The timing may or may not have been manipulated by Dee Ford’s back injury, but Tamba Hali’s likely return is a reminder that the Chiefs team we’ve seen is different than the one that will be in the playoffs.
Which means it’s different than the one that will matter most, the one that we’ll all remember and judge this season by.
Nobody can be sure what Tamba has left. His snaps were down last year, and his 3 1/2 sacks were his lowest since 2008. He didn’t play much in the postseason loss, and you may have heard he was displeased with that development.
Tamba has always been one of my favorites, so maybe this is me seeing what I want to see, but I thought Tamba was still very effective in bursts last year. I’ve been under the assumption that keeping him out this long was something like 10 percent punitive for those tweets, 30 percent legitimate concern about his knees right now, and 60 percent projecting him toward January.
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They don’t need Tamba to make the playoffs. But they might need him at his best to win in the playoffs. Le’Veon Bell could not be stopped, and James Harrison got a borderline call, but how much may the loss to the Steelers have changed last year with a little more pressure, with one more sack?
If it’s the difference between Dee Ford and Tamba, at this point in Tamba’s career, that’s probably a net loss. But assuming Ford returns, and considering Steve Nelson and Mitch Morse coming back against the Broncos, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif set to return possibly as soon as this weekend, the Chiefs may be getting stronger in a league won largely on attrition.
This week’s eating recommendation is the mega roast beef at Planet Sub, and the reading recommendation is Chris Ballard on Jamal Crawford, the last of the ballers.
Football is a matchup sport and the NFL is a matchup league. The Chiefs, Patriots and Steelers appear headed for the top three seeds, in some order, which means the Chiefs could have a bye or a favorable divisional matchup like the Texans or a bad matchup like the Jaguars.
I happen to believe that a bad five days in which the Chiefs lost two games they could have and to varying degrees should have won is tainting the way many fans see the team right now.
If the offense closed out against the Raiders or Derek Carr’s last pass was batted down, the Chiefs would be 7-1 and a game up in the AFC. If the offense had had been able to close with a touchdown on that last drive, or the defense didn’t make another Le’Veon Bell highlight tape, the Chiefs would effectively be up two games in the AFC.
Neither of those scenarios is a stretch, and neither would make the Chiefs materially better than they are right now.
The Chiefs’ sorry franchise history is dragging on the view of this particular team, is what I’m saying.
Because, objectively, this is a pretty good team:
▪ 6-2 with a win on the road against the 6-2 Patriots, and at home against the 7-1 Eagles.
▪ They lead the league in points, and their quarterback leads the league in passer rating and still has not thrown an interception.
▪ The interior of the offensive line has been the biggest problem on that side of the ball, and they’re getting healthier, with the bye week still in front of them.
▪ Their defense has been a problem, there is no question about that, but trading out Phil Gaines (who’s been playing poorly and out of position in the slot) for Steven Nelson (one of the league’s better slot corners) is a significant upgrade.
▪ Justin Houston’s health remains the single biggest factor in determining the defense’s effectiveness, and he looked close to the best version of himself the other night, bending around the edge and making superhero plays against the run.
▪ For all the problems defensively, the Chiefs are still fourth in the league in point differential, and third in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
If that team was wearing a different jersey, one not stained with the failures of a 28-point lead in Indianapolis and a/ loss without giving up a touchdown and a Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named, you’d think they were pretty decent.
This is one of those things I say all the time because it’s true: when you follow one team closely and mostly just get the highlights from other teams, you tend to focus on your team’s weaknesses and other teams’ strengths. It’s natural.
But all teams have flaws, and this particular flawed team is 6-2 with a schedule that loosens up in the second half and reason to believe it will continue to get some key players back from injury.
3. Kit Kat.
6 through infinity: irrelevant, because you should only eat the top five.
I will add one quick point here, though. It’s become popular in our modern society to trash on candy corn. But much like the hate on Joe Buck — yeah, I’m going there, @ me, I don’t care — it is overblown and at least a little misguided.
I’m not here to tell you candy corn is delicious. Only a psychopath would do that. I’m just here to tell you that if you mix the candy corn with roasted peanuts, you might like what you have.
