Monthly Archives: October 2014

Bye Week Review: Rotating Along the Defensive Line

One thing we’ve noticed from the Chiefs defense this season is that they are rotating the defensive linemen more so than they have in the past.

Last year, Dontari Poe was known for being one of the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in the NFL. But he was also the only one who played over 1,000 snaps last season, garnering 94 percent of them for the Chiefs.

This year, Poe has taken a slight breather and is only playing 86 percent of the Chiefs snaps. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has made a concerted effort to rotate the guys along the defensive line more this season.

“I think in the end, it has to be about the big picture,” Sutton said of the rotating. “We have two guys in there, Dontari (Poe) and Allen (Bailey), who are amazing guys for their size because they really don’t get tired. They could play every single snap but we’re just trying to big-picture think this out and maybe get those guys a little rest.

“Plus, it gives these guys a new sense of thinking. Obviously, it ties everybody in. You know you’re going to play in the game. You’re going to get a few reps in here and I think that helps everybody.”

A few of those guys to get reps are veterans Vance Walker and Kevin Vickerson. The ability to rotate these guys and keep them fresh through a game and even later into the season should help with more explosive plays from the group as a whole.

Both Walker and Vickerson join Poe, Bailey and third-year player Jaye Howard along the defensive line. Howard became the starter when Mike DeVito was lost for the season with an Achilles injury suffered in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans.

“Jaye [Howard] has come along and done a good job,” Sutton said. “Obviously, he got bumped up there when Mike DeVito went down and I think has come in and done a really good job. Jaye was going to be one of the original rotation guys and now he’s the guy in there and so he’s got some flexibility. He can play the big end, he can play the three-technique and I think his development has been good.”

Last year, the Chiefs defensive line combined for 11.5 sacks.

Through five games this season, the defensive line is on pace for 18 sacks. They’re currently led by Bailey with 2.5, Poe with two and Walker with one.

Bailey made a concerted effort this offseason to change his body in the hopes of becoming stouter against the run this season, which he has been.

After talking with Sutton a few times during training camp, Bailey’s emergence as a legitimate starter at defensive end shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Nobody is caught off guard by the Chiefs’ ability to pressure quarterbacks with the talent they have at outside linebacker, but during the final 11 regular season games, if they can get consistent production in getting the quarterback “off his spot,” the better chance they have at making game-changing plays on defense.

They’ve picked up 10 sacks during their last three games, and hopefully they can continue that trend as they get set to take on the San Diego Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers next Sunday.

Bye Week Review: Two Chiefs Skill Players Standing Out

There have been a couple of skill position players on offense for the Kansas City Chiefs that have really stood out through the first five games of the season.

The most obvious breakout player for the Chiefs on offense has to be second-year tight end Travis Kelce.

He’s currently leading the Chiefs in targets (27), receptions (20), receptions of 20-plus yards (6), first-down receptions (17), yards (274) and touchdowns (3).

Just to be clear, 85 percent of Kelce’s receptions have resulted in a first down and 30 percent have gone for at least 20 yards.

That’s why he’s a blossoming star in this league.

Kelce brings a fire and passion to the Chiefs offense that’s infectious on those around him.

“I think guys feed off it,” quarterback Alex Smith said of Kelce’s fire. “He brings a lot of emotion and energy to the huddle. It’s good. You’ve got to have guys like that.”

Kelce is leading the NFL in yards after catch by a tight end with 178, and he’s ranked No. 6 overall when you add receivers to that mix.

“He’s done a nice job and his expectation level is high,” Pederson said of Kelce. “Our expectation level for him is high. The ceiling is high athletically and as a football player. We just continue to monitor his progress and give him a handful of things each and every week and just allow him to go play.”

Because of Kelce’s athleticism, Pederson said there are different ways you can be creative and utilize his skillsets when game planning, but you have to be careful to not get away from what you know.

