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Grading the Kansas City Chiefs (and my road trip to Arrowhead)

So as some of you (maybe most of you) know, Mrs. MNchiefsfan and I took a road trip to Arrowhead this last weekend to experience the... er... experience that was the Jets-Chiefs game. It was fantastic.

And what’s a good road trip without some grades? We’re going to skip the usual in-depth analysis and instead grade everything (from food, to football) from A-F, in the roughly the order we experienced it.

Driving through Iowa: B-

This is a surprisingly high grade. Generally speaking, Iowa receives quite low grades from me and Mrs. MNchiefsfan as we drive through. This is because we can’t seem to get through it without receiving some kind of ticket (them and their stupid planes!) or driving through roughly 4,504 miles of road construction.

This trip, however, the roads conditions were oddly fantastic. We only went through 1 short construction zone and saw nary a trooper along the way. The only thing that kept this from an A grade was our car being infiltrated by a hornet the size of a bird. Fortunately, I was able to beat it into submission after it fell (I say attacked, Mrs. MNchiefsfan says fell) onto my lap. It won the battle by making me shriek like a girl for a split second, but it lost the war when I, you know, crushed it.

Well done Iowa. Normally you’re maybe a D+ at best. Good on you.

The Millions of Ramps near Downtown KC: D-

Seriously, screw you, multiple exits. I’m just a dude from a town of 30,000 people who doesn’t ever have to deal with a road branching out into five different options, all of which are exclusive. When Mrs. MNchiefsfan and I were trying to find our way to Q39 (which I’ll talk about shortly), I must have taken four wrong ramps in a 45 second time period. I was happy to be part of a world-record-breaking endeavor, but other than that it was enough to make me want to throw myself out of the car as it moved (a plan I seriously considered before remembering our five-month-old was riding along).

The Z-Man: A+

Every time I go to Joe’s, I worry that the Z-man has somehow grown so delicious in my memory that the real thing can’t possibly live up to the hype in my head. And every time, the first bite reminds me that the Z-man ALWAYS lives up to the hype. Their fries remain as solid as ever as well. I actually used ketchup on my first bite before realizing their seasoning was more than enough. If I lived near Joe’s I’d weigh a thousand pounds.

Q39 with The Blogfather: A++

I have no idea how, but a major photo opportunity was missed Saturday night as the three most powerful people on Arrowhead Pride (myself, Joel Thorman and Mrs. MNchiefsfan, in reverse order of power) sat down and broke bread at Q39. Well, more like we broke all the meat, because I must have eaten about seven different kinds of cow and pig while there.

I have a confession to make ... I prefer Q39 to Joe’s. Now before you throw stuff at me, hear me out! I love the Z-man. It’s exceptional, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. However, the quality of EVERYTHING I had at Q39 was off the charts. I had a pork belly appetizer that was the best-tasting thing I ate all weekend (yes, it even topped the Z-man), pulled pork, brisket, and ribs ... and they absolutely rocked. Even more impressive was the fact that they all tasted different, which is tough to do with BBQ. I and Mrs. MNchiefsfan rarely agree on food, but we walked out of Q39 agreeing that it was the superior overall spot.

Traffic at Arrowhead: C-

Now, I’m not the best guy in the world to ask about the traffic, as we chose to park at the nearby Drury Inn (where we stayed the night prior) and hoof it to the stadium. But based on what I observed of traffic heading in and out of the stadium, it was as rough as ever. Frankly, I don’t think there’s a good way to get that many people to and from that small an area. Parking a ways away and walking is definitely the way to go.

Tailgating at Arrowhead: B+

It’s tough to beat good food and good company, and Tony’s tailgate brought both to the table. I can’t thank him enough for his hospitality (and stuffed mushrooms, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs), and ChiefBearcat was kind enough to stop by as well.

The only thing that kept this from being an A is what a ridiculously tiny pansy I look like in this picture. Seriously, I’m not THAT small a guy. Bearcat and Tony are just... well, less small. Next time we gotta make sure I’m closer to the camera, I think.

Also, a shout out to the multiple people who approached me near the tailgate and around the stadium and said some really kind things to me about what I do here at AP. It meant a lot to hear that people like what I do (or at least tolerate it), and I promise to keep grinding away here!

Just Barely Missing Meeting Tony Richardson: F-

T-Rich’s meet and greet was right outside the section we sat ... but Mrs. MNchiefsfan and I arrived just a few minutes too late to even see the greatest fullback to ever play the game, let alone meet him. My life will forever be a tiny bit less complete for missing out on telling T-Rich that I thought he was da real MVP of that 2003 squad. Dangit.

Arrowhead Crowd: B+

I have a lot of love for ya’ll, but attendance was a little light to bring this grade to an A. I guess I get it. The Jets aren’t rivals, the Chiefs had just played a stinker of a game in Houston, and the forecast called for rain.

Well, it turned out to be a lovely day (by my Minnesota standards at least), and those who didn’t come to the game live really missed out. I’ve seen Arrowhead more full, but I have never heard it louder than DJ’s pick-six. It was fantastic. The crowd roared when he got the pick, kept cheering as he ran toward the opposing end zone, quieted down just a bit as he appeared to run out of gas near the goal line and then ... man, when he (very unexpectedly, at least to me) managed to make it all the way in for a touchdown, the crowd ROARED.

