thought Reid was going to allow Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith to throw more passes.
  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon presented the Governor's Cup, awarded to the winner of Chiefs-Rams matchups, to Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt and Reid. Ever the state booster, Nixon jokingly told Reid he was disappointed the coach didn't let backup quarterback Chase Daniel throw a pass. Daniel, who replaced Alex Smith for the Chiefs' final possession, played in college at Missouri.
  • The only injuries for the Chiefs were to cornerback Jamell Fleming and linebacker Josh Martin. Both players have a strained hamstring.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Remember the incredible run of backups, developmental players and journeymen quarterbacks the Kansas City Chiefs played against last year in their 9-0 start? It’s been a distant memory this year.

The Chiefs have instead gone up against a couple of quarterbacks who are certain to eventually reach the Hall of Fame (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) and another who will likely get to Canton (Philip Rivers). Two of the others were former first-round draft picks (Ryan Tannehill and Jake Locker) and the last was Colin Kaepernick.

Not a bad lineup, certainly more formidable than the group the Chiefs faced last season over the first nine games. Six of those quarterbacks from 2013, by the way, are no longer starting. Two of them aren’t even on the active roster of an NFL team.

The stretch of upcoming opposing quarterbacks for the Chiefs resembles the bunch the Chiefs faced early last season more than the ones they’ve gone against this year. On Sunday, the opposing quarterback for the St. Louis Rams will be Austin Davis, an undrafted player who was once on the scrap heap for any team to salvage.

After that: struggling Geno Smith of the New York Jets and journeyman Kyle Orton of the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs will face Seattle Russell Wilson, Arizona’s Carson Palmer, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger later this season, as well as Manning and Rivers again. But there are also two games against the Oakland Raiders and rookie quarterback Derek Carr.

Davis has played well in replacing the injured Sam Bradford. He’s completing 66 percent of his passes and is 14th in passer rating at 94.3. As a comparison, the Chiefs’ Alex Smith is completing 64 percent of his throws and is 19th in passer rating at 91.0.

"There are challenges,’’ Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said of playing against a young starting quarterback as opposed to an established veteran. “You don’t know his arm strength.

“Anytime you haven’t played against somebody personally, whether you’re coaching or playing, there’s always that unknown. You’re not quite sure what he’s really like. You can see things on video but you don’t appreciate [his strengths and weaknesses].’’

But it bodes well for the Chiefs’ chances to successfully defend Davis that they’ve done well against their first six opposing quarterbacks, four of whom have better passer ratings than Davis.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs last year set an NFL record for kickoff return average and scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns. This year, they’re near the bottom of the league in return average and their longest return is a feeble 37 yards.

“We’re a little bit disappointed right now," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “We’ve had some breakdowns. It’s one guy here, one guy there. We just haven’t been able to pop one yet. It’s a long season. We’re just going to keep plugging away and eventually they’ll start coming, hopefully sooner rather than later."

Davis
The Chiefs should be better in this particular phase. They’ve built the bottom of their roster with an eye on special teams, keeping backups such as running back Cyrus Gray and linebacker Jerry Franklin because of their value in the kicking game. Their main returner, Knile Davis, averaged more than 32 yards per chance last year and had a 108-yard touchdown.

Davis has started a lot of his returns from deep in the end zone, when he might be better off taking a touchback. But he’s only doing what Toub has coached him to do.

“They’re doing everything we’re coaching them to do," Toub said, speaking of Davis and the alternate returners. “We still want to be aggressive coming out with the ball. That’s not going to change. We just have to do a better job of blocking. It’s not the returners. It’s the blockers up front [not] giving those guys a chance to get started."

The Chiefs have had to shuffle some players on special teams because of injuries and that hasn’t helped the kickoff-return efforts. But despite having to utilize some different players, the Chiefs still excel in some phases of the kicking game. They’ve been good at returning punts and great at covering them.

The pieces are in place for the Chiefs to move into one of those categories on kickoff return. It’s important they do. The Chiefs don’t have a big-play offense. They could use the points and field position that kickoff returns are capable of providing.

Rams vs. Chiefs preview

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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The 3-3 Kansas City Chiefs and 2-4 St. Louis Rams, both coming off big divisional victories, meet for the Governor’s Cup this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won in San Diego for the first time in seven years last week when they beat the Chargers 23-20. The Rams, after losing 16 of their past 18 games to Seattle, beat the Seahawks 28-26 in St. Louis.

Here, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner discuss Sunday’s game.

Teicher: Nick, big win for the Rams last week, but they obviously put a lot into that game, and I wonder how much they’ll have in the tank for this week’s game, at least from an emotional standpoint. How do you think the Rams will respond against the Chiefs?

