It’s been a long time since The People’s Champ has done a Chiefs mailbag, and he isn’t in the mood to mess around after a long week. But he promised a Q&A, and what the people want, the people get.
So here you go: a no frills, joke-free five-question mailbag that answers a handful of pertinent questions as the Chiefs gear up for the homestretch.
Outside linebacker Justin Houston was a boss in their 30-27 overtime win over the Broncos on Sunday, racking up three sacks and being consistently disruptive. He was so unblockable early that Broncos coach Gary Kubiak essentially went to the bullpen by benching starter Ty Sambrailo and going with former Chief Donald Stephenson. To answer your question, I’ve learned not to be totally surprised by anything a physical marvel like Houston does, because athletes like him are the real-life versions of “X-Men” mutants; they simply are not like you are I, and should not be treated as such. But did I expect him to morph into the 2014 wrecking ball after one game? No. I thought it would take two or three games, at least. Kudos to him for working his tail off to come back and find his old form so quickly.
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Cornerback Phillip Gaines had a rough game Sunday against the Broncos; according to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered six receptions for 209 yards, two touchdowns and a 139.2 quarterback rating in primary coverage. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has admitted Gaines’ surgically repaired knee has been flaring up throughout the season, but the fact he logged a season-high in special teams snaps Sunday could have been an indication he was feeling better, which means that might not be an excuse. I think schematically, the Chiefs essentially played a lot of one-high coverage and forced quarterback Trevor Siemian to prove he could push the ball downfield. Siemian, who isn’t a great deep ball thrower, burned them a few times. It happens.
I will probably write a story about this this week, but after talking to some players and coaches, and I can tell you it boils down to a few things. No. 1, a full-time no-huddle has the potential to wear down a Chiefs defense that has been carrying the team to this point, particularly if the offense — which has struggled to consistently execute — doesn’t get first downs early. The margin for error in this league is small, which means tired players can get you beat.
No. 2, the Chiefs know that to win in the playoffs, the base offense has to be better. It just does. To beat some of these playoff-bound teams, you’re going to have to line up and play “real,” controlled football because the quick pace is hardly ideal in the elements. Offenses, by the way, have a tendency to get better as the season goes on; it takes reps for everyone to get on the same page, and players aren’t practicing as long or hitting as much as they used to, so it takes a little longer these days. The Chiefs are being patient about that, and while I do think they entertaining the idea of sprinkling it in a bit more, a full-time move seems unlikely.
Bonus tidbit: Quarterback Alex Smith plays better in the no-huddle because he’s comfortable in it and he ran it at Utah, but coach Andy Reid still calls all the plays. That final drive in regulation, down 24-16 against Denver? That was him, though Reid trusts Smith to audible out of certain plays.
This, by far, is the most surprising question I keep getting, though I probably shouldn’t be shocked thanks to the proliferation of fantasy football. Look, Conley is a terrific athlete who is still learning the subtleties of the position and how to get open in this league. He’s already taken some positive steps; his hands seem stronger, and at worst, he seems like a capable possession receiver. But to become a consistent downfield threat, he’ll have to continue to improve his route-running, burst out of cuts, ball tracking and chemistry with Smith, all things that play into whether a player can take the top off the defense.
I’m firmly a “you are what your record says you are” guy. If the Chiefs were 3-8 but all the games were close and some bad breaks went against them, no one — absolutely no one — would want to hear any excuses, right? Context is important in all things, I know, but the NFL — and the world, really — is results-based. You either do it, or you don’t. You win or you lose. Period. So while it’s okay to be worried about the offense — and you wouldn’t be rational if you weren’t — winning in this league is really, really hard, and you guys should be happy you have a good team that’s primed to make the playoffs. Try to enjoy it, even if the wins aren’t always pretty.