“Well, there is a fine line with creativity because it becomes anew and it becomes something your offense is not,” Pederson said. “We’ve logged a lot of hours through training camp and through the first five games on plays that guys are familiar with and we want to continue to utilize those concepts.

“We’ll just put different guys in those positions to run the same play and he’s a big part of that so the more we can move him around with schemes and concepts that the guys know, the more efficient we can become as an offense.”

Another player who has really stepped up through the first five games of the season is another second-year player in running back Knile Davis.

With Jamaal Charles missing time due to an ankle injury, Davis stepped up and showed he can be the lead back if that’s what is needed from him.

Davis is 13th in the NFL with 327 yards rushing on 73 carries, which averages out to 4.5 yards per carry. He’s also tied for fifth in the NFL with three rushes of at least 20 yards.

Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bieniemy has seen a lot of development from Davis between his rookie season and now.

“A tremendous growth and maturity,” Bieniemy said of Davis now compared to his rookie season. “His mental and physical preparation has improved tremendously. He’s not taking anything for granted. He’s working on the little things and he’s studying more.

“He has a better understanding of what we want out of him and what we’re trying to get him to accomplish. He’s a great kid and he takes a tremendous amount of pride in everything that he does.”

When talking specifically about what Davis has done to improve, Bieniemy talked about vision and decision-making.

“Making decisive decisions,” Bieniemy said. “One thing about Knile (Davis) and I always express this to him—he’s a 225 to 235-pound kid that can run 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. When you put your foot down, be decisive. Get up the field. Defensive backs don’t want to see that coming at them.”

Obviously Jamaal Charles is still the No. 1 option, but Davis has developed the Chiefs offense into having a legitimate 1-2 punch in the running game.

Charles sits just 53 rushing yards away from becoming the all-time leading rusher in Chiefs franchise history, which would have him surpass former great Priest Holmes.

Bieniemy explained how the record would obviously mean something to Charles, but that’s not at all what he’s about.

“He’s driven for all the right reasons,” Bieniemy said. “Success means a lot, but success as an organization and as a team goes beyond anything. [Jamaal] is so self-conscious about helping the guys in our room know what to do that he’s helping them prepare to make sure that we go out and do the things that we need to do to help us to win. That’s his motivating factor.

“[Jamaal] wants everybody to be great so everybody can set the stage so we can have the success that is needed to help us to accomplish that goal.”

Bieniemy explained the mental aspect of accomplishing a goal like Charles is about to reach.

“When you’re a player, you never really gain a full appreciation for anything while you’re playing,” Bieniemy said. “Now, as you grow older and you get more mature, more than anything you get a joy out of your kids learning what you did. And I think more so than anything, he’ll appreciate it more later on in life.

“His girls will appreciate it, and I’m sure his family, they obviously appreciate it right now. But Jamaal has bigger goals set. Obviously he wants to win the Super Bowl; he wants to accomplish other goals in life.”

Patriots TE Tim Wright coming on strong

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Visitors to the New England Patriots locker room might notice that one row of lockers has Rob Gronkowski on the far left, Tim Wright on the far right, with quarterback Tom Brady in the middle.

The setup is especially topical to pass along this week because the two-tight end offense was a big part of the team’s most recent victory, with Wright breaking through with his best performance since joining the team Aug. 26 in the surprising Logan Mankins trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With Gronkowski and Wright each scoring a touchdown, it marked the first time since the 2012 season-opener that the Patriots had two tight ends score in a game.

“We complement each other well, we use our strengths to our advantage,” Wright said. “He’s a bigger guy (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) and more physical and I’m a little smaller (6-4, 235) but I’m quicker in certain aspects. It’s a good counter for an offense to have both different types of tight ends on the field.”

As Wright spoke those words Wednesday, drawing a huge media crowd around his locker, Gronkowski peeked over from the opposite side and seemed pleased that the spotlight was shining on someone other than him as he sneaked out the back door.

