After finishing with a league-low 2-14 record in 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs cleaned house in the off-season with its personnel and players. Change has been good for this team as they sit at 9-0 entering Week 10 and some of it can be attributed to new head coach Andy Reid.
What has been the keys to his success on the Chiefs ?
A Dominant Defense: The Chiefs” defense leads the league with sacks at 36 (five ahead of the No. 2 team, the Cleveland Browns), takeaways (23) and a plus-15 turnover ratio. What may be more impressive is the fact that Chiefs have taken its 23 forced turnovers and converted them into 84 points; this represents 39 percent of all points scored by them this season.
At one point, the defense appeared on pace to set a league record for sacks, but their number per game has fallen off lately and to hit the magic number of 73 for a new record, it likely won’t happen as the Chiefs will face some upcoming competition that doesn’t give up a lot of sacks (see the Denver Broncos, the San Diego Chargers and the Washington Redskins).
In addition, helping with their wins, the defense leads the league for holding each opponent to 17 or less points in each game this season. They are also the league leaders in pick-6s.
Linebacker Tamba Hali and cornerback Sean Smith have been key difference makers.
A Solid Quarterback: In his first season with the Chiefs, Alex Smith has been good enough to lead his team to an undefeated record but questions linger who far can he go in the postseason.
From his efforts he’s been called a game manager, which some don’t perceive as a compliment but Reid said this week via ProFootballTalk.com, “I think it’s a tribute to him. I don’t know one great quarterback that hasn’t been a great game manager. So I think it’s a heck of a compliment, and he does that, he’s taken the youngest offensive line in the National Football League and helped them become better. One great thing about great quarterbacks is they make everyone around them a little better than what they are and he’s able to do that, including the head coach.”
Smith’s stat line sits at 1,919 yards, 19 touchdowns, four interceptions. He has an 81.4 rating.
Keep in mind, less talented quarterbacks have taken their teams to the Super Bowl and won (see Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson). One of many questions about Smith is, is he clutch? It’s hard to tell from this season as the Chiefs have only trailed in the fourth quarter in a single game.
If Smith is good enough to not screw things up by this point in the season, he should at least be able lead his to team to the playoffs, especially with his defense.
But also helping the win column and Reid has been the team’s schedule.
Easy Schedule..So Far
For the team’s first nine games, they’ve played the Jackonsville Jaguars, the Dallas Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants, the Tennessee Titans, the Oakland Raiders, the Houston Texans, Cleveland and the Buffalo Bills. In their last five games, they’ve played teams using their backup quarterbacks in four of them and in their wins against Oakland, Houston and Cleveland on the home field, they were challenging.
Enter a tough Part II of the season after the team’s bye week. Games include Denver (twice), San Diego Chargers (twice), the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland and Washington.
Perhaps their greatest competition, the AFC West rival Broncos, has recently undergone some challenges including injuries to two offensive linemen, quarterback Peyton Manning’s ankle problems (no one really talks too much about this) and the recent surgery on coach John Fox, who could be absent for quite some time.
Playing them later in the season may be to their advantage but splitting the series with the Broncos may be tough enough. Some pundits have the Chiefs going 12-4 or 13-3, which means they will need to win their four of final seven games. Sounds easy enough for this 9-0 team but you never know in division games as well as against Indianapolis.
While three solid factors have contributed to Reid’s success, there’s a few other ones. It may be good karma. Who doesn’t love a good success/turnaround story like the Chiefs after their 2012 season?
Reid trusts his quarterback and in a recent interview Smith said the coach told the team during the preseason to “loosen up and have fun.” Smith then added of Reid, “He loves what he does, so I think that’s contagious. He loves teaching and he loves coaching. He does a great job of letting his personality shine through to the guys, and he wanted everyone else’s personality to start shining through.”
Maybe these intangible keys are the difference makers for this team.