"I’m glad we stuck with it. He’s gotten so much better."
Toub has helped develop many outstanding return specialists in his time as an NFL coach, including Devin Hester. Davis might have been his biggest challenge. Davis wasn’t a returner in college at Arkansas. He’s a running back and, for him, catching the ball isn’t a natural skill.
So it was ugly at Davis’ rookie training camp last year. When Davis wasn’t misjudging kicks, he was fumbling them. Through it all, Toub envisioned the payoff if the Chiefs could make this project work.
"He’s able to break tackles and his vision, all of those other intangibles that he had were so strong that we had to try to get him to be a good (returner)," Toub said.
Toub and Davis kept at it with plenty of work before, during and after practices. Davis slowly but surely began to master his new craft. He started to breakthrough last season, when he helped the Chiefs set an NFL record for kickoff return average. He returned one kick 108 yards for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos.
Davis got off to a slow start this season, but had his breakout game last week against the St. Louis Rams. He returned the second half kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and is now fourth in the league with a 28.2-yard average.
At 227 pounds, Davis doesn’t have the prototypical body for a kickoff returner. He might be the biggest returner in the league.
But he’s fast and Toub prefers a bigger, more powerful kickoff returner.
"We pick one spot to hit the returns," Toub said. "We’re a more downhill, power kind of kick return team so he fits with what we do.
"You have to really want to do it. You have to be courageous. He’s hungry for it. He just wants to touch the ball."
One thing gives them a chance. Chiefs receivers have done a nice job of making yards after catching those short throws from quarterback Alex Smith.
The Chiefs are only 17th among the NFL's 32 teams in yards after the catch with 870. But the Chiefs don't have as many receptions as many other NFL teams and broken down by yards after the catch per reception, the Chiefs are fifth at 6.04.
Among the individuals, tight end Travis Kelce is 14th in the NFL in yards after the catch per reception at 8.75 yards. Running back Jamaal Charles is 19th at 8.07 yards.
"Kelce obviously stands out," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "He's broken some tackles and been able to make some long runs. Dwayne [Bowe] is another guy that here recently you throw it to him quick and he has the strength and power to break a tackle. Obviously, our backs, Jamaal can do that."
The Chiefs attempt few deep passes but the threat remains because they have receivers like A.J. Jenkins, De'Anthony Thomas and the injured Donnie Avery who are fast.
"We use a multitude of formations, motions and shifts to sort of disguise our three-step passing game and that's been helping for us," Pederson said.
"It's strange that things have happened that way for us. Part of it is our ability to run the football, particularly in the second half, which we did this past weekend. The other thing is if you do throw it short, you expect your guys to break tackles and make longer runs. We've just got to continue to use the formula that's been working for us and continue to grow off that."
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.
That encouragement came Wednesday nonetheless from, of all places, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan in an interview with Kansas City-area media. The Jets play against the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium and it’s not unusual for a coach to go overboard with the praise of an upcoming opponent.
Ryan had the love for Hali instead.
“For my money, I like Tamba Hali the best,’’ Ryan said.
“It starts with his motor. I love the way he plays. Physical. Every snap he goes. Great use of hands. You’ve got to block him every snap. Just a relentless player. Physical, smart, obviously loves to play. I just appreciate players like that.’’
Ryan went on to praise Houston as well. By that point, though, it almost sounded like a backhanded compliment.
“I recognize Houston is leading the league and he’s got the 10 sacks and all that,’’ Ryan said. “And he is an outstanding pass rusher. He’s a finisher but both those guys are. Houston is obviously a good player also. They’re both outstanding.’’
“(He was concerned) enough that I went in to get some treatment at halftime and get it looked at. In the middle of it, you’re feeling loose and you kind of keep that swelling down and you’re feeling good. It was something I felt I could handle."
Smith, who injured the shoulder toward the end of the first half after being sacked, played most of the second half. He was replaced in the final minutes by Chase Daniel.
Smith was scheduled to practice and take his normal workload Wednesday as the Chiefs begin their preparations for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at Arrowhead Stadium.
While it appears Smith will play against the Jets, his history with the shoulder makes the situation worth watching. The Chiefs didn’t feel Smith was putting himself at risk by playing in the second half against the Rams.
“He felt good enough to play," coach Andy Reid said. “Those kinds of things, they tighten up a bit on you after the game. He’s got a bruised shoulder. Those things happen.
“He was loose and he stayed loose. He felt good. The doctors looked at him to make sure he wasn’t going to be in a position where there was going to be further injury. He just landed on it funny."
In the Rams’ game, Smith became the first NFL quarterback in two seasons to win a game while throwing only one pass more than 10 yards down the field. Reid said he didn’t change his play-calling to accommodate Smith’s injury.
On that subject, Smith said, “I hope not. I certainly don’t feel like that. It didn’t need to be like that. I felt 100 percent and could do everything I needed to do."
The 4-3 Chiefs were jumped by the 5-3 Pittsburgh Steelers, who won a home game 51-34 against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. A lopsided win over the Colts is more impressive than one against the Rams. But should it have vaulted the Steelers over the Chiefs? Maybe, but I'll argue Pittsburgh's win over Indianapolis is not as impressive as what the Chiefs did against the New England Patriots earlier this season in a Monday night game.