Gronkowski is nearing a full workload himself, but Wright is still much more of a part-time player as he continues to get up to speed in the system. He made the most of his 19 snaps on Sunday night (5 catches, 85 yards, touchdown), and had played 21, 8, 5 and 16 snaps in the first four weeks of the season.

What has stood out from this perspective is how opponents are deciding to match up against him. The Bengals used cornerback Leon Hall, and Wright gave him fits. Then on Wright’s 17-yard touchdown, which came out of a 1 WR/3 TE grouping, he split two linebackers.

Wright acknowledged that he’s seen “a mix” of matchups “but it’s still early; I’m starting to get more involved in the offense. As the weeks go on, we’ll see [how] defenses are trying to match up on me.”

That matchup has been something Bills coach Doug Marrone and his staff have naturally discussed as well leading into Sunday’s game against the Patriots (1 p.m. ET).

“He’s athletic and you can get him the football vertically. He’s really coming on strong,” Marrone said. “He’ll be a good challenge for us on how we want to match up and cover it.”

While Wright’s primary impact comes as a pass-catcher, he’s also asked to block at times. It’s been an adjustment for a player who was a receiver at Rutgers and only switched to tight end in 2013 as a rookie with the Buccaneers.

“Nobody works harder than Tim,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He spends extra time in the classroom, on the field, works really hard. He does as much as he can do. Is he there yet? No, but I’d say he’s gaining on it steadily.”

With more gains, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will continue to integrate more multiple-tight end packages into the attack. The Patriots are 3-0 in games in which they’re run at least 33 percent of their snaps with two or more tight ends.

Between Gronkowski, Wright and Michael Hoomanawanui (6-4, 260), the tight end position is once again a focal point.

“It gives us another component to the offense,” Wright said. “We haven’t used it much, but it gives us confidence knowing we can put two tight ends on the field, mix up the looks and give us an advantage from that standpoint.”

Wright’s breakthrough, of course, is a big part of that.

Chiefs vs. 49ers: By the Numbers

The result wasn’t what the Chiefs were looking for, but Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers showed that this team is close to where they want to be.

The Chiefs offense went up against one of the most physical front sevens in the entire NFL and matched their physicality.

Led by their offensive line, the Chiefs averaged 4.7 yards per rush against a team that was only giving up 3.5 through their first four games. The Chiefs offensive line had surrendered 13 sacks before Sunday’s game, but on Sunday, they didn’t allow a single sack.

The result was still a loss and that’s what really matters, but let’s take a look at some of the numbers from the Chiefs offense anyways.

Quarterback Alex Smith finished the game 17 of 31 for 175 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, but this game was a tale of two halves.

In the first half, the Chiefs offense was rolling and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Smith was 12 of 19 for 117 yards and one touchdown. Jamaal Charles ran the ball 11 times for 49 yards.

But it was a combination of several factors as to why the Chiefs offense wasn’t able to duplicate the first half production in the final two quarters.

It was largely due to the fact that the Chiefs offense only ran 15 plays in the second half. But the biggest factor was a couple of special teams mistakes that allowed the 49ers to have the ball for more than 22 minutes in the second half compared to just more than seven minutes for the Chiefs.

It was a successful fake punt by the 49ers deep in their own territory and then a penalty for 12 men on the field by the Chiefs on a field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter that helped control the clock.

The Chiefs offense went 6 of 8 on third down in the first half, but then 0 for 3 in the second half. The second-half third downs were for five, four and one yards, respectively.

The first wasn’t successful on a pass to Jamaal Charles where he was tackled a yard shy of the first down and the next was a pass that fell incomplete to Demetrius Harris, a play that many times he and Alex Smith would connect on. The final third down was a batted down pass to Dwayne Bowe on third-and-1.

The Chiefs offense ran 11 plays in the game that went for at least 10 yards, and they came in five different personnel groups.

The Chiefs ran 12 personnel the most in this game, which means two tight ends on the field together. Those two tight ends were always Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce.

The third tight end, Demetrius Harris, saw action on seven plays with all three tight ends on the field together.