As always, context is important here, because even as the Chiefs had nothing for that Broncos front seven at least two things are true.
The first is that the Broncos sold out against the run, stuffing the box and making sure Kareem Hunt did not get loose. Smart strategy, too, though among other things it meant exposing their own weakness in covering tight ends and that’s partly why Travis Kelce had such a big night.
The second thing that’s true is that the Broncos do this to EVERYBODY. In fact, and Brandon Kiley was the first I saw to point this out: the Chiefs’ 3.03 yards per carry actually rank third among the Broncos’ seven opponents this year.
Even after last night, Hunt is the league’s rushing leader, and the Chiefs are second with 4.9 yards per rush.
I’d also say they could get better as the season goes, with the significant caveat that they have to keep Hunt as healthy and fresh as possible. I know we keep talking about this, but it’s so hard to run with the line as beat up as it’s been. Getting Morse back is significant, and whenever Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returns (I’m guessing this weekend) it’ll be even better.
Now, the bigger problem, I think we’d all agree, is the run defense. And, honestly you guys, I don’t know that there’s a fix.
Bennie Logan has been good, Allen Bailey has had some moments, but too often they’re swimming upstream. Derrick Johnson just isn’t the same guy any more, and Eric Berry was always one of the Chiefs’ best run defenders. That’s the most important run defender lessened, and another one completely out.
That’s hard to make up for.
Before the season started, here and other places, we talked about the run defense being the Chiefs’ most likely fatal flaw. That’s certainly how it looks at the moment, especially with the wrong matchup in the playoffs.
Just, please, let’s remember that all teams have potential fatal flaws.
This is a little Inside Sportswriting, but postgame in the NFL is a freaking circus. This is doubly true for home games. On the road, it’s basically just the A-Team, Teicher, a TV reporter or three, a few from the other market and maybe some national folks.
But with home games, it’s probably three times the media, maybe more, which means bigger scrums and less time to get your questions in.
The coach goes to the interview room on his schedule, and maybe I should clarify that I don’t mean that as a complaint, it’s just that you might be in the middle of something with Travis Kelce and have to make a decision about whether you want to stay there are go to the interview room to hear Reid said, “Listen, they’re a good football team, we respect them.”
All of which is a long way of saying I stayed in the locker room, and wasn’t in for Reid.
But I do believe I know him a little, and do believe he likes to step on division opponents. The timing of the Tyreek Hill pass was curious, but if you remember, Hungry Pig Right was in the third quarter with the Chiefs up just three on a wet field. The pass went backwards, so it would’ve been a fumble if dropped, and the Chiefs did all this despite being near the goal line with two running backs who could not be stopped that day.
It was a baffling risk, in other words, but it worked to beautiful precision so nobody thinks about that part.
What I’m saying is, Reid will call some stuff, no matter the situation, and even if seeing Tyreek Hill throw — especially throw like that — isn’t as fun as watching a Hungry Pig do stuff, it’s all within character for the Chiefs coach.
This is not a defense of the play call. Reid had been brilliantly creative on that drive and earlier in the game, but there is a difference between being creative with RPOs and combinations, and being creative with the fastest guy in the league throwing a ball like a toddler instead of the quarterback who’s on an MVP pace and still hasn’t thrown an interception.
But, to answer your question, they let Poe walk because they don’t trust a 346-pound man with a chronically bad back.
Also, I might just be letting him sell me on this, but I vote for Chris Jones to be the new Hungry Pig.
Terez has the best theory I’ve heard on this, which is that the Chiefs don’t want Peters matched up on one receiver for an entire game, because they know he’s likely to get so worked up and out of his mind that the flags will fly.
We saw what happened with Keenan Allen, and know how heated it gets with Michael Crabtree. Peters takes this stuff so rawly personal. It’s his gift and his curse. I don’t know if this is really the reason Sutton does this. Maybe it’s just how he prefers to run his defense anyway, no matter the personnel.
But it sure does make sense to me.
