CM: Kansas City has rattled off five straight victories, and seven of their last eight, after starting 0-2. What has changed for Kansas City? Is this year's 7-3 team playing better than last year's 9-0 squad?
NA: The turning point of the season was at the end of the Chiefs season opener against the Tennessee Titans. After a raucous sellout crowd dwindled to a mere 5,000 people or less, Head Coach, Andy Reid, kept his starters in the game on both sides of the ball. They had to endure nearly a full quarter of play as fans walked out on his team. That proved to be a valuable teaching tool for the players. They realized it wasn't a good idea to take any NFL team lightly. The Titans spanked the Chiefs that day and it was a lesson the head coach needed his team to learn.
A week later they nearly upset the Denver Broncos on the road and that turned the tide for the remainder of the season. The Chiefs found their pulse and haven't looked back since. Though it's still a bit shocking they've played so well, in what was suppose to be a true rebuilding year, but the players came together and now have their sights set on winning the AFC West. There is no question that the team that started 9-0 a year ago has finally grown up this season.
CM: In 33 red zone drives this season the Chiefs offense has tallied points 31 times (23 touchdowns), while only allowing 13 touchdowns in 31 opponent red zone threats. What has been the key to the Chiefs success in the red zone on both sides of the ball?
NA: Andy Reid loves to pass the ball in the Red Zone but when you have Jamaal Charles on your roster, it's best to use him in goal line situations. The key fact is Reid has finally began to trust his make shift offensive line to run the ball instead of rely on the pass to score touchdowns. As evident by the fact, no Chiefs receiver has scored a touchdown this season (though I think that streak ends Thursday Night in Oakland), he had little choice but to change his overall philosophy. It's served his team well because not only has Charles found success on the ground so has back-up running back, Knile Davis.
On the defensive side, I wish I could give you the magic formula but honestly I have no idea what has fueled their success. The Chiefs front seven features some Pro Bowl players but also includes a plethora of journeymen no name players who are committed to one another. They understand to a man, if they're going to win games in January, they have to prevent points in the Red Zone. The fact this defense has yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season tells me they're each playing their specific roles and relying on one another to make key stops when the game is on the line.
CM: The Kansas City Chiefs defense has been stout thus far, not giving up a rushing touchdown or allowing a 300-yard passer on the season. Which do you think is more telling of the Chiefs defense? Do you think the Raiders have a chance to break the streak for either of them? If so, which one?
NA: Those are remarkable numbers to say the least. The fact the Chiefs defense has played against some of the games best quarterbacks, and to limit them to under 300 yards passing, indicates they are playing very well in the secondary. Again, as I mentioned outside of Veteran Cornerback, Sean Smith, and Safety Eric Berry, I doubt a fan of most teams in the NFL could name their secondary players. That's a testament to those players. They've been cut, changed cities multiple times but found a home in Kansas City.
As far as the streak, I'd say the rushing touchdown streak probably ends on Thursday Night. The Raiders are still a very physical team and the Chiefs might be a little weary after playing the likes of the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks the last two weeks. However, that also could play into their advantage. Kansas City defenders have taken great pride in these streaks, and with the Chiefs now tied with Denver for the AFC West lead, they're not about to let up now.
CM: Linebacker Justin Houston currently leads the league with 12.0 sacks and the team is third in the NFL with 30.0. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders offensive line has done a formidable job in keeping rookie quarterback Derek Carr off of his back. How do you suspect the Chiefs will look to attack a Raiders offensive line that has done a decent job protecting its young quarterback?
NA: Justin Houston has been a beast this season, though he hasn't recorded a sack in the Chiefs last two games, still that could change on Thursday Night. It's a primetime game and he's fighting for a mega rich contract from the Chiefs. Houston has played some of his best games against the Raiders. Still Oakland has a solid offensive line, and given time, Derek Carr can torch any NFL team.
Still if the Chiefs are going to disrupt Carr, they need to do what other NFL teams have done to date with the young quarterback. The Chiefs are terrific at collapsing the pocket. They can pile up sacks in a hurry and have one of the most formidable defensive fronts in the NFL when teams are forced to pass the ball. Between Houston, Tamba Hali, Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe, the Raiders are going to need to protect Carr if they have any chance of winning this game on Thursday Night.
CM: Quarterback Alex Smith draws criticism from many, but has the fourth-best winning percentage among quarterback since 2011 (.740). What do you attribute to his success, especially with the Chiefs? How can the Raiders get to him and force what seems to be an elusive turnover for Smith?
NA: Alex Smith is an elite quarterback. Though he doesn't get the credit it's nearly impossible to rattle the Chiefs quarterback. He doesn't force the ball down the field, he'll take a sack if necessary or he'll use his legs to escape the pocket. If he has two bad throws in a row it hardly matters. What makes him so special is the fact, he does what he does best. That's throw short passes putting the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
It also helps that he has a terrific ground game and an offensive line that's beginning to find its groove. In fact, I'd have to say the continuity of the offensive line has been the primary reason the Chiefs sustain so many long drives. Add that with their ability to finish in the Red Zone gives Smith a huge edge among the quarterback fraternity in the NFL. There's not doubt in my mind that Smith has all the tangibles in guiding the Chiefs to a Super Bowl run at some point during his tenure in Kansas City.