Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Kansas City Chiefs

Warpaint Illustrated's Nick Athan gives us an insider's look at the Chiefs, including his thoughts on Alex Smith, Justin Houston and Marcus Peters.

The streak is infamous, with a Chiefs receiver not having caught a touchdown pass for the past 18 regular-season games. How do you explain it?

There is no logical explanation for the streak. It’s unfathomable to believe a team coached by Andy Reid would entertain such a statistic. The primary culprit might be within the head coach himself. Reid’s detractors are plentiful, and his play-calling in the red zone looms large as to why the streak continues. Though Jeremy Maclin is supposed to end the streak, the Chiefs have been unable to duplicate the success they had in the preseason scoring touchdowns to a variety of wide receivers. To combat that this week against the Green Bay Packers, look for rookie wide receiver Chris Conley to get some red-zone action. He has the size and length to create another option for quarterback Alex Smith.

Because Alex Smith isn’t Aaron Rodgers, he’s taken his fair share of verbal abuse over the years -- so much so that he’s probably underrated at this point. But is he a guy that can take the Chiefs to a Super Bowl, so long as he doesn’t have to carry the load?

I’m a big fan of Alex Smith and quite likely his biggest supporter in the media. This season, Smith was steady against the Houston Texans but didn’t fair well against the Denver Broncos last week. However, Smith has playmakers in Maclin, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Travis Kelce to get the job done. But in my view, his ability to get the Chiefs to a Super Bowl rests on two things: one, the five guys up front in charge of protecting the team’s franchise quarterback and, two, the head coach giving Smith more freedom to run the offense in the red zone. Because between the 20s, I don’t think there’s a better game manager in the NFL.

On paper, the Chiefs’ offensive line doesn’t look good. Donald Stephenson was abused by the Packers last preseason. One of the guards is from Canada. The right tackle, Jake Fisher, looks like a bust as far as No. 1 overall picks go. What is the state of that unit, and can it handle a Packers defense that made life miserable for Marshawn Lynch?

You hit the nail on the head. Fisher, who could start at right tackle on Monday night, has been a bust. It’s not a matter of talent but drive. He’s never shown the intensity at the NFL level we saw at Central Michigan. As far as Stephenson, he won’t be abused this year. He’s the team’s best offensive lineman and has a score to settle with the Packers. In fact, it was that game that put Stephenson in Reid’s doghouse and he didn’t let him out until training camp began in July. That being said, the Chiefs’ line, though it has some holes in pass protection, has done more than enough to create space for Jamaal Charles. Though Lynch is a power back, Charles is elusive and has the ability to hit a home run on any given snap. It’ll be something the Packers will have to be leery of Monday night.

I’m not sure if you go around thinking about these things, but is the outside linebacker combination of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali the best in the NFL? And what makes Houston so productive when he’s got to be the focal point of every game plan?

It certainly could be. There’s no doubt that Houston is the game’s best pass rusher. In two games, he has three sacks and a forced fumble. He’s dead set on breaking the NFL sack record. If he sees a weakness, he’s a master at attacking. Hali, though in the final days of his brilliant career, is the perfect complement to Houston. He can still get to the quarterback and when the Chiefs line both of them on the same side of the field, it’s a near certainty one of them will get to the quarterback. Are they the best tandem in the NFL? Ask me that after Monday night.

First-round pick Marcus Peters has made some plays at cornerback and Eric Berry is back at safety -- a remarkable story in itself. What is the state of Kansas City’s secondary, considering that group will have to contend with Rodgers?

After two games, he’s the NFL rookie of the year. With two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, Peters is playing at a level that’s been virtually flawless. In fact, if you’re still not sold on Peters, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning only attempted three passes toward Peters in the second half last week. So why is Peters so good? I think it’s the return of Berry. He’s been such an inspiration to his teammates but he works with everyone in the secondary and that’s made this unit solid. Now, is Peters solid enough to defeat Aaron Rodgers head-to-head? Probably not, but don’t be shocked if he makes just enough plays to earn his respect.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.

   


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