So the Chiefs are 2-2, and you guys are ticked. I don’t blame you. The Chiefs are coming off an embarrassing 43-14 loss to Pittsburgh — in prime time, no less — and because of the bye week, you’ve had an extra week to stew on it.
But the good news is that we’re now less than a week away from another game, one that should be fun. Marcus Peters will be returning to Oakland for the second time in his career, and it should be a spectacle. No one loves their hometown as much as Peters, and he should be good for an interception, maybe a penalty or two, and lots of jawing with Michael Crabtree — whose refusal to speak about Peters on the NFL’s Top 100 show this summer was interesting, to say the least (if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re welcome).
The point is, it’s time to move on, and there are some things to look forward to. So I’m going to help you do that with a two-part mailbag, the first of which you’re currently reading and the second of which will post Tuesday.
So without further ado, let’s get into it.
In late August, Chiefs coach Andy Reid announced that Justin Houston will miss at least the first six weeks of the season due to an injured anterior cruciate ligament. He was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list, and we were told he would be examined by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews during the Chiefs’ bye week. Assuming that happened, I would expect an update from Chiefs coach Andy Reid when he speaks Wednesday. But my hunch is that Houston remains on schedule for a return in November, perhaps even early in the month. Privately, I think people are optimistic about how his rehab is going. He is a very hard worker who I’ve seen walking around the locker room without a brace, completely unencumbered.
Still, I would expect the Chiefs to be very cautious with Houston, just as they have been with Charles. He is the missing link to the defense, the piece that can make them a championship unit. That’s part of the reason I had them starting 4-5 but finishing 10-6 in my preseason game-by-game prediction (I’m 4-0 so far, by the way, and your boy Melly is, too). Starting on Nov. 20, I’ve got them winning six of their last seven games. That is not a coincidence; it’s a projection for the general timeframe for when I think Houston might return. But as always, we will see.
The first thing everyone wants to know is if it is related to his mysterious absence at the end of last season, when he was cleared to play after suffering a concussion weeks earlier but didn’t and instead ended up on the non-football injury list for a reason Reid said “was not injury-related.”
We may not ever know what truly went down — both sides have been quiet — but one reason I believe Thomas is here is to provide insurance for the rookie, Tyreek Hill. Hill has essentially taken Thomas’ job as the taser-ish (h/t Oregon) slot receiver in the Chiefs’ RPO (run-pass option) game, but if something happens to Hill, Thomas would probably be the next man up.
Receivers coach David Culley told me Albert Wilson could do some of that taser-ish stuff too, but in my opinion, he wouldn’t be as natural of a fit in it as Thomas. For an offense that has struggled, you’d hate to essentially have to throw away a portion of your playbook due to an injury to Hill, which is a good reason to keep Thomas, who also provides insurance as a kickoff and punt returner. The Chiefs own his rights for this year and next year on the cheap, so barring a nice trade offer, keeping him actually makes sense.
Yet, on gamedays, with Hill and Knile Davis already handling the returns, rookie receiver Demarcus Robinson is actually the better option to keep active. Robinson has emerged as a helpful contributor on special teams as a gunner on the punt coverage unit, and we know how much Reid values special teams. Thomas, while he has special-teams value, is too small to hold up as a gunner.
I think Jaye has flashed some, and while I’m sure he and Allen Bailey both would like to rack up gaudier stats, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything that makes me think he’s fallen off. They both have a track record and Howard, in particular, is very motivated to have a big season. It’s funny you asked about Jones, though; his reps went up against Pittsburgh, and it will be interesting to see if that’s a trend going forward.
Finally, to answer your last question, I’m not sure any of them have been disappointing, per se. I think the edge rush is weakened without Houston, and the Chiefs have Tamba Hali on a pitch count. If teams feel they can block the edge rushers solo, they can devote their attention to helping inside and picking up stunts. In general, there’s been some gaffes against the run — mainly stemming from subpar tackling and a lack of gap discipline — but I think guys might be trying too hard to make plays. I expect them all to get better as they settle into the grind of the season.
Reid is a very good playcaller but yes, I’d imagine his playcalling in the red zone this year has been maddening for fans. That one sequence in the Jets game — where, starting at the Jets’ 2, the Chiefs went tight-end screen (for a loss), pitch to a running back (for a loss) and playaction on a long third-and-goal (what?) — was a bit wacky. But I think Reid is simply trying to get the ball to the open man, whoever it might be. He generally does not force things to certain players, a strategy that has served him well in the past.
Whoo boy. Here we go. I’m no hypocrite, so I can’t really crush Reid for dialing up all those screen passes. I had that as one of my four keys to watch in my Chiefs Gameplan pregame scouting report for two reasons: the Steelers’ front seven lacks speed, and the Eagles destroyed them with it the week before. You can say Reid should have gotten away from it but anyone with eyes would have tried to copy the Philadelphia Eagles’ gameplan against the Steelers following their 34-3 destruction of them the week before.
This was a popular question. The answer is no, it will not. I spoke with Andy briefly before the bye and he is very confident in the current playcalling battery between himself and co-offensive coordinators Brad Childress and Matt Nagy. One of Reid’s greatest strengths is his ability to stay calm and not make rash decisions. He’ll stick with this for the foreseeable future.
Be sure to check out Part 2, which should post Tuesday around noon (or maybe a little earlier). We’ll discuss Alex Smith (and Nick Foles), Jamaal Charles’ next workload, Marcus Cooper (who is bossin’ up in Arizona) and the late, great Sean Taylor.