Wagoner: The Rams do and have lacked a lot of things this year, but in a general sense, effort and enthusiasm have been pretty constant. The only time they looked wholly unprepared was the beginning of their loss to Philadelphia, and even then they came back and had a late possession with a chance to win the game. The stunning thing was that one came out of the bye week. The Rams under Jeff Fisher have been a mixed bag. In 2012, they were great against NFC West division foes and not good outside the division. Last year was the opposite. This year, they haven't really had enough of a sample size to determine either way. But they went on the road and blasted Indianapolis a year ago, and they might have another performance like that in them. That's not to say it will come against the Chiefs, but the Rams under Fisher seem to find a game or two a year in which they play way above their means. It should also help them to get back on a normal schedule this week (St. Louis played last Monday night) and potentially get some guys healthy in the secondary.

I suppose I can simply redirect a similar question to you, but with the addendum that the Chiefs' win was probably more expected than the Rams', though they were on the road. The Chiefs seem to be getting some momentum, anyway, and have won three of their past four. What's been the key to getting it going a bit?

Teicher: It’s true the Chiefs put a lot into beating the Chargers. They had to win that game to stay relevant in the playoff race. Since they were coming off their bye, they had two weeks to rest and emphasize that game. But the Chiefs didn’t play much better in San Diego than they had in the previous several weeks. The Chiefs actually picked up their game starting with the Week 2 game against Denver. Ever since their miserable game against Tennessee to open the season, they’ve played fairly consistently. So, it’s the Titans game that stands out among their six this season. The Chiefs looked lost, unprepared to play. But that hasn’t happened since.

Give me a scouting report on Rams quarterback Austin Davis. What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Wagoner: Davis has mostly been a pleasant surprise, especially for a guy who didn't look like he had a chance to make the roster entering training camp. His teammates love his fire and enthusiasm, something that Sam Bradford didn't really bring to the table. One thing I like about him is you can see noticeable progress and improvement each week. For example, he found himself taking too many deep shots against San Francisco two weeks ago, missing easy, open completions underneath. So last week he took what the defense gave him, and though he averaged only 5.5 yards per completion, he had just three incompletions on his 21 attempts. And all of those short passes opened things up for him to make plays when the Rams needed him to at the end of the game. His mission now will be to find a healthy balance between taking shots and settling for checkdowns, but it's encouraging that he's able to notice something he needs to work on, be honest about it and then take steps to fix it. As for weaknesses, he's had a tendency to make a bad throw or two every week that turns into an instant six points for the opponent. Turnovers have been a serious issue for him, though he didn't have any against the Seahawks. He's got a good-but-not-great arm, and he sometimes gets caught locking onto a receiver without going through progressions. He's made strides in that area, but there's still work to do. But honestly, as third-string quarterbacks go, you can't ask for much more from Davis.

Sticking with the quarterback theme, the last time the Rams saw Alex Smith, they were knocking him out of a game in San Francisco in what became the official changing of the guard to Colin Kaepernick. That was in 2012. Since he's been in Kansas City, obviously he's become a key part of what they do. In what ways does he fit with what Andy Reid wants to do, and do you believe he's the right guy for the long term?

Teicher: Smith isn’t the most talented quarterback around, but he does fit well with what Reid is looking for. He is a mostly accurate passer who is mobile enough to frequently get out of trouble and extend a play either with a throw or run. Smith also has the intangibles that Reid likes. He’s liked and well-respected in the locker room. As for the long-term, Smith might not be the quarterback who will ever lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory. But better alternatives will be difficult to find, and the Chiefs committed to Smith for the foreseeable future when they gave him a new contract. For the time being, they seem content to coach him up, make him the best player he can be and then build the rest of the roster around him.

Robert Quinn had 19 sacks for the Rams last year but has only one so far this season. The Rams as a whole have just four. What have opponents done to counter Quinn in particular and the Rams’ pass rush in general?

Wagoner: Well, the first thing they've done is not throw the ball much. In the first four games, the Rams were seeing almost nothing in terms of pass attempts against. That was partially because they couldn't stop the run and teams had no desire to take a risk throwing against the Rams' pass rush when they could hand it off and move the chains. Beyond that, teams have also been getting the ball out as quickly as possible. The Rams are now seeing the ninth-fastest release in terms of average time teams are taking to get the ball out, but that number has dipped a bit the past two weeks. San Francisco and Seattle had little success running the ball in traditional ways (with running backs), and that forced those teams to pass. The results haven't been pretty for the Rams, as they've allowed 656 passing yards in the past two games, so they can probably expect to see teams throwing it around a little bit more moving forward. That should create more pass-rush opportunities. They had three sacks in a span of five plays against the Seahawks and were in Russell Wilson's face for most of the day. The hope is that production will give them something to build on moving forward.

