After a humbling first year in the SEC, the Missouri Tigers, made changes, worked harder, worked better, adapted and competed. The results were dominating play, one of the best pass rushes in the country and a potent and balanced attack on offense. It was accomplished through injury, adversity and criticism. Mizzou didn’t just win 11 games and the didn’t just win the SEC East, they won the respect of their SEC brethren and those who cover the conference.
They certainly earned my respect. The key is, they EARNED it. I’m here to tell you today, the SEC made Missouri a better program by raising the standards it had for itself and the standards its fans had for success. I’m also here to tell you Missouri made the SEC better as well. The East is now harder to win, the conference in general has greater appeal, and the addition of Missouri has lengthened the already impressive list of programs that can compete for National Titles and Heisman Trophies.
Some may want to turn this into a “Missouri beat the SEC” narrative. Somehow, Missouri’s biggest detractors in the Big 12 have become its biggest proponents of the conference’s strength, even though Missouri isn’t in their conference any longer. A lot of Big 12 fans seem to be living vicariously through Missouri’s success. If that puts a smile on my face, I’m sure it puts a smile on the face of Mizzou fans.
Simply put, it’s a good feeling to be envied, and Mizzou is the envy of a lot of programs right now. They are the envy of nearly every program in the Big 12 (save OU and Texas), Arkansas and South Carolina who weren’t able to have this great of success as quickly as Mizzou, Texas A&M who was supposed to be the more successful of the two transition programs, and the Big 10 who could have added them, but chose not to.
That’s a long list. A REALLY LONG IMPRESSIVE LIST!
However, the challenge hasn’t been completed and there is still work to be done. It’s one thing to get to an SEC Championship game, Arkansas did it in its 3rd season in the SEC, South Carolina in its 19th and Mississippi State is winless in the game as well. There exists a perceived distinction still between the haves and the have-nots in the SEC. It’s like an elite country club that to its members represents an inherent value. Winning the SEC Championship game would get Mizzou into that club.
One thing is for sure, Mizzou is done proving they can compete. The answer is an unequivocal yes.
My message is this, don’t quit. Not every year will be like this, recruiting still needs to get better, fundraising still needs to get better, facilities still need to get better and Gary Pinkel will still need to constantly evaluate his coaching staff. But the difference now from a year and a half ago is that there is no doubt they can and likely will do all those things.
Mizzou is better for having joined the SEC, and the SEC is better for having them.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter football players hold up four fingers to signify it is the time in the game to shift into gear. It has largely become somewhat of an empty gesture, but for the Kansas City Chiefs, that’s when the defense gets most of its work done.
In the second half of games the Chiefs defense has accumulated 21 sacks compared to 14 in the first half, 8 tackles for a loss compared to 4 and 6 forced fumbles compared to 1. The Chiefs are better in pass coverage with 32 passes defended in the 2nd half compared to 20 in the first half along with 7 interceptions to 3 on the season.
The Chiefs close.
Bob Sutton said during his press conference this week, “If you’re waiting until halftime to make adjustments, you’re done,” indicating that adjustments defensively are ongoing.
Tyson Jackson, who was credited by his coordinator as often doing the “dirty jobs” said the process of making in-game adjustments was difficult but ultimately is the primary reason they are currently 7-0.
The Chiefs also usually have a lead late in games. I asked Justin Houston after the win over the Texans how the Chiefs channel their ability to turn it on in the fourth quarter and he said the motivation comes from the offense giving them a lead to protect. In a game in which the defense was somewhat taken by surprise by a quarterback they’d never seen before, the defense was able to get turnovers and pressure late in the game after being mostly limited through the first three quarters.
The Chiefs have outscored opponents in the 4th quarter 57-17 this season. While the offense hasn’t been great, they’ve always managed to give their defense a lead to protect, and the defense takes it from there. Currently, the Chiefs have two players on pace to get more than 20 sacks, something that has never happened in NFL history. It probably won’t happen this season, but to already be halfway there less than halfway through the season is a testament to the scheme and how well these players fit into it.
Beyond the numbers, the Chiefs know how to win games, which makes them the most dangerous team in the NFL right now. No one is better at closing than the Chiefs.
Well, that didn’t take long. Sanders Commings has been back with the Chiefs a day, and already he’s getting fans excited… or worried… or embarrassed - take your pick. There is no question, Sanders Commings doesn’t hold back his feelings or confidence in his team, “we want to lead the NFL in every defensive category. There is no reason why we shouldn’t win the Super Bowl.”
After injuring his collarbone during the first practice of rookie training camp, Sanders Commings was unable to contribute on the field. Now he’s back in the locker room and out at practice for a three week evaluation period, during which the Chiefs will make a determination whether he can come of the Injured Reserve list and join the 53-man roster.
The Chiefs are first in the NFL in sacks (31) and interceptions (10). Kansas City has allowed fewer points than any team in the NFL and is 3rd in opponent passing yards per game at 189.7. Justin Houston is first in the NFL in sacks and Tamba Hali is 3rd. 10 players on the defense have accumulated a sack six weeks into the season.
Confidence is a good thing right?
It’s funny how quickly winning changes people. It changes players, it changes coaches, it changes fans, and it changes the media. And not only are the Chiefs winning, it’s all they’re doing. Whether the offense executes well or not, the defense is dominant, the schedule looks extremely favorable, and fans have quickly gone from the expectation just a season ago, to be completely out of games by halftime, to expecting wins in the fourth quarter.
Fans are getting what they want. Wins
Players are more talkative, but also even-keeled. Players like Sean McGrath parrot what his head coach continues to say every week, “There is a lot of room for improvement in all three phases of the game; we aren’t even close to reaching our potential as an offense.”
The Chiefs have an offense that is 8th in the NFL in total points while only being 21st in yards. Passing the football they are even worse, only being 24th in the league, and 28th in net yards per pass attempt. The Chiefs are 27th in completion percentage, 25th in TD percentage and 26th in touchdowns. Needless to say there is a tremendous amount of room for improvement offensively. Yet, Reid is adamant that Alex Smith is at the top of the list of reasons why the Chiefs are winning, citing his presence in the locker room, on the sideline, and his ability to protect the football.
Also it’s hard to argue with 6-0.
Of course, the main reason for that mark is a defense that is on pace to shatter the NFL record for sacks in a season set in 1984 by the Chicago Bears at 72. The Chiefs are on pace for 82.5, so even if the Chiefs defense were to slow their pace by 10 sacks over the remaining 10 games, they would still set the record for sacks in a season by a defense. How do you counter a poor showing on offense and remain undefeated? You put together HISTORICALLY GREAT performances on defense. What the Chiefs are doing in terms of takeaways and sacks this season is not only impressive in terms of the history of the franchise, it is impressive in terms of the history of the NFL.
Kansas City has allowed fewer points than any team in the NFL, is 3rd in opponent passing yards per game at 189.7 and first in the NFL in interceptions. Justin Houston is first in the NFL in sacks and Tamba Hali is 3rd. 10 players on the defense have accumulated a sack six weeks into the season. The Chiefs lead handily in the NFL in that category with 31.
The media has gone one of two ways on whether or not to buy in to the Chiefs excellent start. It is almost a lock at this point the Chiefs will make the playoffs. Courtesy of ESPN’s Adam Teicher, in Super Bowl era, 53 teams started 6-0, 49 made playoffs (92.5%), 24 made Super Bowl (45.3%), 13 won Super Bowl (24.5%). Most are willing to concede the Chiefs are a playoff team. Few are willing to concede they will win the division and almost no one is willing to go so far as to say the Chiefs are a Super Bowl contender. This is due in large part to the fact that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, not a defense-driven league.
So where should expectations be?
The number on question Chiefs fans and media members need to ask is, “Are the Chiefs an outlier?” In other words, are the Chiefs a special case that doesn’t fall into the typical pattern of what constitutes a Super Bowl winning team? Or are they simply in the middle of a nice run that may end a playoff win drought that has lasted two decades in Kansas City, but will ultimately end in the Chiefs looking for answers at quarterback and falling into the same category everyone else with sub-par offensive numbers are in: looking for a starting quarterback in the draft.
I believe the Chiefs are special this season. The single greatest indicator of NFL team success in terms of wins and losses is turnovers. Teams that get a lot and give few have great records. Baltimore was pedestrian last season until in the playoffs they forced turnovers and protected the football. The Chiefs have gone from one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of its best in 10 months due in large part to the fact they were the worst team in the NFL in turnovers last season, now they are the best. However, doing so in the first six weeks and doing so in the final six (including the playoffs) are two very different things.
The most impressive thing the Chiefs have done has been finishing games, the Chiefs have outscored their opponents 57-17 in the fourth quarter. There is obviously a difference between finishing games and finishing seasons, but my expectation is that this team will finish well, because they focus on the aspects of the game they can control and don’t focus on expectations. If the one thing expectations have done to this team is emphasize how meaningless they are to the ultimate outcome of the season, then expectations are still a good thing.
If you have no other expectation, expect the Chiefs to finish.
Andy Reid is old school. There is very little if any complaining going on in the locker room. Understandable, the Chiefs are 5-0 for the first time since 2003, the Andy Reid regime has gotten off to a great start and fans and players are happy. So happy in fact that The Guinness Book of World Records will be in town this weekend to see if that happiness translates into the loudest stadium in the world.
Back to not complaining. It would also be understandable if Jamaal Charles and many other players complained about pain, not being 100% healthy, or playing too much because of a lack of depth. Winners, don’t complain. Players also don’t complain if they want to play. On some level I suppose it is admirable. But it may not always be the best choice for long-term success.
Back to Andy Reid being old school. If a player a player can play, he plays. As much as that statement can be made in today’s NFL. Reid is not going to ask a player how he’s feeling. Reid said on Wednesday, “If the player comes to us and has a problem, then we address it.”
But he’s not going to ask. It’s not his job to ask, it’s his job to win.
And the team is 5-0. So far so good.
But eventually, that not so good performance or lack of depth at TE/WR/T/RB or inexperience at RB/RT/TE is going to cost the Chiefs a game.
Jamaal Charles turned his ankle during training camp and the world stopped for a split second, because everyone knows how important he is to the success of an offense with a dearth of talent at other key skill positions. Now he has blisters on his feet. At least he’s still playing.
Branden Albert has gone down in two games already. Many people think it’s only a matter of time with him.
Anthony Fasano hurt his ankle early this season, or was it his knee - well it’s both and he’s still not playing.
Brandon Flowers had a knee injury. Oh and Jeff Allen has been hurt. As has Kendrick Lewis. And Justin Houston might have suffered a concussion. And Donnie Avery has been limited in practice.
What about the rookies? Eric Fisher missed last week’s game with a concussion. Travis Kelce hasn’t played yet and arthroscopic knee surgery may have ended his season. Knile Davis has “fumbleitis” (that one is a joke). Nico Johnson has been limited because of a high ankle sprain. Sanders Commings is still trying to recover from a fractured clavicle suffered during training camp.
And coach Reid will let Rick Burkholder answer all your questions about injuries, because it’s obvious he’s not worried about them, he’s not going to complain about them, and he’s not going to slow down for them. He’s old school. If you can play, you play, if you can’t get out of the way.
But all is well in Chiefs paradise. The Chiefs are 5-0. They have one of the best defenses in the NFL, an offense that protects the football well, some of the loudest fans in the NFL, and a coach and a general manager in love with Chiefs nation. What is there to complain about?
The tempo out out at Chiefs practice best mirrors Manhattan’s busiest business districts. Fast but methodical, many moving pieces, lots of noise. It is controlled chaos.
Much of practice has been spent in game simulation. The importance of getting the right people in the right places has been an emphasis since the beginning of OTAs, but only now is it sinking in that as much as the physical deficiencies the Chiefs faced last season must be met, so to do the mental deficiencies.
Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali both noted after practice how well Alex Smith got in and out of plays. Andy Reid is constantly on players to stay on the sideline, to get on and off the field in a quick and efficient manner. While Reid has been on players since day one during game simulation to get on and off the field quickly, today was the first day I saw players admonishing teammates for not being quick about their business during practice.
Smith personally felt as though his favorite thing about OTAs so far has been how much the coaches have demanded of them and the volume of plays and tempo demands players have had to deal with. “I think it will prepare us for the fall,” said Smith.
Jon Baldwin had perhaps his best OTA since Andy Reid took over as head coach. He was alert, responsive, caught the ball well (with two hands mind you) and got in and out of his cuts well. With Baldwin, it is entirely about effort. He’ll never be an elite WR in the NFL like other players how have similar physical builds, but he can be an asset - a productive member of the offense - instead of simply a wasted roster slot and a busted first round pick, which for two straight seasons, he has been.
Chase Daniel had some wonderful throws at OTAs on Wednesday, but also had issues with the snap, which could be as much an issue with Eric Kush as it could be with Daniel, but the expected second string QB also had issues with handoffs yet again. It will be interesting to see whether or not this is a continuing issue heading into fall camp. Obviously Daniel is only one snap away from being the starter at all times, and while he displays excellent passing skills for a backup quarterback, he could ultimately be haunted by small mistakes.
Tyler Bray also got third team snaps on Wednesday over Ricky Stanzi. Take that for what you will. To be honest, if either Stanzi or Bray play a down of football for the Chiefs as a quarterback during the regular season, the Chiefs have much bigger problems on their hand than which of these two are handing off to Jamaal Charles for the remaining (insert number here) games.
Knile Davis changed his number from 35 to 34 and dropped some routine passes today. Obviously, he already has a reputation for being less than sure-handed. I wouldn’t read into it at this point, but Davis has to be perfect when it comes to fumbles and dropped passes because of his reputation coming into the NFL.
For more from Chiefs OTAs, follow me on twitter @TJCarpenterWHB and listen to The Program with Soren Petro and Between the Lines with Kevin Kietzman for live updates Tuesday through Friday and Sports Night with myself TJ Carpenter 6-10pm for exclusive interviews with coaches and players and all the in-depth analysis of the Chiefs this season.