The Chiefs and Steelers will settle the issue in a Dec. 21 game to be played at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. The game looks like it will carry serious playoff ramifications.
It might be difficult for the Chiefs to climb much, if at all, in next week's Power Rankings. They play Sunday against the 1-7 New York Jets at Arrowhead Stadium. The Jets are 30th in this week's poll.
Smith threw just one pass that went more than 10 yards down the field, in the process becoming the first quarterback to win a game that way since Miami’s Ryan Tannehill did it midway through the 2012 season.
I’m not sure the Chiefs were protecting an injured player as much as doing things the way they do them. Their game plan didn’t change after the injury, as opposed to before. The Chiefs have used a short passing game all season. Smith has had similar games this season where’s he has attempted few passes down the field with a September game against the Miami Dolphins being a prime example.
Pass protection has been a problem for the Chiefs, who allow more sacks per pass play than all but four other teams. Their longest pass play this season is 33 yards. They are the only team in the NFL without a pass play of longer than 33 yards. Washington, the league leader, has 15 such plays.
The Chiefs are the only team this season without a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Against the Rams, 17 of Smith’s 28 pass attempts were targeted for a tight end or running back. Take Dwayne Bowe from the equation and 17 of his 22 passes went to either a back or tight end.
Here’s what Smith had to say after the Rams game about the short passing game:
“I felt like (the Rams have) an aggressive defense at times and with some of that stuff that we had called, it dictated that it went to the backs and tight ends,’’ he said. “I felt like they had two rookie corners that they weren’t going to come up and press and they weren’t going to play aggressive and they were going to help. I felt like they helped the young kid, (cornerback Marcus Roberson), all day today with the safeties over the top. That was hard.
“It kind of felt like that because (cornerback Janoris) Jenkins didn’t play and they had the young kid in that they were going to help him, they were going to play off and just the way that ended up happening, it ended up dictating some of the backs and tight ends.”
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.
Let's take our weekly deep dive into the Sunday performance of five NFL quarterbacks, using data supplied by analyst Jacob Nitzberg via ESPN Stats & Information. After all, the numbers don't always speak for themselves. (For all Inside Slant posts, including the weekly QB Report, follow this link. For a full statistical breakdown of all NFL quarterbacks, see ESPN.com's QBR page.)
Tucked inside Roethlisberger's record-setting 522-yard performance was a cool strength-on-strength strategy between his Pittsburgh Steelers and the opposing Indianapolis Colts. Entering the game, Roethlisberger wasn't among the NFL's top 15 quarterbacks in most passing categories when opponents brought four or fewer pass-rushers, an indication that either the Steelers' offensive line wasn't protecting well or that the resulting coverage had proved effective against their scheme. On the other hand, Roethlisberger had lit up the blitz, completing 68.7 percent of his passes (second in the NFL) and producing an 87.7 QBR (fourth) against it. As a result, opponents had blitzed Roethlisberger on only 17.3 percent of his dropbacks, the second-lowest rate in the NFL. The Colts, however, entered the game blitzing an average of 39.1 percent of opposing dropbacks and were determined to do the same to Roethlisberger. They blitzed on 40.8 percent of Sunday's dropbacks and Roethlisberger predictably gashed them. On those plays, his QBR was 99.7 (out of 100). He completed 17 of 20 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns came on blitzes by a defensive back, and overall, the 17 completions were the highest total against the blitz for a quarterback this season. And in this game, Roethlisberger's performance didn't drop off when the Colts tried to play coverage. He completed 23 of 29 passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns when they sent four or fewer rushers.
Roethlisberger was so sharp, and the matchup so one-sided, that it might not have mattered what the Colts tried against him. But given his history -- and the fact that fewer blitzes had helped them shut out the Cincinnati Bengals a week before -- the Colts were a bit too stubborn for their own good.
Based on ESPN video tracking, none of Brady's 35 passes against the Chicago Bears were off target. He completed 30 of them, three were dropped, one was knocked down by the Bears' defense and the other was the result of a clear miscommunication. It was Brady's first game without at least one off-target throw since ESPN began tracking them in 2006. All five of Brady's touchdowns came from inside the pocket and he left the pocket to throw only one pass in the game. Why? The Bears put him under duress on just two attempts; his pressure percentage of 5.7 was the New England Patriots' lowest in a game during the past two seasons. Brady picked on the left side of the Bears' defense, completing 20 of 22 passes for 213 yards and all five of his scores against it. He also completed 11 of 12 play-action passes for two touchdowns, all season highs. Since the Patriots' loss in Week 5 at Kansas City, Brady has a 91.1 QBR and a completion percentage of 69.4, both second in the NFL during that span behind Peyton Manning. His 14 touchdown passes are tied with Manning. Brady and Eli Manning are the only two qualified quarterbacks in the league not to throw an interception since then.
It bears repeating that Brady has earned the benefit of the doubt after a stretch of poor play. The Patriots have pivoted 180 degrees, and over the past month Brady has played as efficiently as any quarterback in the NFL.
