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Coach Andy Reid’s new team outsmarts, outplays his old outfit

Updated: 2014-04-15T16:04:21Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— You wouldn’t know it by watching them against the Chiefs, but these Eagles are supposedly revolutionizing the NFL. They are fast and they are explosive and they are taking professional football by storm, long touchdown after long touchdown, except, well, one problem.

As good as the Eagles are on offense — and despite what you saw Thursday, they are really good — the Chiefs just proved themselves better on defense. This is supposed to be the NFL of offense, but Andy Reid’s Chiefs are crashing the party — the league’s first 3-0 team after a 26-16 win over the Eagles.

This is now a legitimate point of discussion: How many teams have a better defense than the Chiefs?

Justin Houston is the face of it: 3 1/2 sacks, one fumble forced, two recovered, and three passes knocked down. He has 6 1/2 sacks on the season, the most in the NFL entering this weekend.

And it’s not just Houston. Eric Berry had a pick-six, giving the Chiefs two defensive touchdowns on the season after just one all of last season. They forced five turnovers, pushing the season total to nine — just four shy of what they did all of last season.

“Really what the game came down to was the takeaways. The turnovers,” Reid said. “I’m sure (Eagles coach Chip Kelly) is saying the same thing on the other side.”

When it came time to sift through the wreckage of last year’s misery, a lot of us thought the Chiefs could be a fairly quick turnaround — but this quick?

To be sure, the Eagles helped out. At least two of their turnovers were unforced, depending on how you judge such things. Actually, all things considered, the game was closer than it needed to be. In the end, that doesn’t matter.

The Chiefs have surpassed last year’s victory total three games into the season, and this one is their most impressive win yet, against a team that scored more than 30 points in each of its first two games.

The NFL is clearly stacked in favor of quarterbacks and passing, and the Chiefs are a wrecking shop with conservative decisions on offense and brilliant schemes on defense.

Three games in, and the Chiefs have been outgained twice but remain undefeated because they’re plus-nine in takeaways and have what looks like one of the league’s best defenses.

“The one thing I appreciate about these guys, they play as a team,” Reid said. “They create energy among themselves. They don’t let a lot of things get them down.”

This must’ve been a bit jarring for the people here in Philadelphia to see. Not just because their team lost, but because their old coach — the one who made his name with creative play-calling and pushing quarterbacks to their potential — won with more brawn than flash.

Style points are irrelevant, of course. So Reid came here, in the town he loomed over for so long, and beat his old team with his new team.

At least publicly, Reid wouldn’t acknowledge much about the obvious and irresistible storyline but no matter what, you have to figure this was one of his happiest plane rides home in 15 years as an NFL head coach.

The Chiefs have nine days until their next game, at home against the Giants, which means more than a week to work on a few weaknesses. Mostly, of course, we’re talking about the offense. Particularly the offensive line and its ability to put together sustained drives and big plays. Eric Fisher got beat, again. The inside moves are giving him a particularly bad time. He gave up at least two sacks, and was called for at least two holds.

But all that matters is that for one more game, the Chiefs offense was good enough to win. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter, but moved the ball when they needed it — 15 plays that ate up nearly 5 minutes of the clock, leaving the Eagles’ hopes drained and their fans headed to the exits.

The Chiefs didn’t need a lot of offense. Not with the Eagles turning the ball over so often and so early. Alex Smith leans conservative with ball protection at all times, but why risk anything when the other team can’t score?

“They’re going to get a big play here or there,” Reid said. “You’ve got to limit that as much as you can, and I think we did that.”

The thinking went that the Chiefs would have a hard time here. Short week, on the road, hyped crowd ready to honor former star Donovan McNabb at halftime. It seemed logical, but the Chiefs sucked the life out of the crowd with a suffocating defense and no mistakes.

When Reid was hired, many saw it as a push toward offense, addressing the problems of developing a quarterback that have plagued the franchise for so long. But Reid didn’t last 14 years here in Philadelphia playing the same note.

The Chiefs are — so far, anyway — good enough on defense to buck the league-wide emphasis on offense. Reid is smart enough to emphasize that, agile enough to win in different ways. They beat a terrible team the first week, and rode a rocking home crowd to a one-point win in the second week. You could find logical reasons to hold off on believing.

But what are the reasons now?

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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