Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Rewatching another Chiefs win and spending the Royals’ money

Three and out: Oakland edition

Kansas City Star sportswriters Vahe Gregorian, Sam Mellinger, Terez A. Paylor and Blair Kerkhoff praise the Chiefs' defense in the team's 34-20 win over the Oakland Raiders, especially the play of rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, who was playing i
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Kansas City Star sportswriters Vahe Gregorian, Sam Mellinger, Terez A. Paylor and Blair Kerkhoff praise the Chiefs' defense in the team's 34-20 win over the Oakland Raiders, especially the play of rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, who was playing i

First, some leftover thoughts from watching the Chiefs’ seventh win of the season live in Oakland and then again as I wait for my flight back home:

This was the entire Marcus Peters Experience. Gave up some yardage by trying to strip everything early, got caught out of position, called for unsportsmanlike conduct when he lost his brain and shoved Michael Crabtree, got called for a pass interference (I actually thought that was a bad call, but whatever) ... and otherwise played terrifically. Absolutely overpowered Crabtree on a decently but imperfectly thrown ball at the end of the second quarter that would’ve extended a drive, and showed good awareness on the interception.

Albert Wilson beat his man toward the end of the second quarter with a stutter move. Alex Smith took a shot, which was great, and overthrew it a bit, which was not great, but that’s not the first time that Wilson hasn’t extended himself to go for a catch. Bad sign for a guy who wants to build trust.

Travis Kelce was right to say not going out of bounds was unacceptable. The fumble was karma for a dumb decision. He showed the other part of his game, though, when he beat a linebacker on a short crossing route on third and 6, and extended the play for a big gain.

Bob Sutton did a terrific job manufacturing pressure with blitzes and schemes without Allen Bailey and Justin Houston.

Derrick Johnson is back. So quick through gaps, aggressive, smart. Recovery from that injury by a player who relies so heavily on speed and quickness was not a sure thing.

The Raiders’ touchdown at the end of the first half is an example why the Raiders are going to be very good very soon. Beautiful, gutsy, aggressive throw. Crabtree got annihilated by Eric Berry, after getting a step on Sean Smith, and hung onto the ball.

Eric Fisher has had a decent season, but got overpowered for a sack, twice. Once by Khalil Mack, a linebacker, on a bull rush. Fisher just got pushed straight back into the quarterback. Combination of strength and technique.

Dee Ford had a nightmare. Latavius Murray’s long run on the first drive was wide open because Ford got sucked into the middle and dragged by the right tackle. Manhandled. He has a lack of awareness and inability to fill gaps that teams will continue to take advantage of if he doesn’t fix. The touchdown to Lee Smith — not the relief pitcher — was basically Ford watching the play and missing what appeared to be his man.

The interception by Josh Mauga was Peak Chiefs. Great coverage, relentless rush, put Derek Carr in an uncomfortable position and he made a terrible mistake.

Tyvon Branch’s interception was an incredible display of athleticism. Had no time to make that adjustment, and had to go down to his feet to grab it, then hold onto it as he tumbled to the ground in a league that loves to say things aren’t catches.

Excellent play design on the Jeremy Maclin touchdown “run.” Line him up behind Demetrius Harris and Anthony Sherman, and based on pre-snap read, Alex Smith knows it’s an easy score.

Alex Smith’s protection of the football is approaching historical territory. This is a hard thing to analyze, because it’s boring, and by definition nothing very important happened. I thought he actually played one of his best games of the season, even if the statistics were underwhelming. Broke the pocket well, kept eyes downfield, all in the face of a fairly bad day by the offensive line.

This week’s reading recommendation is Karen Weise on the CEO paying everyone $70,000 with something to hide, and the eating recommendation is tacos at In-A-Tub.

As always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

This is a very difficult team to gauge. This is obvious, but a team cannot lose five in a row without some serious flaws and a team cannot win six in a row without some strengths.

This is the second week in a row that I think the Chiefs produced their most impressive win of the season, and this is the first time I believe they’re good enough to win a playoff game. That can all change quickly, obviously, because it has already, but I do believe there’s something to the idea of the Chiefs figuring out who they are and how they can win. I know there’s something to the idea that the mental toughness to maintain belief after five losses in a row is a defining trait that can serve a team will in many ways.