People say the crowd roared all the time, but it’s rarely true. We’re talking a primal sound of pure joy as we all delighted in one of the greatest modern-era Chiefs defying Fitz, the Jets, physics, and Father Time all at once to give us yet another great moment in a career full of them. Speaking of which...

Derrick Johnson: A+

Outside of Jamaal Charles there is no Chief that has a tighter grip on my heart than Derrick Johnson. The way he hits, the way he captains the defense, the way he jumps up screaming after knocking the legs out from under some poor running back ... he’s a privilege to watch.

And DJ was at his absolute best on Sunday. He was moving the DL around prior to the snap on plays, barking out orders, flying around the field, tipping passes (what would a vintage DJ be without a dropped pick?), and making the kinds of tackles that only DJ makes.

Enjoy Derrick Johnson. He’s been a Chiefs for more than a decade, and his greatness is almost glossed over at times. But he truly is one of the best to ever step foot on the field at Arrowhead.

And talking about old-timers cranking things up...

Tamba Hali: B+

Tamba can’t get an A without an actual sack, but believe me when I tell you Hali isn’t nearly as washed up as people have been led to believe. He was consistently beating whatever tackle he lined up against and providing pressure off the edge. He also did a great job against the run, chasing down plays from behind and setting his edge well.

Hali’s patented hand fighting is, much like DJ’s leg-sweeping dives, taken for granted at this point. After all, he’s been doing it since before any of my kids were born. But no one cares more than him. NO ONE. Next time you’re at a game, watch Tamba on the sidelines. He lives and dies by how this team does.

Very, very, very few athletes care as much as fans do (or even close). Tamba cares more. I have a strong suspicion we’re watching his last rodeo this season, but he’s still able to bring it.

Pick Party: A+

You know how you can tell things have gotten completely out of hand? When your fourth cornerback is picking off passes and it totally seems to make sense.

By the time D.J. White sealed the game with this pick (with fantastic coverage and a great play on the ball), it genuinely felt like Fitz was more likely to throw to a Chief than a Jet every time he dropped back. I’d keep an eye on Fitz moving forward. That game had the feeling of a career killer.

With every pick the crowd got more and more delirious. I happened to be sitting behind a group of four Jets fans. They were pretty decent throughout the game and had a good sense of humor, so there was no tension there. But watching them get more and more stunned each time the Chiefs swarmed around the ball was ... well, I hate to take pleasure in others’ pain, but it was a good time.

Oh, and a side note on White ... remember after the draft, when I said his college tape looked quite a bit better than the other young secondary players the Chiefs had grabbed? It still applies. He looks smooth in coverage, competitive toward the ball, and ready to see the field.

Ron Parker: A+

Ron Parker looks like the best safety on the field for the Chiefs.

That’s not a knock on Eric Berry, who played a very good game against the Jets. But Parker was EVERYWHERE in coverage. Everywhere. It felt like he broke up a half dozen passes or so, and he was closing out gaps in the coverage (something you can’t see in the broadcast) incredibly fast.

Parker being back at safety has made a major difference this season. He’s fast, has good instincts, and is highly aggressive in contesting passes. He’s got the kind of range you love in a safety and knows how to use it. At his current contract he’s an absolute steal. And since we’re talking about secondary players...

The Whole Secondary: A

If you felt like Fitz was constantly throwing into coverage Sunday, you’re right. The problem is he rarely had a choice. Marcus Peters, Steven Nelson, Phillip Gaines, Ron Parker and Eric Berry (with some help from Sorensen and the linebackers) were just BLANKETING the field. It was wildly impressive against a tough receiver group, even one with some bumps and bruises.

Gaines staying healthy (fingers crossed) and Nelson’s emergence as a solid (and aggressive) corner have allowed Parker to play safety, where (as discussed above) he goes from meh player to high level player. Berry still looks to be rounding into form, but he still flies all over the field.

And Peters ... well, Peters is who he is. I still think his cover skills need to improve (he’s not as good at mirroring routes as Gaines in my opinion) if he wants to be considered elite, but he was sticking on receivers like gorilla glue most of the night. And his ball skills are as good as any corner I’ve ever seen. He’s a terror to throw at because EVERY TIME it’s a risk. As his instincts on when to double down for a pick and when to lay off continue to improve (they’re already better than they were last year, I believe), he’s going to only grow more terrifying.

All together, the secondary looks better than it was last season. Not having Husain Abdullah stinks (he’s always tweeting about the Chiefs, though. Hey, Husain, come back!), and I was one of the stronger supporters for Sean Smith, but this years group is better overall from what I can see. And it starts with Gaines and Nelson.

Like I said above, Gaines’ health and Nelson’s emergence means the Chiefs go legitimately three deep at corner (four deep if you believe in White, which I do). This wasn’t the case last year, as Gaines was hurt and Nelson wasn’t ready yet. So Ron Parker and a few other players rotated at nickel corner with... well, not a ton of success. This also took Parker away from safety, where he (as discussed) is a high level player.

So now, with a plus level player in the slot and Parker back at safety, two spots have been improved. There’s no weak player to pick on for opposing quarterbacks, and this group is GREAT at contesting passes.

This secondary is still very young at corner and should only get better, but their emergence has raised the ceiling of the entire defense another level. The pass rush has been average at best, but the defense is still playing very well. That hasn’t been the case in years past. Here’s hoping the rush can continue to get better.

What a great trip this was. Thanks again to Charlie, the great and wonderful fella who made the whole thing possible. You are, and will always be, the man.

GREAT trip. Can’t wait to be there again my with oldest in November.

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