In the wake of the Chiefs’ first win of the season Sunday, Knile Davis was spent but fulfilled.
It was a good feeling, the kind that comes with hitting the running back’s trifecta — rushing for more than 100 yards, scoring a touchdown and getting a victory. That constitutes a hard day’s work, and it was the first time Davis has been able to say he’s accomplished all three things in a game since his college days at Arkansas.
“I finally got 100 yards, I scored and we won,” said Davis, a third-round pick by the Chiefs in 2013. “So I was pretty much happy.”
As he should have been. In the Chiefs’ 34-15 victory over the Dolphins, Davis set career highs with 32 carries and 132 yards, and also scored a touchdown. Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, who has a reputation for pushing his players hard, congratulated him afterward.
“Coach E.B. just said, ‘Way to fight and come away with the win,’” Davis recalled.
But nothing short of a Super Bowl victory lasts very long in the NFL. So during the next day’s film review, Davis heard about all the things he needed to improve.
“They congratulated me, then ripped me the next day,” Davis said with a laugh.
Start with his two fumbles on Sunday. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said one, which Davis simply dropped it and recovered, was a bit fluky. On the other, Davis needed to do a better job covering up the ball in traffic.
Davis, who was a noted fumbler in college, has worked hard to put those problems behind him. Sunday’s game was yet another reminder of that.
“I’ve put more emphasis on putting it high and tight, like the Alabama running backs,” Davis said. “I try to do that. … Sometimes in the game, being a playmaker, you forget about the ball because you’re trying to make a play.”
Another area Davis wants to make improve is his pass protection. Pro Football Focus dinged Davis for a sack and a hurry on Sunday, one of which led to a safety.
Davis knows he needs to improve in this area because Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t overlook an opponent’s weaknesses.
“I can definitely be better,” Davis said. “Sometimes pass-blocking has to do with communication. So as long as we’re on the same page and everybody knows who they’ve got, I think as a group, we’ll be fine this week.”
Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson agreed, adding that the job of protecting quarterback Alex Smith won’t fall solely on Davis.
“Alex helps him out on those (situations) as far as who to block,” Pederson said. “It all starts with the proper identification of linebackers and-or safeties with the front, and it just becomes a pride thing.”
On an individual level, Pederson is encouraged that Davis wants to block.
“Knile’s a willing participant to stick his nose in there,” Pederson said. “He’s going to make mistakes, but the fact that he’s showing the willingness to block is important.”
The last area in which Davis wants to improve is his receiving ability, which addresses an important facet of Reid’s offense. Davis has caught seven passes for 29 yards this season, including a career-high six catches against Denver on Sept. 14, but he also has two drops.
“But I could be better at running, too,” Davis said. “It’s just a process, and I’m getting there.”
His coaches aren’t debating that. The number-one thing he is asked to do is run the ball, and there’s little doubt how much he has improved since last season.
Davis has nudged up his yards-per-carry average from 3.5 in 2013 to 3.9 this season, which he attributes to improved vision and patience behind the line of scrimmage.
“I think it’s slowed down for him — that’s one of the big things,” Reid said. “When you first get into it, everything is moving fast; you might miss a read here or there. But with reps, things kind of slow down and you kind of figure it all out.”
Davis agreed, though he noted his college experience at Arkansas, which used a similar zone-blocking running scheme, has helped him adjust in that respect.
“It’s still fundamentally the same; it’s just guys are smarter and they play the cutback lanes, so you’ve got to be more patient,” Davis said. “The safeties do a good job of playing downhill and filling the backside, whereas in college they really didn’t. You had more holes to run through.”
Reid, however, is comfortable with Davis’ overall improvement. That’s why he was so happy to see him step up against the Dolphins last Sunday.
“He’s so diligent and matter-of-fact about what he does,” Reid said. “You’re always pulling for him to do what he did the other day because he works so hard.”