I do think we’re going to get to the point — some of you are there already — where we see that this team’s ceiling is a loss in the divisional round, but that’s a conversation for another day.

I do. For sure. Generally speaking, I think the Royals have better players and the Chiefs have a better head coach, but yeah, it’s impossible not to notice another team from Kansas City that gets on a roll and is made up of athletes who genuinely like each other.

Winning covers a lot of problems, of course, but even during the five-game slide this was a group that supported each other. That matters. I think that’s the product of the best players being secure in themselves and their ability, and having the kinds of backgrounds and confidence to rise above the jealousies and uncertainties that can crack locker rooms.

The best example we’e written about, to me, is the stuff with Justin Houston and Eric Berry that Terez had a few weeks ago.

Talent tends to win, but in football more than other sports, it’s talent fused with common goals and ambitions. It’s easy to get carried away with a team that’s won six in a row, so I feel like I should mention again that I think this team’s ceiling is the divisional round, but the Chiefs’ last two decades are sorry enough that getting that far would be a major accomplishment.

Well, he’s big (6 feet 2, 243 pounds, which is a basically the size of the Chiefs’ inside linebackers) and fast, with the kind of explosion off the snap that guys either have or don’t. He’s also relentless, never giving up on plays, which is an important habit for a pass rusher.

The problem is he just doesn’t play like a football player. That’s a weird way to put it, but the cliche is that he has no instincts. A poor feel for what’s happening in a play, where the offense is going and trying to get him to go.

That’s something that can be learned, or at least improved, but Ford is close to his second full season in the NFL. He landed in a great spot, with an upfront view at two masters who are smart and secure enough in themselves to share advice. Ford should be better than this by now.

Mentioned this on Twitter the other day, but I am all in with Marcus Peters. He is smart, talented, from what I can tell a very good teammate, and just plainly and fully committed to the cause. His problem is that he cares too much, and lets the emotions that fuel his preparation and performance sometimes go too far? Sign me the hell up. This could be his senior year of college, by the way, so if he misses a play or picks up a dumb penalty I expect those types of things to diminish* as his production increases.

* Diminish. Not go away completely. But diminish.

Kelce, to me, is a little more complicated. I don’t doubt his commitment to the cause, or whether he cares about the team or loves even the nasty parts of football. What I doubt is his ability to focus on what’s important.

Getting out of bounds on that play toward the end of the first half on Sunday is such a basic thing. Protecting the football is a basic thing. I draw a line here. These are not mistakes of too much passion. They are mistakes of not enough thought.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Kelce is a star, and one of the Chiefs’ best players. He is the closest thing to Rob Gronkowski that exists in normal human form. His strengths far outweigh his weaknesses. But he’s also in his third NFL season, and he should be beyond some of these lapses in concentration.

And, well, actually, your question was answered last year in Arizona.

Because we are a shamefully insecure people, and somehow also much more egocentric than we should be, a toxic mix that rips our insides apart while we simultaneously believe that strangers will stop what they’re doing to read whatever it is we’re writing ... all the while being utterly convinced that it’s crap, and that we’re entirely unworthy of the whole thing.

So putting a word count in a headline serves two purposes: it gives us a sense of gravitas, like, hey, this is a significant chunk of ordered words so there has to be something good in here ... but at the same time is almost self-mocking, like, you idiot, you really needed that many words for this crap? The hell is wrong with you? Go get a real job.

So, dear reader, next time you see a word count in a headline just know you are dealing with an insecure egomaniac.

This message is brought to you by a man who has put word counts in headlines before, but not that often, because he wanted to keep the secret until he saw this question. It’s also brought to you by a man who is now writing in the third person, for some dumb reason. My goodness, what a sad mess he’s become.

The 48 jersey would be one to wear, actually, and show a certain history here, sort of like when you see someone in a No. 7 Alex Gordon jersey, but I’m including this question, basically, to applaud the move.

At least as we sit here in early December, and we all understand I’m a newspaper hack and not a scout, it sure looks like the Royals got a better and younger alternative when compared to Ryan Madson.

