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Chiefs mega mailbag: We have a lot of questions

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The season is almost upon us. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be and completely psyched for new (real) snaps to review and new narratives to bust or confirm.

In the meantime, let’s pass the time with a mega mailbag, shall we? As always, you can send questions to @RealMNchiefsfan. Give me a follow if you’re feeling frisky and like Chiefs analysis.

It’s tough to say. On one hand, the coaches didn’t show us any real desire to promote Nicolas above the guys in front of him, despite underwhelming preseasons from them and something resembling molten lava from Nicolas.

On the other hand, as contributor Matt Stagner laid out so wonderfully recently, Nicolas played very well this preseason, and did so in a way that demonstrated a variety of strengths that one would THINK are transferable to snaps against starters. He shows a good first step, a variety of moves, solid bend around the corner (which is what really sets him apart from Ford), and a really aggressive attitude.

That said, Nicolas weighs something like 240 pounds soaking wet. It’s tough to imagine him getting on the field at any point when there’s the risk of a run. He makes up for lack of strength at the point of attack by being good at slipping blockers and pursuing runners, but the idea of him setting the edge in the run game seems... iffy.

That said, when it comes to pass rushing downs (say, third and seven or longer), what exactly do the Chiefs have to lose by putting Nicolas on the field if Ford isn’t productive getting after the passer? My guess is that Ford (and Frank Zombo, depending on how many snaps Tamba Hali takes) is the guy they plan on taking all the snaps, BUT... if he struggles they may well toss Nicolas out there just to see what happens.

In short? Maybe, but I doubt it unless Ford / Zombo play pretty poorly. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the game is enough of a blowout to see Nicolas get snaps organically.

You know, at this point I wonder if we’re starting to reach Albert Wilson territory with Dee Ford. What is Albert Wilson territory, you ask? It’s where a player who does have a few useful skills but underachieves compared to what fans expect to the point that the narrative becomes he sucks.

Now, I don’t think it’s quite fair to Wilson to compare him to Ford, as I think he’s performed better as a WR than Ford has as a SOLB, but it’s at least worth thinking about. Ford still has that first step, and though he hasn’t demonstrated the improvement we were all hoping to see, I’m going to hold my judgment until we’ve got a full game or two in the books.

That said, I expect Houston back after 6-8 games, and I don’t think Ford can get five sacks in that time period.

I’m guessing at this point, Andy Reid is who he is inside two minutes: a very smart coach who tries to control too much and outsmarts his common sense in that particular situation. So I don’t expect a ton of improvement unless we see a big leap forward from the wide receivers and / or offensive line. If that happens? Then I could see it.

With regards to the offensive coordinator change, I don’t think it’ll matter that much. As much hype as Pederson got for calling some plays last season, the reality is that this is Andy Reid’s offense and always will be. The biggest change we saw last year was Alex Smith getting more power at the line of scrimmage (which I expect to continue this season), not a new coordinator lighting a fire in Reid’s offense. I doubt we notice a difference due to that factor.

Man, early on in the offseason I was SO SURE Reid was just giving Parker Ehinger reps for the sake of development, and as the preseason moved along Reid would be placed at left guard, solidifying the only weak spot I see at the OL (assuming LDT continues his wildly improved play).

At this point, it’s clear they’re rolling with the rookie barring some massive surprise Sunday. Whether this is because they view Reid as a swing tackle (which would make more sense if they hadn’t just claimed a tackle through waivers), they think Ehinger is better than most fans do (I think his technique is decent, but his functional strength is lacking), or Reid has underwhelmed in practice... I couldn’t tell you.

The whole thing doesn’t make sense to me, though. Reid was retained for a decent-sized contract this offseason, and now they’re having him ride the bench to back up a position (tackle) he didn’t play well last year and refusing to play him at a position he DID play well. Maybe they don’t think he can play LG?

The whole thing frustrates me, especially if Ehinger continues to struggle. For me, a guy like Ehinger should sit for a year while he beefs up and learns the game. It would be different if we didn’t have a perfectly viable (as in average) guy sitting on the bench, but we do. The offensive line appears to potentially be a real strength for the team this year. It would be a shame if a weak spot lowered its ceiling as a unit.

I hope Ehinger plays solidly and makes me feel as foolish as LDT is currently making me feel.