Foles was one of four quarterbacks with 400-plus passing yards in Week 8, but his yardage total came amid extreme pressure and required 62 attempts. He was forced to throw a career-high 12 passes outside of the pocket and completed only five after the Cardinals put him under duress on 41.3 percent of his dropbacks, his highest rate this season and the third highest in a game of his career. The Arizona Cardinals blitzed on 19 dropbacks and put Foles under duress on 14 of them. He wasn't sacked, but on those pressured dropbacks, he completed his pass on only eight of the attempts, totaling 66 yards and including an interception. That average of 3.5 yards per attempt against the blitz was his season low. When the Cardinals sent a defensive back as the blitzer, Foles missed on 8 of 11 passes and totaled just 39 yards. The blitz was especially effective on the Cardinals' final drive, forcing incompletions on 4 of 6 attempts. Foles faced seven pass-rushers on his final two passes, both incomplete. Still, he hung in admirably over the course of the game and completed 10 of 19 passes on third down, converting nine into first downs.
The Cardinals are the NFL's most blitz-heavy team, having sent at least one extra rusher on 45 percent of opposing dropbacks prior to the game. It will be up to future opponents to determine if Sunday's success was Cardinals-specific, or if Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles should continue to face the blitz at that rate.
The Green Bay Packers' game changed noticeably in New Orleans after Rodgers' third-quarter hamstring injury. After that point, all 20 of Rodgers' passes came from the shotgun. He also attempted only one play-action pass and all of his throws traveled less than 15 yards downfield. Prior to the injury, Rodgers had thrown two of his 19 passes when starting under center. He had thrown three play-action passes and another two throws that traveled at least 15 yards downfield (completing both). Two downfield passes tied for the second fewest in a game during Rodgers' career and made it difficult to catch up after the Saints established a lead. Indeed, of Rodgers' 418 yards, more than half -- 244 -- came after the catch. The Saints were effective getting after Rodgers and his presumed immobility, limiting him to two completions and two interceptions against their blitz in six attempts, his lowest completion percentage against the blitz in a game this season. His QBR against the blitz was 0.02. On the positive side, Rodgers' recent success throwing to receiver Randall Cobb continued. He completed 5 of 7 attempts toward Cobb for 126 yards and a touchdown. In their past four games, Rodgers and Cobb have connected on 19 of 24 targets for 339 yards and four touchdowns.
The Packers are fortunate to have a bye week for Rodgers to rest his hamstring. His limitations were clear, both to the eye and in the numbers, after the injury occurred.
The Kansas City Chiefs' approach Sunday provided an unintended preview of Monday's news that quarterback Alex Smith had suffered a strained throwing shoulder. Only one of his 28 attempts traveled more than 10 yards downfield. The rest traveled 10 yards or fewer, and 164 of his 226 passing yards (72.6) came after the catch. Some of that discrepancy could be attributed to a double-digit lead the Chiefs held early in the third quarter en route to a 34-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams. It's also likely that Smith used short passes to combat a Rams defense that blitzed him on 60.6 percent of his dropbacks, the third-highest rate a quarterback has faced this season. (He completed 16 of 19 passes against it.) Still, Smith became the first starting quarterback in two years (Week 8 of 2012) to win a game while throwing so few passes deeper than 10 yards downfield. His shoulder injury almost certainly played a role in route selection. At the same time, he did not have much difficulty throwing outside the numbers, completing all 13 of those attempts for 90 yards. They might have been close to the line of scrimmage, but outside throws still require strong arm action to avoid interceptions. Smith's final QBR of 60.0 was lower than you might expect for a day when he completed 24 of 28 passes. But he did lose a fumble in Chiefs territory, and one of his two sacks came on a third down in Rams territory in a tie game.
Overall, Smith and the Chiefs played a smart game given the circumstances of his shoulder and the frequency of the Rams' blitz packages.
The Chiefs deserve credit for finding the solution right under their collective nose. They re-signed and then promoted Husain Abdullah, who was their fourth safety last sesaon. Abdullah isn't the only reason the Chiefs have greatly reduced the number of long pass plays they've allowed. The other safety, Ron Parker, is also playing well. Sean Smith is one of the league's top-rated cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus.
But the play of Abdullah has been as big a single reason as any. The Chiefs like Abdullah's ability in pass coverage so much they used him some last season as a nickel back. He returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown last season against Oakland and brought one back 39 yards this year for a score against New England.
The Chiefs picked Abdullah off the scrap heap. A former starter for the Minnesota Vikings, Abdullah was looking last season to get back in the NFL. A practicing Muslim, Abdullah spent the 2012 season out of football while making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
“I thought he was a good player before he took a sabbatical for a year,'' coach Andy Reid said. "Then I thought it was just a matter of kind of getting into the swing of things. You saw that taking place last year. I thought he finished the season strong and then he kind of carried that into (offseason practice) and training camp.''
The Chiefs didn't draft a safety. They signed no one of significance at the position in free agency. Sometimes the best moves are the ones a team doesn't make. That so far has proved to be the case with the Chiefs and their free safety position.
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.