Scouting the Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Three consecutive seasons into the postseason and hardly anything to show for it. Last year for the Kansas City Chiefs, their early exit in a 22-21 loss against the Tennessee Titans could have been the most devastating. 

In 2017, the Chiefs finished with a 10-6 record and were one of the hottest teams in football. They began the season on a five-game win streak with an opening night win against the New England Patriots, then beating the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington, and Houston Texans. After a rocky mid-season road of 1-6, the Chiefs closed out the season on a four-game win streak. Odd. The NFL can be weird sometimes. 

The 2017 starting quarterback for the Chiefs, Alex Smith (a John Dorsey acquisition), had his best season to date … by far. Smith lit the NFL on fire last season, perhaps gaining extra motivation to succeed after the Chiefs traded up to No. 10 for former Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. Smith finished with career-high in touchdowns (26), passing yards (4,042), and quarterback rating (104.7). In addition, he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and threw just five interceptions, both the second best of his career. It was no secret that Smith’s tenure in Kansas City had to come to a close, with Mahomes patiently waiting behind the elder.

Before the start of last season, on June 22, 2017, the organization would have a surprising shakeup which would later greatly affect the Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs and Dorsey agreed to part ways, following a five-year tenure in Kansas City. Dorsey was instrumental in turning around a Chiefs team that finished an NFL worst 2-14 in 2012, and then improved to 11-5 in 2013. He also was the man that drafted Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Marcus Peters, Dee Ford, Anthony Hitchens, and Travis Kelce.

Thanks to the efforts of Dorsey, the Chiefs now have the most dynamic offense in the NFL through eight games. Leading the way on offense is Mahomes, the top candidate to win the 2018 NFL MVP award. In his second season (essentially his rookie year, after only starting in the regular season finale in 2017), Mahomes has lit the league on fire.

Mahomes leads the NFL in passing yards (2,526) and touchdowns (26) and has completed 65.6 percent of his passes while doing so. He has led Kansas City to a 7-1 record with key wins against the Jaguars, Steelers, and Chargers, with their lone loss coming against the New England Patriots in a shootout of a game, which resulted in a last-second field goal. New England won 43-40. 

The Chiefs have two Cleveland guys that have become some of the best at their positions and have numbers to show for it. Behind Mahomes is the 2017 leader in rushing yards, Willoughby-South native, Hunt. In his second season, he has 592 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns, and 262 receiving yards. Mahomes’ tight end, Kelce of Cleveland Heights, has made it an argument that he is the best tight end in the NFL. At the mid-way point, Kelce has four touchdowns, 44 receptions, and 642 receiving yards.

Then, there is Hill. For someone to be nicknamed the “Cheetah” is bold, but Hill is just that. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he has two of the three fastest touchdown plays of the NFL season. In week one, Hill reached 21.95 mph on a 58-yard touchdown reception. His 91-yard punt return reached a speed of 21.78 mph. Craziness. Although his speed is jaw-dropping, he still has the stats to back-up his elite receiver status. Hill has collected a career-high seven touchdowns on 44 receptions and 705 receiving yards.

On the opposite side of Hill is Sammy Watkins, the sixth highest paid receiver in all of football. The Chiefs inked Watkins to a three-year, $48 million contract this off-season with high expectations for the former first-round pick. Through eight games, Watkins has been targeted 47 times (30th most in the NFL) and has hauled in 34 of his passes (26th best in the NFL). He has totaled 453 receiving yards and three touchdowns; Overall not bad for a receiver in an offense that includes the likes of Hill and Kelce. Whether or not he was worth the money he was given is yet to be seen.

An offensive line that features former Browns Mitchell Schwartz and Cam Erving, has been good. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chiefs have warranted a pass block grade of 79.9 (the 8th best in the NFL) and a run block grade of 61.1 (the 13th best in the NFL). They are protecting their quarterback too. Mahomes has 201 drop backs without being under pressure, which is the 12th best in the NFL.

On the defensive end for the Chiefs, there is definitely room for improvement. Kansas City is the second worst defensive team in the NFL statistically, allowing over 432.4 yards per game. Most of their woes on defense come from a poor run defense, as the Chiefs have allowed 127.6 yards on the ground per game and 10 touchdowns in total. Their passing defense has allowed 304.8 yards per game, however, their allowed passer rating of 89.8 is the eight best in the NFL.

The Chiefs have been without safety Eric Berry for the entire 2018 season, as he continues to nurse a heel injury which involves a bone spur that digs into his Achilles. Berry has been a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro player in his nine-year NFL career. Of course, in three of those seasons, Berry played in six games or less with only one game in 2011 and 2017. In 2017 following a six-year, $78 million contract extension, Berry tore his Achilles in week one against the Patriots.

According to multiple reports, the Chiefs tried to acquire 2016 first-team All-Pro safety Landon Collins and three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas earlier this off-season. The Chiefs traded away 2016 first-team All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters for a 2018 fourth round pick and 2019 second round pick. It has not yet panned out for them but there is still eight games left and a second round pick to make up for it. They have attempted to replace Peters with former Washington Redskin Kendall Fuller, as apart of the Alex Smith trade.

Kansas City parted ways with two of their core defensive players this off-season as Pro Bowl defensive end Tamba Hali retired and former first-team All-Pro linebacker Derrick Johnson was released. 2014 First-team All-Pro linebacker Derrick Johnson has only played five games this season, as a hamstring injury has had him sidelined for the last few games. During Thursday, Nov. 1 practice, Houston was limited.

This season, linebacker Anthony Hitchens has been the top dawg for the Chiefs. Hitchens’ team-best 71 tackles are fifth in the NFL. He was limited in practice this week with a rib injury. Pass rusher Dee Ford continues to be the league’s most overlooked pass rushers. Ford is second in the NFL with eight sacks and has added four forced fumbles on the season. Defensive end Chris Jones leads the team with seven tackles for loss, including an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

In the secondary, 11-year veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick has been a great surprise, as he leads the team with nine pass breakups in his first year in Kansas City. Safety Ron Parker leads the teams with two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

On special teams, Hill is the most dangerous returner the team has to offer. Hill’s return grade of 75.0 is the sixth-best in the NFL. Punter Dustin Colquitt (brother of Browns punter Britton Colquitt), is averaging 42.4 net yards per punt, which goes for the fifth best in the NFL. His hang time of 4.47 seconds is tied for fourth-best in the NFL. Kicker Harrison Butker has been outstanding this year as well, making all but one field goal this season. He has also made 35-of-36 of his extra-point kicks.

The Browns are 11-21-2 in games against the Chiefs all-time in the regular season. Cleveland has had an impressive home field advantage against Kansas City, posing an 8-3-1 home record. The last time these two teams met at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns were victorious with a decisive 30-7 win.

Kansas City is looking to improve to 8-1 on the season and extend their current winning streak (against the Browns too) to three games. The Chiefs opened as 8.5-point favorites according to OddsShark.