On Monday, the Green Bay Packers face yet another stiff challenge from the Kansas City Chiefs. Joel Thorman of Arrowhead Pride was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Chiefs and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Back in August, Jamaal Charles called himself the LeBron James of the NFL. What do you make of his claim?
Jamaal Charles could be considered the LeBron of the NFL because he can do so many things. He averages more yards per carry in his career than Jim Brown or Barry Sanders. The Chiefs will line him up at running back, in the slot or outside. He's had over 100 receptions in the past two seasons alone. And he's one of the best pass blockers in the league. He really can do it all. I think that's the point Jamaal was trying to get across but once you name drop LeBron James you know all context will be lost. If you know Jamaal, you know he is not an arrogant dude who was saying that to stir up trouble. He is not like that at all. So, yes, I do agree with him in the sense that he can do so many different things on the field.
APC: The Chiefs have invested considerable resources in their defense. Justin Houston signed a record-breaking deal for a linebacker. Dontari Poe might be the best 3-4 nose tackle in the league when healthy. Jaye Howard has become a monster this season. Marcus Peters already looks like a capable cornerback, and Sean Smith returns soon. How good is the defense now, and where can it go from here?
As good as last year when they were second in scoring. It's basically last year's defense but adding Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito, who were both injured Week 1 last year, and Eric Berry, who left the team midseason after his cancer diagnosis. Berry and Tyvon Branch, two former Pro Bowlers, are the Chiefs second team safeties (although Berry played full time last week for the first time so that's something to monitor). Jaye Howard, found off the waiver wire two years ago, is a top five defensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus. He told me after last week's game that he knew he could destroy the center any time he got a one on one. I love that attitude. Ron Parker played some corner last year before moving to safety but now he is a full-time safety which is his best position. Rookie Marcus Peters looks like the real deal. He has two picks and nearly twice as many passes defensed (7) as the next closest in the league (4). And, as you noted, Sean Smith isn't even playing yet. He was one of the best corners in the league last season. The Chiefs are probably 2-0 if Smith played last week against the Broncos.
The biggest improvement we can expect to see is more interceptions. Get this: the Chiefs didn't allow a 300-yard passer last season but only had six interceptions on the season. I mean, that's crazy low. That interception number will be much higher.
The ceiling is as high as it was last year -- hovering around the best defense in the league. The Chiefs can afford to play Alex Smith's brand of football by being conservative and avoiding turnovers because they have a very good punter and one of the NFL's best defenses. It's complementary football at its finest.
APC: You probably haven't heard this before, but Kansas City wide receivers didn't catch a touchdown last season. How has the group changed since then, and how can the unit challenge Green Bay's secondary?
The top two receivers at this time last year were Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery. They're both out. The Chiefs brought in Jeremy Maclin, who fits the offense much better because he's faster than Bowe and can create some separation as well as yards after the catch. We haven't seen it consistently yet but Maclin has better ability playing vertically than Bowe does. Albert Wilson, the No. 2 receiver, is a smaller receiver but came on strong at the end of the 2014 season. There's hope for him. Then there's speedy De'Anthony Thomas and the crafty vet Jason Avant.
All of this sounds nice on paper but, statistically, the Chiefs receivers haven't done much this year. They're ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most of the major categories. I saw some good things in the past two weeks that leave me with some hope that the Chiefs can stretch the field a little more but I really need to see that consistently. It hasn't been there - yet.
APC: Eric Berry's played at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's, a development which made national headlines. However, few discussed what his return means for the Chiefs on the field. How does he change things for Kansas City?
After Eric Berry's diagnosis last year, Ron Parker stepped in at safety and did so well that the Chiefs gave him a five-year contract extension in the offseason. The Chiefs also signed Tyvon Branch this summer. That suggests to me the Chiefs weren't necessarily banking on Berry's return. Yet there we were in the first week of camp waiting for him to arrive, which is still incredible to think about. The Chiefs brought him along slowly in camp and preseason until last week against Denver when Berry played a full-time role at safety for the first time. I really don't know how the Chiefs will use him this week. Is he a part-time player because the Chiefs have a number of options in the secondary? Or was last week the start of him returning full-time? Physically, Berry seems like he's back or close to it. There does seem to be some hesitation or timidness at times but I chalk that up to not getting his usual number of reps in camp and the preseason. You do flashes, such as last week's hit on Demaryius Thomas, that show he's on his way back. This week in Green Bay will tell us a lot about what his role is going forward.
APC: The Chiefs seem to lose a piece or two of their starting offensive line every offseason, but this year especially the absences haven't been as noticeable. How do you evaluate the line's performance thus far in 2015?
The offensive line has played well enough to win in the first two weeks of the season. That's not exactly a compliment for all of them though.
The left side of the line has been really solid: LT Donald Stephenson is arguably the best linemen on the team right now. Veteran LG Ben Grubbs is who the Chiefs thought he was (a good player). Rookie center Mitch Morse has been a pleasant surprise with an outstanding game in Week 1 against Vince Wilfork and the Texans and another good game in Week 2.
The right side of the line is where we find our problems. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif played in Canada before the Chiefs drafted him, and he's also attending medical school (which is why you might hear "Dr. Larry" or something like that this week). He has been up and down but he's young enough that you have plenty of hope for him. The Chiefs are not playing Jeff Allen right now and Allen is a guard so the Chiefs have options at that position. The right tackle has been a major issue. The week before the regular season started the Chiefs moved Eric Fisher from left to right tackle with Stephenson moving from right to left. Fisher, who missed most of camp with an ankle injury, was supposed to return Week 1. But he didn't, and he hasn't played since. Andy Reid talked about him still being injured but that wasn't reflected on the injury report where he was a full participant in practice, listed as probable for the game and even played a few emergency snaps when Stephenson went down. So ... not sure what's up there but Fisher has a shot at playing this week. Signed off the street six days before the season opener, Jah Reid has started the past two games. He did an admirable job in Week 1 but the following week showed that this thing probably won't work all season long. I'll say this about the right tackle spot to put it in perspective: I believe that Jah Reid who, again, was signed off the street a week before the season, could have played well enough to keep that job over Fisher, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick.
We'd like to thank Joel and Arrowhead Pride for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Chiefs. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Monday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Chiefs vs. Packers.