In this weeks Top 10, we'll look one last time at the Bears game, a look ahead to the three possible opponents for the Chiefs in the second round and our weekly romp through the AFC West.
Chicago Bears @ Kansas City Chiefs - Rewind
1. You have to start with running back Priest Holmes. He now holds the NFL's touchdown record in a season by a running back (26) and combined touchdowns (27) in a season by an offensive player. Those records might not be broken for many years to come. What Holmes has done this season inside the Red Zone has been amazing. It's obvious he is not the same runner between the Twenties as he was before the hip injury but his bread and butter is scoring touchdowns. Nobody has done it better than Holmes. He should carry the Chiefs deep into the playoffs.
2. Hail the defense! Ryan Sims played like a #1 draft pick. Montique Sharpe looked great at nose tackle. Jimmy Wilkerson, Eric Hicks, John Browning and Vonnie Holliday played to their talent level and they shut down the Bears Anthony Thomas and held him under 100 yards. That's no small task. This defensive line can be productive in the playoffs.
3. Outside it was a stroke of genius by defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to use R-Kal Truluck and Gary Stills rushing the quarterback from the defensive end position. Truluck had two sacks on consecutive plays and Stills had one and nearly two. That's a winning combination for the Chiefs. If they use that formation against their playoffs opponents, those two can get to the quarterback. As long as the Chiefs defense can put the opponent in 2nd & 3rd and long, the Chiefs defense will be dominate enough in the playoffs to get the ball into the hands of their offense.
4. Trent Green, who was voted as the team's MVP on Monday, did not have a stellar game but did a good job running the offense and taking time off the clock. That is not something the Chiefs have done well this year and they'll need to a better job in the playoffs. Green threw one touchdown on Sunday to Eddie Kennison and he should have had another to Marc Boerigter who dropped two passes in the end zone on the same drive. Green who threw for over 4000 yards this season has to move the Chiefs into the Red Zone with his passing. With Holmes not as effective outside of the Red Zone, it will be up to Green and his receivers to get the ball into the scoring zone.
5. I was very impressed with the play of cornerback William Bartee. It seems to me that he plays much better on the outside than in the slot. The Chiefs might want to keep him on the outside in the playoffs and move Warfield inside in their nickel packages. Bartee was very good against the pass, keeping receivers in front of him and stopping the run. He was up on the receivers and he kept them close. It was by far his best performance as a Chief and he'll need to keep the same level of play in the playoffs.
6. It was good to see the re-emergence of linebacker Scott Fujita. On consecutive plays in the second half, he nearly got a sack and then intercepted an errant pass from Bears quarterback Kordell Stewart. Fujita who has been bothered by a knee problem has to be more productive for the Chiefs in the playoffs. He has the most speed of any of the Chiefs linebackers and he needs to be unleashed more blitzing the quarterback.
7. Larry Johnson scored his first career NFL touchdown. For all the detractors and the difficulties he's faced adjusting to life in the NFL and with the Chiefs, Johnson seems to have figured out some things. His 5-yard touchdown run culminated his entire season. At first he was bottled up running side and then he reversed his field, received some good blocks from his teammates, and ran back around the right side and into the end zone. Johnson will be a major contributor for the Chiefs next season. It's obvious Holmes needs more rest and Johnson could be a good change of pace back for the Chiefs in 2004. Look at what Denver does with three running backs. You can never have enough of them in the NFL.
8. Dante Hall did not get the NFL record for returns and he was obviously disappointed at the end of the game as he left the locker room without talking to reporters. But Hall still had a couple of good returns that gave the Chiefs strong field position. That's more important than scoring touchdowns. Yes it would be great to break one because it's a huge momentum boost for the rest of the team but Hall has done his job this season and teams are scared to death every time he touches the ball. In the playoffs, that is a HUGE advantage to the Chiefs.