The Chiefs ran 17 of their 50 plays in 12 personnel, ran it six times for 34 yards and went 4 of 11 for 49 yards through the air.

Junior Hemingway led the Chiefs at receiver, catching all four of his targets for 50 yards, which is a career high for him. Travis Kelce caught just two passes for 15 yards, but was able to find the end zone for the third consecutive week.

On first down, the Chiefs averaged 4.9 yards per play against the 49ers. They ran it 11 times on first down and averaged 5.8 yards per rush. Smith completed 5 of 10 passes for 39 yards through the air on first down.

Russell Wilson provides blueprint for RG III

Griffin/Wilson

LANDOVER, Md. — The quarterback dashed up in the pocket, backpedaled, moved to his right and made a throw that resulted in a big play. Another time, in another bind, he backpedaled, spun out to his left and dumped the ball to the running back for a killer first down.

It was the type of quarterback play the Redskins hoped to see on their home field. It just wasn’t the guy they hoped to see it from. In Monday’s 27-17 Seahawks’ victory, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson provided a blueprint that the guy who couldn’t play, Robert Griffin III, would be wise to follow. It also was a reminder that, yes, mobile quarterbacks can win in the NFL — and survive.

But, again, you have to emulate Wilson. And when Griffin returns — credit backup Kirk Cousins for a solid game without benefit of a run game, but the fact remains that Washington has lost his last six starts — it’s not all on him, of course. But Griffin provides the same element as Wilson: the ability to make plays when nothing is available.

Two years ago, there was probably more confidence that Griffin would be the quarterback for Wilson to mimic. Griffin would lead the future wave of quarterbacks. Then came the knee injury followed by a variety of issues. The result is that Griffin remains a developing quarterback, one who should be inserted back into the lineup when ready. Cousins has done some good things; Griffin can do some great things — if he develops the way the Redskins need and want.

That takes us back to Wilson. He and Griffin are different quarterbacks, so it’s not as simple as saying both can run, therefore they can play the same. Though Wilson ran the ball 11 times Monday night (for 122 yards), that’s not his game.

“Russell kept it a lot more than he showed on film,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said.

Washington was aggressively pursuing Seattle’s running backs, Marshawn Lynch in particular. So Wilson made the wise choice of keeping it himself. He’s built differently than Griffin, and he’s been more used to operating in the pocket throughout his playing days. Wilson is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL, with a knack for sensing what the right play is or should be.

“Russell is more reactionary than Rob,” Redskins safety Ryan Clark said. “With Rob, you plan for him to run that much. His trait as a runner is exceptional. I don’t know if Russell’s traits are exceptional as far as his speed and his running. But it’s his decision-making. It’s knowing when to run. It’s more mental than it is physical.”

That’s the part that Griffin is still developing. Meanwhile, Wilson excels because when he moves in the pocket, he keeps his eyes downfield and big plays result. His two longest passes — a 36-yarder to tight end Cooper Helfet and a 30-yarder to Lynch — came off scrambles. Wilson doesn’t try to be a hero with his legs. Instead, he used his legs to let others make long gains. There’s a maturity to Wilson’s game that any young quarterback would be wise to follow.

Griffin can get there. And you can’t forget that, two years ago, he was making those plays. His fourth-down play against the Giants in Week 7 of his rookie season was as good as anything Wilson showed Monday. But even then, Griffin too often tucked the ball 5 or 10 yards behind the line and missed some potential big plays by running. As he grows, those plays must be turned into long passes; it’s what Wilson typically has done.

When Griffin returns, he needs to not only show he can extend plays but can make the decisions necessary to win games. The Seahawks have shown there’s a tremendous value to having a dynamic player like Wilson; they also haven’t tried to change him. The Redskins also don’t need to change Griffin; they just need him to do what he does — but to just do it wiser. And if it happens, the Redskins will once again have what Seattle does: a player who can make something out of nothing — and carry his team to a win.

