I want you to take a deep breath. Then I want you to let it out. Then take another one, and let it out. Now another. Now sit down, because odds are if you're as out of shape as I am you're about to pass out.
Anyway, now that we got that out of the way, I want to do something cathartic for you. You see that title? The title that made you kinda mad at me (or maybe made you want to tell me "I told you so")? I want you to find a mirror, or perhaps a very reflective window, or maybe even a very still lake in a mountainside clearing (this last one is preferable to get the desired Zen we're going to try and reach here, though mountainside clearings can be hard to come by in Kansas City).
Have you found your reflective surface? Great! Now, go ahead and take another deep breath and go ahead and say the title of this article (I use the word "article" loosely here) with me...
Maybe the Chiefs just aren't that good.
How do you feel? Oh, worse? Well, crap, that wasn't supposed to happen. Try it again for me. If it doesn't work and you in fact feel angrier (or sadder) than you did before clicking, I sincerely apologize and offer a full refund. Expect a check with Joel's signature in the mail within the next 6-8 weeks.
For those of you who feel just a little better, though, let's work this out. The Chiefs have played three undefeated teams and the Texans this season. Seriously, the teams that beat the Chiefs are a combined 9-0 when NOT playing the Chiefs. That's a disgustingly difficult schedule. The Packers, Broncos, and Bengals (yep, the Bengals) are three of the best teams in the NFL.
BUT... if the Chiefs are supposed to be a genuine playoff contender, shouldn't they be able to take at least one game out of three from a playoff-bound group? Isn't that, after all, what good teams do? Like, actually beat good teams?
The last few years it feels like it's always been something. There's always that one (or two) glaring weakness that holds the team back. Whenever that glaring weakness gets fixed (or at least gets a band-aid) attached to it.
You want to know what player perfectly represents the Chiefs of the last three seasons. None other than Alex Smith, everyone's favorite topic. Look, I'm not about to get into the nuances of Smith's game (I've done that enough as it is, and I'm sure I'll be doing it again soon), but there's no denying that he perfectly encapsulates how frustrating the Chiefs have been since 2013.
Think about Smith's journey here with the Chiefs. For as long as he's been the QB in Kansas City, Smith has (for the most part) steadfastly refused to throw the ball down the field. Now, whether that's due to OL or coaching or the blood moon or whatever, that's not the point. My point is that he had a demonstrable weakness in his game that drove us crazy.
So I don't know if any of you have noticed, but Smith has actually been throwing to deep and intermediate zones a fair amount over the course of the last two games. No, he hasn't been chucking it around like (apparently) Andy Dalton, but he's gone from maybe 2-3 passes 15+ yards in the air a game to over half a dozen. Progress, I guess. What's more...
This throw was wasted in part due to the horrifically obvious reverse to DAT a few plays later. pic.twitter.com/w8HOf9jHy7— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 5, 2015
... Smith's cleaned up his accuracy on those deep and intermediate passes. He's been noticeably better in that department. So yay, Smith has upgraded himself from "controversial" to "clearly good," right? Right???
Well ... no, not really. Because even as Smith has started to finally, finally, FINALLY let go and throw deep more often, his pocket presence has dropped off the face of the earth (it was at least somewhat acceptable before this year, if not ideal or even good). The last several games Smith has been seeing ghosts at a higher rate than I can ever recall (especially against Denver and Green Bay), and it's affected the offense in a negative way.
So basically, we're in the same place with Smith, just for different reasons. Which is exactly where I'm at with the Chiefs right now.
In 2013 the team looked remarkably improved on both offense and defense. The team made the playoffs and looked JUST ABOUT good enough to compete with the big boys ... except a horrific weakness at the safety spots allowed teams to chuck the ball deep constantly without fear of consequences.
In 2014 the Chiefs secondary was revamped (with the emergence of Ron Parker as a free safety being a major story line) and the entire defense outperformed expectations defending the pass ... except the run defense suffered and became a big enough weakness that teams like the Cardinals and Raiders were able to run over the Chiefs on their way to victory. Additionally, the offensive line took a step backward and the offense as a whole stagnated.
Now, in 2015, the run defense has looked (at times) like it's improved from "dismal," with Jaye Howard surprising us all by turning into a borderline dominant defensive lineman ... except the third CB position has been a weakness, and the entire secondary has gotten torched two weeks in a row. The offense, while getting a little more vertical and seeing some impressive contributions from Jeremy Maclin, is still not putting points on the board (well, I guess technically they are. Just, you know, three at a time).
And here we are, talking about how if the Chiefs just tighten up the secondary a little and get the OL to improve a shade while Smith fights off 'dem ghosts, they'll be right as rain. And hey, maybe all that will happen.
Or maybe the Chiefs just aren't that good.
I don't know about you, but I reached my moment of Zen on this on the second Bengals TD drive, as the Red Rocket and Company sliced through a defense we all hoped (expected) to be borderline elite this season. At a certain point all you can do is laugh and say, "hey, I might've been wrong about this team's ability."
You want to know what happened to the defense against the Bengals? Do you really? Fine, I'll tell you. Mind you, this is a carefully drawn conclusion made after two re-watchings on all-22. You ready for this?
The Bengals offense is just better than the Chiefs defense right now.
That's it. That's what "went wrong" against the Bengals. Their tackles did an exceptional job holding off Houston and Hali. Their interior OL was able to neutralize Jaye Howard, Dontari Poe, and Allen Bailey the vast majority of the time. In the meantime, their talented WR group was able to take advantage of the Chiefs secondary all over the field as Dalton (who has been "Good Dalton" so far this year) had time to survey and pick his spots. And their RB duo was able to find the holes and break tackles.
Seriously, they were just better. Particularly up front. Their offensive line dominated the game, and everything else flowed from there. Dalton played well and found open receivers. And the Chiefs defense was overwhelmed.
The Bengals are a good team, to be sure. And if the Chiefs tighten things up in the areas discussed they might be able to give them a better game down the road (playoffs???????????????). But right now, the Bengals (and the Packers, and even the Broncos) are simply better than the Chiefs.
There's freedom in accepting that. The Chiefs are who they are right now. And right now, just maybe, what they are is not that good.
Now I know this will rankle a certain personality type. You'll say "so fans are supposed to just accept mediocrity?????" And I get it. And when the season ends I may well be one of the many calling for change if things don't turn around (because, as many would point out, we're in year three. Taking a step backward should not be an option).
But for right now I'm keeping my Zen. Maybe the Chiefs just aren't that good. I guess we'll find out Sunday when they play a Bears team that's widely regarded as pretty bad. That'll be a good test for my newfound Zen.