9. Punter Jason Baker deserves a serious high-five. He has apparently taken his punting to the next level just in time for the playoffs. He pinned the Bears inside the Ten Yard line twice and is even kicking off better. Baker has a tremendous leg and talent. He simply needed to regain some confidence. Kudos to Dick Vermeil for staying with him because Baker has been dead on the last three games of the season.
10. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson deserves credit for simplifying the game plan on Sunday. He basically told his players to go attack and they did. He's been under a tremendous amount of heat this season but the adjustments he made proved to be a winning formula. If Robinson and Vermeil implement the same defensive schemes, formations and groupings of players that kept the Bears offense in check, this defense will be just fine in the playoffs. They'll be even better when they get Mike Maslowski back. Since Maslowski was out of the line-up the Chiefs have given up more than 60 yards more rushing yards per game than when he is on the field before his knee injury. He was sorely missed.
1. The Baltimore Ravens by virtue of winning a very weak AFC North division could be an opponent for the Chiefs. The Ravens obviously have a very productive running back in Jamal Lewis but they have shortcomings at quarterback with Anthony Wright. The former Dallas Cowboy cast-off has been decent since taking over for rocking Kyle Boller but he's a complimentary player not someone who can be counted on to make plays in a playoff game.
2. The Ravens do have a stellar defense. Led by all-world linebacker Ray Lewis the Chiefs know that running the ball will be very difficult against Baltimore. They excel at flying to the ball and they are very disciplined. They are susceptible to the roll out pass and can be fooled with reverses. Those are something the Chiefs will have to do in order to move the ball against their stringent defense.
3. The Ravens secondary is also very strong. They can play bump and run or they can play zone. But they also have the ability to close the gap to a receiver and knock the ball away. The Chiefs had trouble against the Ravens in Week #4 moving the ball but they'll need to be very creative offensively to move the ball. The Ravens defensive line is solid as a rock and they don't easily get moved off the line of scrimmage.
4. Tennessee Titans who play the Ravens on Saturday, have shown a tremendous resolve this year. They've lost their starting quarterback Steve McNair twice to injuries. They beat the defending Super Bowl champs last Sunday with a quarterback, Neil O'Donnell who had retired. That says a lot about the heart and depth of this team. Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher had done an amazing job keeping this team focused all season long.
5. The Titans though are not without a weakness on offense. Running back Eddie George has lost his stride and his step. That puts all the pressure on McNair and the receivers to move the ball. George just has not been able to hit the holes and the Titans offensive line is not geared for running the ball. They excel at pass blocking and that more than anything has hurt George. Still he can be effective coming out of the backfield for dump off passes and the Chiefs will always need to know where he is on the field.
6. The other weakness of the Titans is their pass defense. Though their front seven is very good at getting to a quarterback, the secondary is barely average. The Chiefs, if given time to throw, could pick them apart and move the ball with ease up and down the field against the Titans. Kansas City is adept at passing the ball underneath the zone and the Titans don't like to play bump and run. If that happens, the Chiefs could be in for a banner offensive day.
7. The Indianapolis Colts are the last possible opponent for the Chiefs. The Colts led by quarterback Peyton Manning have been one of the surprises of the 2003 season. Just like the Chiefs their defense played well in the first half of the season but struggled in the second half. The Denver Broncos, their first round playoffs opponent on Sunday, exposed every hole in their defense two weeks ago. The Colts defensive line is very small and they play a similar zone to what the Chiefs defense uses and it's not effective in slowing down drives. The Broncos offense dictated the pace and controlled the clock and that's the way to beat the Colts. Keep Manning and company off the field and you can easily beat them.
8. The Colts offense has not been all guns and roses. Running Back Edgerrin James has not played consistently this season. He's had a back injury and some still question his heart. James outside of his rookie season has not lived up to the hype and never really been a team guy. That's caused some dissention and the Colts have tried to find every way possible to get him back on track and productive in the offense. He can still be effective but he'll need to step up his game in the playoffs.