I’ve been surprised Ramik Wilson hasn’t been active the last few weeks, but I don’t think it’s because of “investment.” If nothing else, this front office has shown it doesn’t care about that kind of thing.
They cut KeiVarae Russell last year, just months after taking him in 74th overall. They left Tamba Hali inactive for the first eight games, and limited last year, after signing him to a big contract. They spent two first-round picks on a quarterback they don’t want to play until next year at the earliest. They traded for Cam Erving, but haven’t forced him into the lineup beyond what’s been demanded by injuries.
To my eyes, they’re just searching for something that works. That’s it. They know they have deep, troubling problems against the run*.
* Just to be clear: defending the pass is FAR more important than defending the run in the modern NFL, but still. You’d rather not be horrendous at something as basic and potentially damaging as stopping the other side from handing the ball to a running back and getting five or eight yards every dang time.
Here’s something I always try to keep in mind. The people who make their living inside these sports — whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, whatever — know far more about those specific sports than we do. They see the game differently, deeper, where we may see an inside jab that Travis Kelce used to beat Darian Stewart by three steps for a touchdown the other night, they may know that Stewart’s main job on that play was to protect the inside because he was supposed to have help over the top.
But just as I always try to keep that in mind, I try to keep this in mind: these are still kids’ games, and what we see may not be complete, but it’s also not a lie.
So the same way a lot of us believed the run defense was the most likely fatal flaw for this team’s season, I have to believe the coaches and players know that’s true.
This is just a theory, but perhaps they believe Wilson is a tick better at the moment but that Ragland can be the better option by January with more reps.
If that’s the case, then sure, Ragland should be playing.
But, again. Just a theory.
Oh, I wouldn’t say that.
The only thing I know about K-State football for sure is that it’s in a bit of a mess at the moment. There seems to be a disconnect with certain parts of the team and program, made more stark because a defining characteristic of that program is usually the cohesion.
I don’t know what that means for the future, exactly. One of Bill Snyder’s greatest strengths has always been that his teams rarely if ever disappoint. When they’re expected to be good, they’re always good. One of Snyder’s great strengths has also been that his teams always win with a returning quarterback.
Both of those are falling flat this year, at least relative to where most of us believe they should be. It’s been mostly subtle, but I can’t remember Snyder publicly questioning or even criticizing his coaches before.
His style has always been that he coaches his assistants, and lets his assistants coach the players. If he’s taking some frustrations public, that’s a sign he’s tried everything else he can think of and it’s not working.
These last four games will determine so much. K-State is a three-point underdog at Texas Tech this weekend, and that’s usually a tough place to play. After that it’s West Virginia at home, and then two tough games to finish — at Oklahoma State and home against Iowa State.
You could imagine K-State finishing anywhere from 7-5 to 4-8. Ron Prince never won fewer than five games.
We’re all just speculating on Snyder’s future and, literally, if one human being has earned the right to walk away on his own time it’s probably Snyder. But a cancer diagnosis followed by his worst season in more than a decade might feel like the right time.
They have some quarterback talent on the roster. They have some things in place. The back-and-forth about Snyder’s successor — specifically whether it’s his son Sean — has the potential to divide the program and fan base. Gene Taylor will have to be delicate there, whenever that decision comes.
There are a lot of reasons to believe Snyder might retire after this season. He hasn’t won a national championship, but at this point he has to be realistic enough to know that’s not going to happen, and honest enough to know he’s done just about everything else.
He said he wanted to “calm the waters,” and he did that, but now you could say those waters are choppy again, depending on how this season ends. He’ll know better than anyone whether his uncertain personal future is increasingly affecting recruiting, and if so, particularly with the early now with the signing period it would be best for everyone if he made an advanced and clear announcement as soon as possible once the season is over.
My guess is he stays, but that’s only because I think he’s resistant to retiring because of what happened the last time, and doesn’t know exactly what to do with his life outside of football.
Well, yeah. That’s how it should go. Maybe even better.
Mizzou is a 3 1/2 point favorite this weekend, at home, against a team that just got trucked 42-7 and fired its coach.