The money is comparable — three years and $22 million for Madson, three years and $25 million for Soria — and each guy has some specific injury red flags, so I think you go with the one you feel more comfortable with. Madson had a better statistical season in 2015, but I worry about how he’ll hold up, and whether the playoffs exposed a problem in needing to keep him away from certain matchups.

Also, can we all agree that the money in baseball is way past the point of silliness, and that we should just accept it and move on? Because nothing will turn a millennial into the old man talking about what he used to be able to buy for a nickel quite like escalating salaries for big-league baseball players.

The market is the market, and you’re either playing or you’re not. Revenues continue to spike, with promises of even more coming, so it’s only fair that the players get their share. In an ideal world, the escalating TV and multimedia money would mean owners lowering ticket prices to make their games more accessible, but, well, the market is the market and these are businesses run by businessmen. I’d much rather see the money go to the talent we watch rather than the wealthy old men who regularly demand millions and millions of public dollars to subsidize their foolproof businesses.

So, good for you Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria and everyone else getting as much money as they can.

Right, but I guess this is what I mean. It’s not that money is no object. It’s that baseball’s spiking revenues mean you have to constantly readjust what’s “too much money.” Not get too nerdy here, but it was only a few years ago that the market rate for free agents was about $4 million per unit of WAR. Now, it’s closer to $7 million, maybe more, and teams often have to add another year on the offer to win the negotiation.

Three years feels one year too long for Soria, but if that’s what you have to do, the money isn’t crippling, and you’re trying to maintain a strength, and three years vaguely lines up with the Royals’ “window” to win with their current core. Go for it.

The ball is on Bill’s racquet, so to speak, because he could retire before KU gets another chance at a conference game. He’s said he’ll wait until after the season to decide on his future, and I am basing this on absolutely nothing more than a guess, I want to be clear about that, but I would not at all be surprised if he retired after this season. Twenty-three years is a lot. Seventy-six is an age where a man might want to find other ways to fill his time and make an impact on the world.

But even if he comes back next year, my answer here will still be his retirement, because I think KU has at least one more oh-fer conference schedule in them. They’re really, really bad, you guys.

Are we sure Bill is not the alias Jim Nantz uses to go snarky and Kansas City-centric on Twitter?

No, there is virtually no chance the Royals sign Zobrist. They thought it would be a longshot when they made the trade, had no reason to believe otherwise as the offseason began ... and then the bidding war picked up. If it really is going to take four years to sign him, that takes Zobrist through his age-38 season, with a huge salary, and it just doesn’t make sense for the Royals.

They would make an exception for a homegrown guy, or maybe even a younger player, but the Royals — smartly, I believe — are intent on staying away from big, long-term, free agent contracts.

His cheery disposition, and good articles.

In order: Jim McElwain at Florida, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, Barry Odom at Mizzou, and Kirby Smart at Georgia.

I am fully aware that you probably disagree with this list, and that there are good reasons to disagree with this list, because it might be dumb, but I ask only two things — first, agree that we are all just guessing on the unknowable, and hear me out.

I think McElwain is a very good coach, and takes over a program ready to win, with a fair amount of turn-key talent, and the best infrastructure of any of the four schools here to win long-term.

Muschamp is a bit of leap of faith here, but I believe in experience, and also think the standards are different at South Carolina.* I think South Carolina is building a good athletic program, and will support Muschamp with resources. I do worry about following a popular and mostly successful coach.

* No offense to my friend Gene here, who is a proud South Carolina alum.

I mostly like the Odom hire, but worry about his experience. I think a lot of that can be covered up by hiring the right assistants, so let’s see what happens there.

I know the Kirby Smart hire has been, basically, unanimously applauded but I have two concerns: his lack of head coaching experience, and the fact that Georgia fans and boosters may very well be batcrap crazy. He played there, so he knows the culture, and he comes from Alabama, so he knows about batcrap crazy fans, but a place that forces out the last coach after 9-3 is a place that will not make it easy to succeed. One of the most dangerous places to go for college coaches is a place with an outsized view of itself, and in the Outsized View of Itself Power Rankings, Georgia football would have to be near the top of the list.

Kansas City!