Assuming LDT continues to play as well as he has, it’s a ridiculous improvement. When LDT was playing RG last season with Stephenson or Reid at RT, the entire right side was a glaring weakness, particularly in pass protection. It definitely limited the ceiling of the offense, as Smith consistently was forced to take off early or rush throws. Additionally, because Smith is who he is as a QB, his lack of trust in the right side surfaced on plays where he would feel phantom pressure and take off early (not an excuse for Smith, as an NFL QB needs to be able to tell the difference between real and phantom pressure).

Now? Man, Schwartz is as big an upgrade at RT as you could find. I very much believe it’s as big a difference as you’d see if you swapped out, say, a bad ILB for Derrick Johnson. Schwartz is that good, and the RT play was that bad. LDT’s improvement has been really, really impressive and forced me to write a public apology to the guy.

With Mitch Morse being a stud and Eric Fisher so far this year looking worth every penny he got paid during the preseason, the line overall looks strong, even if Ehinger struggles as a rookie. All Ehinger has to do is not be AWFUL and the line will be a strength.

The offensive line playing well, if it happens (we’ve still got actual games to play, you know), raises the entire ceiling of the offense. It makes everything easier. It allows Smith more time to dissect coverage and make throws comfortably. It also (in theory) leads to him being more confident in the pocket. Those two things combined should (again, in theory) mean more passes completed in the intermediate and deep zones of the field, which is huge.

The running game was already a strength for the Chiefs last year. If you add superior blocking, that alone will help Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West be more successful. If the passing game is more successful due to what we just talked about in the above paragraph? That would be huge, and would lead to one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL being even better.

This is all, as I’ve said, in theory. But there’s a real possibility the offense goes from decent to legitimately good this season, and it starts in large part up front.

All signs point to Chris Conley at this point. He outplayed Wilson in the preseason and looks like a guy who is ready to contribute.

Now, as I said earlier, Wilson is a guy with some useful skills. He’s become very widely criticized to the point that fans are forgetting he’s a fast player with exceptional YAC skills and (generally) solid hands. I think he gets kicked inside to the slot, where his limited catch radius and struggles tracking the ball are much less of an issue.

Given that Conley has apparently passed Wilson on the depth chart (as much as Reid doesn’t pay attention to said depth chart), I would be surprised if Conley didn’t see more snaps than Wilson on Sunday. He’s earned a shot.

Even if you exclude quarterbacks, the nod goes to the Chiefs. They have a better offensive line as far as I can tell (we’ll see if Duane Brown comes back himself, then this could maybe be looked at again), a vastly superior tight end, and a running back group that far outstrips an underrated Lamar Miller (who may do some very good things this year, but can’t touch the trio the Chiefs sport).

That leaves us with wide receivers. The Texans start off with a clear edge in DeAndre Hopkins, one of very few receivers in the league who is a notch above Jeremy Maclin. After him, though, it gets spotty. People are raving about Braxton Miller, but the reality is that between him, Will Fuller, and Jaelen strong, you’ve got a group even LESS proven than Wilson and Conley (seriously). At the end of the day, though, I give the edge to Houston due to Hopkins being a freak.

A slight edge at WR can’t overcome losing on OL and at TE and RB, though. Overall, I’d take the Chiefs offense. We’ll see what the season brings.

I’m guessing Tamba Hali sees more action than some fear and less action than some hope. I’m guessing he plays roughly half the snaps, the majority of them in obvious passing situations.

Hali may well be a part time player from here on out. That said, he was productive as a rusher last year and is a great deal better in that area (and against the run) than any of our other currently healthy OLB’s. It’s not even close. His return, even in limited snaps, should give a nice boost to the defense.

I think we’ve all worried about Hali’s health so much that we’ve forgotten that he did a nice job last year and is still a dangerous player that LT’s hate to face. I’m excited to see him back on the field showing young OLB’s how handfighting should be done.

I will never, ever rule out Philip Rivers doing crazy things. I hate that guy. He’s got a throwing motion like an eight year-old and his passes are nearly ducky as Peyton Manning’s were last season, yet he always puts the ball in the EXACT place it needs to be.

Additionally, I’m terrified by Rivers having a healthy Keenan Allen and the ridiculously fast Travis Benjamin to throw to (Benjamin was a sneaky-awesome acquisition), especially given the fact that we’re not sure just how healthy Phillip Gaines is.

That said, Sunday will be a good chance to see exactly where the defense is at. We all got very, very worried during the preseason as the Seahawks and the Rams (the RAMS) seemed to throw at will against the Chiefs. But now we’ve swapped out Steven Nelson for Phillip Gaines, Frank Zombo for Tamba Hali (at least some of the time), and Daniel Sorenson for Eric Berry. Improvements across the board are going to make a difference for the defense.