Now, maybe that roster has a version of the No Effing Way Game in it, playing above its head for one afternoon against all this drama. I don’t know. But it seems more likely that Florida is done, for all intents and purposes, that this is a good time to play the Gators.
But there’s more! Mizzou has been better, relatively speaking, and even with the caveat that Idaho and UConn both stink. Mizzou had been more competitive and organized in road losses to Kentucky and Georgia than its first four games, and I know we’re setting low standards here, but it’s something.
Mizzou has looked better on both sides of the ball the last two weeks. UConn’s pass defense is bad enough that we’re double caveating this, but Drew Lock did everything you could’ve asked.
I don’t want to make too much of this. Nobody should. We’re talking about a proud program that felt it was bowl-or-bust this year and taking away encouragement from two conference losses and two wins over terrible teams.
But the hardest part of the schedule is over. Florida is a mess. Tennessee may fire its head coach at any moment. Vanderbilt hasn’t won since beating K-State way back in mid-September. Arkansas just won at Ole Miss, which isn’t all that impressive, and other than that has beaten only New Mexico State and Florida A&M.
I don’t know. Maybe 3-1 is too low. It’d be a heck of a story if a team that looked so lost and overmatched and disorganized during a five-game losing streak got into a bowl game.
Look, we’ve all done things or said things or (at least in my case) thrown things in the chaos of the moment that we later regret.
Just the other day, a light switch in our dining room stuck. Light wouldn’t come on. I tried and I tried and nothing. So I punched the outlet cover in frustration.
Seriously. By many objective measures, I would be classified as an adult. I’m almost 40 years old. I pay taxes. Have a wife, two kids, a dog, a mortgage. My car is paid off — that’s how adult I am! And I hit the outlet cover because the light would not turn on.
The outlet cover broke, which is absolutely what I deserved. Now you can see the red pain underneath from when we bought the house, and I got to explain to my wife why it broke. Good times.
What I’m saying to you here is, I can’t know what I would do in that situation.
But I sure as heck hope I’d have kept the ball. To me, if you’re a fan, ESPECIALLY if you’re at a World Series game, catching a ball would be amazing. I’ve never done that, never been particularly close. And catching a HOME RUN ball would be even more amazing. And catching a HOME RUN ball in THAT FREAKING GAME would be two more levels of amazing.
I would want to keep that ball forever, put it somewhere guests would see it and have to ask, and then I’d tell the story.
I don’t understand why throwing a ball back means you’re a tough guy. I don’t understand why cheering for one team means you have to act like any ball hit by the other team has cooties.
So, as much as I appreciate the man’s defense of his actions — “(Expletive) the Dodgers” — I just don’t get what that proved.
But, again. I’m guessing that man didn’t go home and punch some inanimate object in his house, so I’m not here to judge.
This is in play, absolutely.
We’ve talked about this a few times, most notably here, but they’re preparing contingency plans. Basically, their future is up to Eric Hosmer. The Royals genuinely love all their free agents, but they love Hosmer a little more than the others. They want to sign him, and will be creative if they have to be.
If Hosmer decides to stay, then the Royals will try to put the best team possible around him. That means at least looking into trading contracts like Jason Hammel, Joakim Soria, Brandon Moss, and/or others. They would almost certainly have to eat money to move the contracts, but if it’s the difference between improving the roster, they should be prepared to do it.
All that said, I get the feeling the Royals are realistic about how likely any of that is. They would need a lot of lucky breaks for Hosmer’s price to come down, and might even need some luck in convincing Hosmer to take the same or similar deal here.
If he leaves, then I don’t expect them to sign any of the others. I’d expect them to fill holes where they could, shop mostly for bargains, and see if a team built around Danny Duffy, Sal Perez and Whit Merrifield can win. Maybe Alex Gordon can be good again, or at least decent. Crazier things have happened than a team like that sneaking into the playoffs.
But, and here is where I answer your question, then yes I do think they’d at least entertain offers for Duffy, Perez, Merrifield, anyone. And they should. Team should always listen, and each of those three players is a tremendous asset — both in their talent and, particularly with Perez and Merrifield, their contracts.