The Chiefs got off to such a great start in 2013 because of what they were getting done defensively, particularly in the pass rush. They again rank near the top in sacks per dropback. While the Rams have struggled to maintain their pass rush of a year ago, the Chiefs seem to keep the beat going. How do they do it, and has anything changed in terms of scheme or approach from a year ago?

Teicher: The Chiefs are actually blitzing less than they did last year. They have for the most part been getting the job done with their two edge pass-rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and their inside rushers, Dontari Poe and Allen Bailey. They’ve cut back greatly on the exotic blitzes they showed last year. While they haven’t been vanilla in their approach, they’ve more often been able to get pressure with skill than with scheme. The biggest change in the defense is that they’re giving up far fewer big pass plays than they did last year. One reason is that they’ve reduced their blitzing. But the safeties have also played well, much better than last season. One cornerback, Sean Smith, is also having a better season.

Chiefs need to keep using Dwayne Bowe

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher talks about wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and his ability as a playmaker.

The Film Don't Lie: Chiefs

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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A weekly look at what the Chiefs must fix:

Just as they do every week, the Kansas City Chiefs will need a big game from Dwayne Bowe on Sunday when they play against the St. Louis Rams. Bowe is their best wide receiver and the Chiefs received a grisly look at what their passing game looks like without him in their season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The Chiefs need to make Bowe more of a priority in their passing game. They did that in their win against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, when Bowe was their leading targeted receiver for the first time this season. Alex Smith threw seven passes in Bowe's direction.

Though Bowe dropped a third-down pass that could have been costly, he was the Chiefs' leading receiver with five catches for 84 yards and had a 19-yard gain on the game-winning field goal drive.

But the Chiefs can do more with Bowe. What he does best is run after the catch. He's big, runs strong and is hard to tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, 32 of his yards against the Chargers came after the catch.

So the Chiefs should get the ball more to Bowe in the open field. They threw a lot of bubble screens to Bowe earlier in his career to get him going that way but have mostly abandoned that.

They should get back to that against the Rams and beyond.
videoSAN DIEGO -- Dwayne Bowe had an explanation for why the Kansas City Chiefs, after a long dry spell, finally made a two-minute drill work with coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith.

“Alex won two championships here and he knows the field,’’ Bowe said jokingly.

Smith, a San Diego native, did win a pair of high school championships at Qualcomm Stadium, but otherwise the place has been cursed as far as the Chiefs are concerned. They hadn’t beaten the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm since 2007, when they were coached by Herm Edwards and quarterbacked by Damon Huard.

This time, in Smith’s old haunt, the Chiefs went 62 yards in 1:36 and beat the Chargers 23-20 on Cairo Santos' 48-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining. The successful drive might have saved the Chiefs’ season. They have overcome a rotten start to get to 3-3 with home games against the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets immediately ahead.

By taking care of business against a pair of sub-.500 opponents, the Chiefs can get to 5-3 at the season’s midway point. After a start to their season that included a home loss to the dismal Tennessee Titans, a potentially overwhelming wave of injuries and four road games, the Chiefs would be elated with a 5-3 record.

But they couldn’t get there without beating the Chargers and to do that, they would need a late scoring drive after the Chargers tied the game at 20-20 with 1:57 remaining.

The Chiefs had no reason to be confident. They failed in similar late-game situations this season in Denver and San Francisco. Then, they had been unable to get the ball to some of their better downfield receivers, most notably Bowe and tight end Travis Kelce.

The Chiefs had a little bit of good fortune this time in that they had their bye and two weeks to prepare for the Chargers. They made their two-minute drill an emphasis. Reid and Smith both gave credit to offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who spent extra hours designing some plays that might, for a change, work.

“Doug did a great job of sitting down and looking at all our two-minute stuff even from last year and [figured out] what are our strengths and weaknesses and when we’re doing well, what are we doing and putting those guys in those situations,’’ Smith said.

One thing Pederson wanted Smith to do was get the ball to their better receivers. That’s Bowe and Kelce. Bowe dropped a big third-down earlier in the game, but got open on the big play of the drive, a 19-yard pass from Smith. The Chiefs then fed the ball twice to Kelce with short passes and let him do what he does best, run with the ball in his hands.

Those were the only passes Smith would complete on the drive, which other than the result wasn’t a thing of beauty. He was just 3-of-7 for 43 yards.

That doesn’t mean the Chiefs will throw it back. They’ll hold it tight and hope it spurs them on to bigger and better things this season.

“I think this team is in a good place mentally,’’ Smith said. “I think we understood that coming into this game we were a couple of plays away from being 4-1 and we understood we didn’t make those plays, though.

“It was a tough road game. Four of the first six were on the road. So I feel like we’re in a good place to keep going.’’

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