The release of the Football Outsiders almanac is one of my favorite things each year. The folks at Football Outsiders are much smarter than I am (that doesn't take much) and do a terrific job mining through all their stats to find the most interesting angles for each team, including the Kansas City Chiefs.
We spoke with Football Outsiders writer Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) with some questions about the Chiefs. You can purchase the Football Outsiders Almanac right here and I would suggest doing so if you're interested in sounding smart with your friends. Thanks to Scott for answering our questions!
1. Is there a bigger upgrade on the team than going from Mike McGlynn to Ben Grubbs at LG?
FO: There's really not. There were a few times in 2012-13 where I thought McGlynn could be charged for attempted murder of Andrew Luck with the way he failed to protect in Indianapolis. McGlynn's been brutal for the last three years and our charting backs that up. It's not like Grubbs is coming over in his prime, and his rate of snaps per blown block has actually worsened in two straight years, but the fact that he's not Mike McGlynn is an improvement by itself.
2. How likely is it that Alex Smith starts throwing down field more often this year?
FO: No matter how much he does it, he should be measured by the success it has. If the Chiefs design ways to get Jeremy Maclin open deep the way Chip Kelly did last year, and Smith makes those throws then it's going to be a real plus for the offense. But I'm not confident that's going to happen, because Maclin was never really that great of a deep threat in Andy Reid's system. I think he got the "Chip Boost" last year and he'll come down a bit from that career year. Smith's average passes keep getting shorter and shorter, dropping to a career-low average of 6.0 air yards in 2014. That's even with excluding things like passes thrown away or passes where the quarterback was hit in motion. Adding a receiver not named Randy Moss or Calvin Johnson isn't going to magically make your QB into a vertical pro. The ball has to get there with reasonable accuracy.
So Smith can make the effort to get the ball down the field more, but it's just going to set up longer down-and-distance situations if he's not accurate enough. That's where the Chiefs get into problems with him conservatively taking so many sacks on third down and throwing short of the sticks more frequently than any other relevant starting quarterback in this league.
3. When does Jamaal Charles start declining? Has he already?
FO: I filled in here to answer your KC questions last year, and I believe something very similar to this was asked. My answer really hasn't changed. Andy Reid should ride Charles until the wheels come off. He's still the most talented player in this offense, but now he has more help with the emergence of Travis Kelce and addition of Jeremy Maclin. Still, I wouldn't hesitate to get him 300 touches, which didn't happen last year (246) with his catches especially dropping. Charles has missed a game in each of the last two years, but he hasn't had the big injury since the ACL in 2011. He's still only sitting at 1,249 carries and doesn't turn 29 until two days after Christmas, so I don't worry about him falling apart as much as a running back that's had more wear and tear at this point. Charles should have two or three really effective years left.
4. The Chiefs get Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito back but lose Dontari Poe. Is that a net loss or gain?
FO: More than any other team, Kansas City kept us busy up to the book's deadline with the Justin Houston contract, the Sean Smith suspension and Dontari Poe's back surgery. There are a lot of moving parts with this defense, and we talked about the idea of regression in the chapter. The idea is that Justin Houston and Sean Smith had career years, so both should regress to a lesser level of play in 2015, because it's hard for any player to sustain or improve on a career year, and I think that might be even truer on defense where you're reacting more than dictating the action. However, Poe and Tamba Hali had down years in terms of impact plays, so we thought they could offset that negative regression with positive regression and improved years. Of course Poe will have to be back in reasonable time to make that happen. We also feel better about Dee Ford doing more in year two, and it can't hurt to get DeVito and especially Johnson -- oh, and Eric Berry -- back in the defense.
Assuming Poe is back before October, I think the Chiefs are going to experience a net gain on defense this year. Remember, despite Houston's efforts the Chiefs only ranked 19th in defensive DVOA. They were seventh in points per drive allowed, but that's thanks to allowing the fewest points per red zone opportunity. There was already room for improvement for this defense from last year.
5. There's no way the Chiefs end up with just six INTs again this year, right?
FO: I'd sooner bet on at least double the picks (12-plus) than six again. That's just the fluky nature of turnovers in the NFL. No team has ever finished with fewer than nine interceptions in back-to-back seasons, but the scary part is the Chiefs have been the closest, finishing with seven INTs in 2012 and six last year. Just missed that year in between when the 2013 playoff Chiefs had 21 INTs. A more effective pass rush and pure dumb luck should get them above six in 2015.