In 2011, when I was writing FanPosts as an anonymous user under the handle Flowers24 here at Arrowhead Pride, I received an email. It was from a guy who owned his own website featuring NFL content, NFLtouchdown.com, and he wanted me to be the lead writer for the Kansas City Chiefs section. After doing some research on who this guy was, I decided to accept the position. It turns out, his name was Andy Benoit.
Benoit is one of the great minds covering the NFL today. He worked at the New York Times, Football Outsiders and CBS Sports among other ventures before joining The MMQB and becoming a featured writer for Sports Illustrated. This week, Benoit was kind enough to speak on the phone with me and discuss what he is seeing from the Chiefs this season.
Q: Before the season, you picked Kansas City to be below .500 for The MMQB. What have they done that has them playing better than you expected?
A: They have done the same stuff they did last year, I just did not think they could continue it. They have manufactured offense and Andy Reid is one of the best play designers and callers in the league. They keep it simple for Alex Smith ... The playcalling is exceptional and the offensive line has improved at all the critical spots, including Eric Fisher going from right to left tackle. I think it's the playcalling and Andy Reid managing the game. Defensively, Bob Sutton has gone a good job putting more on their plate on each week.
Q: The Chiefs have the best pass defense statistically in the NFL. Is it because the secondary is blanketing receivers or the pass rush getting home so quickly?
A: I think it is both. The way they play they ask guys to play man. They don't play man every down like they did last year. This year they diversified but it is still a man secondary. When you do that you have more flexibility to blitz with different concepts, although they have not done as much as that because they have those two guys on the edge in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The guys that they need to play well, Houston and Husain Abdullah, who is a movable chess piece, have played well. The secondary coach, Emmitt Thomas, is doing a phenomenal job with these guys. I couldn't believe Phillip Gaines did not play last week, he has been phenomenal. Then Ron Parker, I had never heard of him before this season. He got torched in the preseason while he learned but he has done a great job back there. Jamell Fleming has been good when he's been out there as well. Sean Smith and Chris Owens have been OK, but it is those other guys who are standing out. I get the sense they are very well coached.
Q: Kansas City has been great on third down. Is that more a product of Smith or Reid?
A: Alex Smith is efficient and a good quarterback. He does what they need him to do, but its Reid's playcalling, especially on first and second down. Against Buffalo the Chiefs got into third-and-long too often and that is not something they are built for ... They are getting four, five six yards on first down and staying ahead with screens and misdirections. A lot of times you are going to gain four of five yards even on a bad play, just because of the nature of the play. On third down, if you can create a defined read for Smith you're in good shape. Last year they did a lot of receiver screens for an example. Those are game-planned and defined reads. You know exactly where the ball is going every time.
Q: Can the Chiefs win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith if the supporting cast is solid but not great?
A: I think they need somebody other than Smith if you only have a good, solid team. Three years ago with the 49ers was a great case study, the year they replaced him with Colin Kaepernick. I think they could have gone to the Super Bowl with Smith. I talked with Greg Cosell a lot about it that year, and you need to be exceptional everywhere else on the field with Smith. You need to be well-above average everywhere else on the field and with only solid guys, I think you are looking at 10-6. I think you can win with a guy like Eli Manning who can get hot for a bit, but I think he's in the 10-12 range for quarterbacks and Alex Smith is in the 17-20 range. Having said that, Kansas City is proving me wrong this year and they have solid guys around him, and maybe not even that with those receivers.
Q: One guy who stands out to me on tape is Allen Bailey. What are you seeing?
A: I thought he stood out last week. He's one of those guys who is a better player than you expect. His name has come up 11 times in my notes; he probably didn't come up half those times last year. He is becoming a good inside pass rusher for the Chiefs. He has gotten very good at shedding blocks, especially vs. run. He's become more of a factor in the pass rush. It looks like they are using him more in combinations with Dontari Poe.
Q: Do you see the Chiefs using De'Anthony Thomas more this year, or is this the extent of him this season?
A: I think they will use him more. Not even so much just more but how are they using him. They have made a more concerted effort in each game he plays. They are getting him the ball more to him early and with designed gadget plays just for him. He's going to be more and more of a factor. Thomas is more like what they were hoping for Dexter McCluster to become.
Q: Can the Chiefs finally win a playoff game this year?
A: I think they can win a playoff game. Any team that makes it to the playoffs is capable. I don't buy into that the game changes when the playoffs come around ... Kansas City gave Indianapolis a hell of a game last year and it didn't work out. They blew it, but they are more than capable. I don't think they can get a bye and win three or four games, but I think are a solid team that can win a playoff game.