Despite mea culpa, Rex Ryan isn’t totally at fault — but that won’t save his job

SAN DIEGO — The New York Jets probably lead the NFL in mea culpas, and that’s never a good thing.

One week after Geno Smith began his postgame news conference by apologizing for cursing at a fan, Rex Ryan took the podium late Sunday in a steamy interview room at Qualcomm Stadium and took the heat for the 31-0 loss to the San Diego Chargers. He said it over and over and over: Blame me.

“It’s a complete ass-whipping and it was me that got his ass kicked,” said Ryan, who told his players the same thing in the locker room. “It’s on me.”

No doubt, Ryan stunk — his coaching performance made Mike McCoy look like Don Coryell. Ryan should’ve been joined at the podium by general manager John Idzik, who constructed a flawed roster that was exposed by the Chargers, but that’s not how it works in the scapegoat business. Idzik will hide in his bunker until the end of the season and, barring a miracle turnaround, he’ll repeat what Ryan did Sunday.

He’ll blame the coach.

End of Rex.

Ryan has survived three straight non-playoff seasons, living a Nine Lives existence in New York, but this time he looks like Dead Coach Walking. The Jets (1-4) have dropped four in a row for the first time under Ryan, Peyton Manning is coming to town, and you wonder if Ryan has enough firepower to blast his way out of this mess. They’d have to win eight out of 11 to finish with a winning record, and does anybody believe that will happen? This is a team that needed 52 minutes on Sunday before it crossed midfield. The Jets can’t get touchdowns, let alone wins.

“At this stage, it seems like too great a challenge, too great a task when you get beat like that,” Ryan acknowledged. “But I know it’s not.”

Part of the problem is the Jets don’t know who they want to be, and that became evident when Ryan declared after the game he’s sticking with Smith at quarterback. It raised the question: Is the season devoted to developing Smith or are they trying to win now?

If it’s the latter, they’d start Michael Vick next weekend against the Denver Broncos. Smith, by his own admission, was “pathetic,” resulting in his halftime benching. If the Jets don’t think Vick can be better than a pathetic Smith … well, they wasted $4 million on him. Why is he here?

Obviously, Idzik wants to ride it out with Smith before deciding if he’s the quarterback of the future. That won’t help Ryan, whose future is now. He’s stuck between a Smith and a hard place.

But let’s face it, the problems run deeper than Smith. The Jets broke down in all phases, as they were outgained 439-151 in total yards. The problems were too numerous to mention. The offense had no chance, especially with Eric Decker (hamstring) sitting out. With no one to fear on the perimeter, the Chargers crowded the line of scrimmage, overplaying the run and blitzing at will. The Jets were undermanned at receiver, in part, because Idzik dropped the ball in the offseason. Where was fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders? Oh, right, he got cut.

The Chargers got a career day out of fourth-string running back Branden Oliver, an undrafted rookie from Buffalo. He gained more yards from scrimmage (182) than the entire Jets team. How come the Jets can’t find a guy like that? Ryan dismissed the notion that the roster lacks talent. Of course, if he admitted that, he’d be insulting his GM.

Idzik’s roster mistakes notwithstanding, Ryan doesn’t get exonerated for this debacle. By his own admission, his team was ill-prepared. He played with extra defensive backs to stop Philip Rivers, conceding the run — and it backfired. Ryan’s team lacked fire, it lacked aggressiveness. It didn’t play smart. The Jets played as if they would’ve rather been at the San Diego Zoo. That’s on Ryan, who also flubbed a couple of his defensive calls, according to defensive end Sheldon Richardson.

“I apologize to our fans — those that are left,” Ryan said. “This is on one person. It’s certainly not on the quarterback. It’s on me. I really got outcoached.”

It’s one thing to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings, quite another to pucker up to McCoy. It’s that kind of season.

Game Preview: Chiefs vs. 49ers

If you’re an NFL fan, Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) and San Francisco 49ers (2-2) has been marked on your calendar since the day the league schedule came out.