9. The biggest problem with the Colts is the fact they seem to play better on the road than they do at home. In big games against the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos they laid an egg. They play much better on the road and that's a huge concern. They've had impressive wins at Tampa Bay and Tennessee and seem much more relaxed in hostile environments.
10. Kicker Mike Vanderjagt record 41st consecutive field goal attempt is truly an incredible statistic. Think about it. He's hit 41 field goals in a row and all this after almost getting rode out of town after making comments about Manning and Head Coach Tony Dungy in the off-season. The Colts would have at least two or three more loses if not for Vanderjagt. At least he stepped up this year.
Around the AFC West
1. Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has taken a lot of heat from fans in Minnesota. The Vikings are upset with Shanahan for not playing any of his regulars in the season finale game against the Green Bay Packers. Jake Plummer. Clinton Portis and Shannon Sharpe were all held out of the game plus several other defensive starters. Shanahan explained that the teams playoffs seeding was sealed with the Colts 20-17 victory and he was not going to risk any of his players getting hurt before the playoffs.
2. The Broncos will travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts on Sunday afternoon. Two weeks ago the Broncos crushed the home team 31-17. The game wasn't even that close. Denver controlled the clock and Indy was never in the game. Denver will find it a tough trick to defeat the same team two times in three weeks. But they have the horses and with another week of rest for Portis, they could get it done.
3. Denver gained nothing by playing the Packers game on Sunday. Green Bay ran all over the Broncos and posted a 31-3 victory. The win put the Packers into the playoffs. However, some minor concerns would be the fact that even with some of the starters out the Broncos defense looked really bad.
4. Forget all the rumors about Mike Shanahan going to the University of Nebraska. After flirting with Florida a few years ago, Shanahan has told people at Nebraska that he's not interested in the job. With the sudden resignation of Washington Redskins Head Coach Steve Spurrier, he could be the top candidate for the Huskers top coaching job.
5. Oakland Raiders Managing General Partner, Al Davis is making Head Coach Bill Callahan suffer about his imminent departure. Callahan has made it very clear by his actions that he does not want to stay in Oakland. He refused to take any questions from reporters on Monday at his news conference and that has led to speculation that he'll be the next coach fired. But that is fine with Callahan who will likely join Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay as the teams assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator for the Buccaneers as soon as he's officially fired.
6. Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson was very public about his comments about Callahan. He told the Raiders management that he would not return to the Raiders if Callahan remained the head coach. Woodson will be an unrestricted free agent and the top cornerback available. He wants to stay in Oakland but words mean very little in December and January. Woodson is someone who the Chiefs should take a long look at in free agency.
7. The Raiders have locked down the #2 pick in the NFL draft and they are certain to take one of the top quarterbacks available. They want Eli Manning but he could go #1 to division rival San Diego who once again has the top pick in the draft. The Raiders have sever cap problems and are likely going to cut Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice and several players on the defense to allow them to turn the franchise around.
8. Speaking of the Chargers. As stated they'll have the #1 draft pick in the April NFL Draft. They are also looking for a quarterback since Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer seems to have lost confidence in Drew Brees. Doug Flutie is not going to be back and Brees wants to be a starter so look for them to trade Brees to a team like Tampa Bay that could use a more mobile quarterback.
9. Superstar running back LaDainian Tomlinson offered up his comments about the chances of the team turning around their losing fortunes next season. He ripped the organization and claimed he doubted that it could be done. The team has no offensive line yet Tomlinson had a stellar season. He rushed for 1645 yards and had 100 receptions for 725 yards. He was the main workhorse.
10. Schottenheimer seems to be getting a reprieve despite conflicting reports from the Spanos family, who owns the Chargers. There is no doubt that Schottenheimer will have a tough task turning around a San Diego team that is flat out awful. Given the fact that he'll only have one season to keep his job expect Schottenheimer to bring in low character guys like he did with David Boston to get enough wins to keep his job. He has no shot at winning the AFC West next year or anytime soon with that roster.