The AFC West's other undefeated franchise
In what apparently has become the NFL’s newest gimmicky pastime, the crowd of 76,394 at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon broke the Guinness World Record for the throatiest collective cacophony ever at an outdoor stadium event. The 137.5-decibel reading, authenticated by a Guinness representative, topped the ear-splitting roar that rocked CenturyLink Field in Seattle only a month earlier.
Heck, it was even more boisterous than the ugly Sunday reaction in Houston to the injury sustained by slumping quarterback Matt Schaub. Or the classless heckling in San Francisco when Arizona defensive lineman Calais Campbell was carted off the field with a leg injury and the Candlestick Park assemblage performed the wave. (Maybe the Guinness folks, who clearly have nothing better to do, can establish a new category for heartiest injury-related response, huh?) Or the raucous celebration in Foxboro after Tom Brady’s latest last-minute miracle.
But there is ample reason, after managing a league-worst two victories in 2012, for the loyal, red-clad fans in Kansas City to cheer lustily this season. At 6-0 for only the second time in franchise history, and the first time since 2003, when they opened the year with nine straight victories, the Chiefs might actually not be a surprise to some. After all, there were plenty of pundits – this correspondent, alas, not among them – who in the offseason identified Kansas City as a potential surprise playoff contender. What might be surprising, though, even to the most prescient of experts, is the manner in which the Chiefs are winning.
The old-fashioned way.
When the franchise hired the Philadelphia-deposed Andy Reid, bucking the recent trend of ignoring retreads and instead bringing in fresh faces, the general consensus was that, if the Chiefs were going to reverse fortunes, it would likely be the former Eagles coach’s offensive expertise that would key the turnaround. But it has been the tried-and-true NFL methodologies thought by some to have been assigned to the league’s scrap heap in an era heavily skewed toward the pass – suffocating defense, creating takeaways, taking care of the ball yourself, paying attention to details – that have spurred the makeover of the resurgent Chiefs.
“Everybody’s hungry,” acknowledged inside linebacker Derrick Johnson following the Chiefs’ 10-sack performance in Sunday’s 24-7 victory over Oakland.
Linebacker Justin Houston has already notched 9.5 sacks through six games.
Nobody could ever accuse even the slimmed-down Reid of lack of appetite. But Andy Reid with a gourmet-level taste for defense? Well, with an estimable assist from new coordinator Bob Sutton and a staff that includes just one assistant with whom Reid previously worked during his 14-season tenure in Philadelphia, yeah.</p>
Not counting the Monday night Indianapolis-San Diego matchup, the Chiefs ranked only 25th in statistical offense, weren’t in the top 10 in either rushing or passing, and eked out just 216 yards in Sunday’s win. They were the only team in 2013 – thanks to the Kansas City Star for the note – that had won a game while producing 216 or fewer yards this year. Quarterback Alex Smith, who last week bristled at suggestions that he is a “game manager,” was in the bottom half of most league passer rankings. Tailback Jamaal Charles was arguably the offense’s lone playmaker.
But on the defensive side? Kansas City leads the NFL in sacks, with 31, nine more than any other unit in the league. The Chiefs have surrendered the fewest points (10.8 on average) in the league and allowed the least offensive touchdowns (seven). They are first in takeaways (18) and turnover differential (plus-12). Only Tennessee and Indianapolis (in one fewer game) had coughed the ball up fewer times. Notable is that the team hasn’t really made wholesale personnel alterations to a defense that just a year ago was No. 20 defensively and tied for the worst takeaway differential (minus-24) in the NFL. In the heartland, those kinds of attributes play pretty well.
There was a time, perhaps under Mary Schottenheimer, who led the Chiefs to seven postseason appearances (and three division titles) in 10 years, when such reliance on the old, conventional values might have worn thin. But the Kansas City fans, who have suffered dismal seasons in five of the past six years, with the only respite a 10-6 mark in 2010, are encountering no such ennui with the recent revival. Among the NFL’s most loyal fans, Chiefs’ supporters, as evidenced by their decibel level Sunday afternoon, are reveling in the turnaround.
As are the players.
“It’s good, solid football,” linebacker Tamba Hali, who registered 3.5 of Kansas City’s 10 sacks versus the Raiders, enthused. “We like to get after people.”
Which, the preconceived notions aside, are consistent with Reid’s resume as an NFL head coach. There was always, during his lengthy Eagles’ tenure, when the common misperception was that Reid preferred to throw the ball all over the field. Perhaps the second-biggest misunderstanding was that he really didn’t care as much about the defensive side. Neither were true, of course, although, in fairness, Reid did have the late, great Jim Johnson as coordinator for 10 of his seasons in Philadelphia.
In exactly half of his 14 seasons in his former job, Reid had defenses that ranked in the top 10 in the league. But only two, in 2008 and 2002, were statistically higher than the Chiefs’ current No. 5 standing. And under Johnson, who never met a blitz he didn’t like, the Eagles could always rush the passer. In Johnson’s 10 seasons with Reid, the Eagles averaged 42.0 sacks per season. The sack average was actually not much lower, 41.6, in Reid’s 14 seasons overall.
In six outings, Kansas City already has more sacks than it posted last season (27) and is on pace to shatter the NFL’s single season record. That alone should give the longsuffering Chiefs fans enough to cheer, loudly, about.