For the first time in his career, Alex Smith returns to a place he used to call home with a chance to prove all those that didn’t believe in him wrong.

But the quarterback, ever humble, ever professional, of course, doesn’t see it that way. As he stood at his locker this week surrounded by media hoping to hear about a hunger for revenge, what they heard instead couldn’t compare.

To Smith, the trip to San Francisco is one of business, one in which leaving victorious is more prevalent than anything else.

“I’m trying to get a win. I could care less about the stats and out-dueling anybody,” he explained. “The thing I’m talking about is I know this is going to be a story and you’re going to have to deal with it.”

He continued on, but more about the actual game than everything surrounding it.

“It’s a big challenge. They’re a good defense, a good football team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

From an offensive standpoint, that’s a good thing, as this will be the Chiefs’ biggest challenge yet.

According to yards allowed per game, the 49ers defense enters Sunday as the league’s second best.

Led by a beastly front seven that features inside linebacker Patrick Willis (No. 52) and defensive end Justin Smith (No. 94), the 49ers allow just 287 yards per game. Willis leads the team in tackles with 23 and Smith has three of the team’s five sacks on the season.

Up against Smith will be left tackle Eric Fisher, who has been improving as the season goes on.

“He’s just gotten better and better,” Andy Reid said of the second-year left tackle this week. “Every week he gets a little bit better.”

Fortunately for the Chiefs, the theme of “getting better” doesn’t stop with just Fisher. Playing in their fourth consecutive game together after a beginning of the season that saw injury and suspension, the starting offensive line has been giving Alex Smith the time he needs to work.

As of late, Smith is using that time to find second-year tight end Travis Kelce, who leads the team on the season with 18 receptions for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Against the Patriots, Smith found Kelce a team-high eight times. When Smith wasn’t looking at Kelce, he spread the ball to Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery, who together had a combined seven receptions in the game.

Against the 49ers, Smith loses that latter option in Avery after he suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery. Replacing his role will be A.J. Jenkins, who like Smith, will also be visiting San Francisco as a visitor for the first time since they traded him.

“I’m just more focused on myself and trying to get myself ready to play,” he said this week, taking a similar stance as Smith. “Can’t go down there with all these emotions on my first start.”

As Smith will be without one of his weapons, it’s likely that so too will 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (No. 7).

Tight end Vernon Davis (No. 85), a two-time Pro Bowler that led the 49ers in receiving touchdowns last year with 13, didn’t practice at all this week due to a back issue.

With Davis currently listed as questionable for the game, wide receivers Anquan Boldin (No. 81) and Michael Crabtree (No. 15) will need to be the primary targets for Kaerpernick in the red zone.

In the ground game, both he and running back Frank Gore (No. 21) should almost be considered equal threats. With 258 yards on 59 rushes, Gore ranks twentieth in the league in yards per attempt (4.4). Kaepernick, with 5.7 yards per carry, ranks second.

With that dual-threat ability, Kaepernick runs an offense that can sometimes be very frustrating to defend. Keeping that in mind, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton realizes how important it will be to contain him.

“It’s real critical,” Sutton said. “When he gets out, obviously he can run very fast and very far. The other part is he puts great stress on the coverage.”

Against the 49ers, the Chiefs will look to continue the trend of turnovers that they began last week as well. After not recording one all year, they forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into three.

To keep that up, Chiefs safety Ron Parker said this week that it will be about speed.

“We just continue to play fast and get after the ball,” he said. “As long as we keep playing ball, they’ll come in bunches.”

This Sunday, the Chiefs head to San Francisco with hopes of winning their third game in a row and enter the bye week having more wins than they do losses.

For the first time since 2012, Alex Smith will take the field in San Francisco among the same fans he played in front of for eight years.

This time, though, it will be very different.

When he takes the field, he won’t be a 49er. He won’t be playing for coach Jim Harbaugh and he won’t be a starter-turned-backup.

He will be the fan, coach and franchise-supported starting quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs.