When the Kansas City Chiefs got out to a 9-0 start in 2013, it left the NFL world wondering if they were for real, or was this a fugazi? Andy Reid had replaced the departed Romeo Crennel and Alex Smith had replaced Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton.
After a hard and fast start, the Chiefs ended up losing 6 out of their last 8 games, including playoffs. They infamously relinquished a 28 point lead to the Indianapolis Colts in the Wildcard round (only the 2nd time in playoff history that's happened) and lost the game 45-44.
When the Chiefs were making waves early on last year, I was dubious that they were for real. Obviously they were a legitimate playoff contender, but were they a threat to the Denver Broncos for the AFC West crown? No, they were not.
This year, they have the distinction, like their fellow AFC West brethren, of having the vaunted NFC West on the schedule. This does not bode well. And when you factor in their key personnel losses; players like Brandon Flowers (CB), Branden Albert (LT), Jon Asamoah (G), Geoff Schwartz (G), Tyson Jackson (DE), Dunta Robinson (CB), Dexter McCluster (WR/RB), Quentin Demps (S),and Kendrick Lewis (S), the Chiefs were operating in the red from the get-go. But to add insult to injury (no pun intended), the Chiefs lost arguably their best defender to a torn achilles, Derrick Johnson (LB), as well as the journeyman, Mike Devito (DE), to the same injury vs the Tennessee Titans.
Ouch. In last week's matchup vs the Titans, the Chiefs did not resemble the 2013 version of themselves one bit. Jamaal Charles, the engine of their offense, only carried the ball 7 times, and had 11 total touches. Yet, he was 100% healthy. We're talking about a player who some people felt should have been the 2013 league MVP over Peyton Manning. Last year, he rushed for 1,287 yards and 12 TDs, plus, he caught 70 balls for 693 yards and 7 TDs. He literally accounted for 46% of the team's touchdowns in 2013 and you only give him 11 touches, Andy Reid?
The Chiefs haven't addressed their mass exodus of players effectively. They had a below average draft. Their biggest free agent signings were the likes of Joe Mays and Vance Walker. Mays, an inside linebacker, has recently been placed on the IR with designation to return list, which is really tough considering they just lost Johnson for the season. And word just broke that they have signed former Broncos defensive tackle, Kevin Vickerson. It's a solid signing. Big Vick is tough against the run, but injury concerns, and overall roster depth, led to his release in Denver.
The Chiefs lost to the Titans last week convincingly 26-10. And let's face it. The Titans are not a NFL powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination. 2014 is going to be a tough one for the Chiefs. They're going to regress bigtime. By season's end, the media will talking about whether or not the team should move on from Andy Reid, the same guy who led them to a 9-0 start just a year ago.
The only aspect of the Chiefs defense that gives me pause is their pass rush. Specifically, their elite edge rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. They combined for 22 sacks in 2013, but like their team as a whole, they faded a bit down the stretch. But these guys must be taken seriously and accounted for.
With left tackle, Ryan Clady, back in the lineup for the Broncos, I'm absolutely confident that he'll be able to lock down the left side, which is typically Hali. Chris Clark, the right tackle, going against Houston, frankly, has me a bit concerned. Offensive Coordinator, Adam Gase, and Manning, I'm sure will have a plan to help Clark out, whether it's double teaming him, chipping him, or playing in a lot of 12 personnel sets (1 Rb, 2 WR, 2 TE). Last week, Houston earned a +1.0 overall grade from PFF, while Hali earned a +0.3 grade. Houston was able to sack Jake Locker twice, while Hali was rendered sack-less.
Dontari Poe presents quite the challenge, too, if I'm being honest. But last year, the Broncos were able to neutralize him. I don't see that changing this year. This defensive interior is the walking wounded though. Losing Johnson and DeVito will make it very difficult for the Chiefs to stop the run.
The Chiefs still have at least one bona fide stud in the secondary. Eric Berry. However, he didn't have the best game vs the Titans, earning a -1.5 from PFF. Don't let that fool you though. Berry is a game-changer, and to overlook him is to shoot yourself in the foot. The Sheriff's gun play will most certainly account for him, however. Expect him to be lined up vs tight end, Julius Thomas. Chiefs Defensive Coordinator, Bob Sutton, took that approach last year, with mixed results. If Sunday was any indication, Thomas is bent on having a record-setting season, as he plays out his contract year.
At cornerback, the Chiefs have Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper. Both players measure over 6' tall, in the vein of the Seattle Seahawks prototypical cornerback. Long, strong, and physical. They can play press-man, but as Manning proved last year, they are susceptible to the double move. They will have a very difficult time containing Emmanuel Sanders' pure speed.
On offense, if comes down to one thing. Stop Jamaal Charles. With the Chiefs losing 3 starters on the offensive line, the Broncos front 7, deep and replete with talent, should be able to handle them convincingly. The Chiefs will have Dwayne Bowe back at wide receiver, following his 1-game suspension, but Aqib Talib will shut him down. Tight end, Travis Kelce, is a player to keep an eye on. He was the only Chiefs offensive player to grade in the positive last week via PFF, with +1.3. Reid would be remiss to not get him more involved in the game-plan.
Last year, the Chiefs played the Broncos tough. This year, expect the Broncos to run away with this game early.
You can find Chad Jensen on Twitter @CJ_Broncos.