I don’t expect either extreme — Hosmer signing, or Duffy or Perez being traded.
But it’s all in play.
Well, I’d probably take the USMNT job and let the next guy worry about allocation money.
I do understand the frustration many Sporting KC fans have with Peter Vermes. I happen to like the sell, or at least respect it. I believe Dom Dwyer was no longer as effective for and with Sporting, that player and team had drifted away from each other stylistically.
I also believe that as much as Sporting’s season was sunk by an inability to convert scoring changes, that inability predated the sale. Dwyer was part of the problem more than the solution.
Now, it would’ve been nice to see what Dwyer could do the rest of the season, and what Sporting could’ve done with him. But we’re just going to have to disagree about whether he was likely to have been the difference between a limp playoff loss at Houston and winning the MLS Cup.
The key, obviously, is what Sporting does with the money going forward.
Diego Rubio, Latif Blessing, and Gerso Fernandes weren’t enough when it mattered.
That needs to be fixed. Vermes has earned a lot of trust, and as disappointing as the last month or so of the season was, Sporting still won the Open Cup. The season was not a disaster.
But it could’ve been better, and I can’t imagine many teams are better positioned to improve this offseason than Sporting.
Man, that would be fun.
Right now, four Big 12 teams are tied at 4-1 — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Iowa State.
TCU has the easiest remaining schedule — Texas at home, at Oklahoma, at Texas Tech, and Baylor at home.
Iowa State is at West Virginia, Oklahoma State at home, at Baylor and at K-State. OU is at OSU, TCU at home, at Kansas, and West Virginia at home. OSU has OU at home, at ISU, and finishes with KU and K-State at home.
Iowa State is in an interesting spot. This game at West Virginia is difficult. The Cyclones are a 2 1/2 -point underdog, and that’s always a tough place to play, even when West Virginia isn’t coming off a loss and giving Iowa State its best effort.
The problem for ISU is that someone is probably going to win out, and the second spot will probably come down to a tiebreaker.
That leaves open the possibility that Iowa State goes 3-1, but is left out of the Big 12 championship because the one loss was against Oklahoma State. Either way, the OSU-ISU winner is going to have a leg up, and here are the exact odds of each of the four:
TCU: 35 percent.
OSU: 20 percent.
OU: 18 percent.
ISU: 17 percent.
Field: 10 percent.
I haven’t tried it yet, and this is a little embarrassing, but I haven’t tried it yet because I believe subconsciously the “wine” part of that name threw me off. I think maybe I’ve been on alert because of the trend with some breweries to combine wines and beers, like Boulevard’s Cabernet Cask Stout.
But I don’t like wine, so I passed, even as now that I’m answering a question about it I realize that beer has nothing to do with wine*.
I don’t try all the Smokestacks. Sometimes that’s just because of life, because we’re all busy, and even those of us who happen to really enjoy different beers can’t keep up with everything.
But more often it’s because I don’t always know what I like, but I do always know what I don’t like. The City Market Cider, for instance. I don’t like ciders, so I won’t try it. Anything sour, I know I won’t like. Radlers can go kick rocks, far as I’m concerned.
But, other than that, yeah, sure, I’ll try just about anything. Now, “trying” different beers is a different challenge now than it was before kids and certainly than it was when I was single. Buying a six-pack or a 750 just to get a taste doesn’t make sense, but a lot of liquor stores have taps now, and a lot of restaurants have flights, so where there’s a will there’s a way.
I do want to say something really quick about Boulevard, though, and I know I’ve said it before but I want to say it again. When they sold, I was among those worried the brewery would change.
Specifically, I was worried they’d stop trying new things, that the Smokestacks would go a different direction. But as far as I can tell, they’ve only ramped it up. There’ve been more, not fewer. I guess there’s no way to know exactly what Boulevard would like if it was still independent, but they’ve done more than enough that I know my worries were unnecessary.
This week, I’m particularly grateful for a Ghostbusters style leaf blower I split with a neighbor last year. We live on a corner lot, covered with trees, which I love 95 percent of the time with the exception being leaf pickup. I cannot believe I used to do that with a dang rake. What an idiot.