How much of one? Tough to say, really. I’m hoping Chris Jones gets plenty of chances to make Rivers miserable Sunday, and we see the defense didn’t take a big step back like we’ve feared.

But again, never rule out Rivers. I hate that guy.

It’s September, so I gotta take the over.

Really, though, you can see a lot of reasons why he WOULD go over those numbers. The improvement of the line and Chris Conley should, ideally, pay big dividends for Smith. His tape has improved every year he’s been a Chief, and it seemed like he and Reid started figuring things out a little bit down the stretch last year.

If the offensive line plays like it has, Smith should be in hot water if he doesn’t have a career year. If that happens AND Conley shows up improved, that water should get borderline scalding. I like Smith as a quarterback and think he’s competent, but that level of competency SHOULD rise as the players around him rise.

We’ll see how it plays out (it could be that the OL plays like crap or Conley turns out to be nothing but a tease), but as things stand Smith should play well enough to rack up superior statistics to previous years, regardless of how well the running game does.

That said, passing touchdowns and yards are more a team offensive stat than an individual’s stat, but that’s an argument for another day.

(Pretty sure I just chucked a live grenade into the comment section with that last sentence, but hopefully no one reads this far anyway).

Even in September, I can’t squint my way into believing that. The Chiefs won 10 games in a row to close out 2015. To BEAT that record they would have to start out 14-0. That would require some luck as well as the team having things break right with regards to key positions (like CB, ILB, DL and Justin Houston’s health).

I mean, that would be incredible and a wild ride, but the Chiefs would need to beat...

(checks the schedule)

... Oakland twice, Denver, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and... well, you know what, the more I look at that schedule the less scary it is. Let’s move on before I talk myself into something crazy.

Well, here in Brainerd, Minnesota, the best BBQ can be found at Boulder Taphouse and... oh, you mean in Kansas City?

Well... guys, I have a confession to make. Outside of the (amazing) tailgating food I’ve tried in my various trips to Arrowhead, I’ve... well... all right, I’ll just say it.

I’ve only tried one BBQ joint in Kansas City.

Now before you rush to condemn me, hear me out! When Mrs. MNchiefsfan and I get to Kansas City, we usually only have one meal in town where we eat out (the other is generally spent with some friends we have in the area). Well, here’s the thing... during our first trip I went to Joe’s KC Barbecue (always Oklahoma Joe’s to me) and tried a Z-man and... that was pretty much that. I was absolutely and forever hooked.

I’m not a natural risk-taker when it comes to food. For me, the analysis is simple: am I really going to miss out on something I KNOW I love (a z-man) in favor of something I may only think is OK? That’s a tough pill for me to swallow.

However, for those of you who are offended by my lack of courage, fear not. Mrs. MNchiefsfan has long wanted to try Jack’s Stack, and has informed me that we will be eating there this time around. Feel free to give me some order recommendations!

Like, in everything-goes-perfectly land? His ceiling is a faster DeAndre Hopkins.

Yeah, I know.

I don’t believe Conley will hit THAT ceiling, but he’s got strong hands and generally snatches the ball out of the air. He also has decent height, long arms, and incredible leaping ability. His ceiling is borderline limitless given his athleticism and build.

I think that’s why people are so excited about the idea of Conley developing. His physical attributes are high enough that a refined version of him could be a terror, whereas a guy like Albert Wilson will likely always have a ceiling as a receiver.

Again, I don’t see Conley reaching those lofty heights (I’d settle for decent No. 2 receiver at this point), but that’s the ceiling for him.

I don’t think either play a big role in the offense, but if history has taught us anything it’s that Andy Reid likes to trot out three TE sets if he can get away with it.

Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, and either Shag or Ross Travis creates a trio of tight ends that isn’t exactly terrifying (outside of Kelce), and that’s a problem. One of the other guys is going to need to show out as a receiver in order to make those three TE sets more of a threat.

Additionally, one problem with this group is that Shag and Travis are minus blockers (and Kelce is uneven in that area. Sometimes he’s great, other times he struggles). The three TE group (or two TE group, really) only works as a dual threat when you’ve got guys who can run block as well as catch passes, so you can force the defense into a matchup problem no matter what they do personnel-wise (that’s one reason Gronk and Bennett on the Pats absolutely terrifies me, by the way).

I think the Chiefs will do more damage with three TEs than four WRs, but that’s mostly because I don’t think we’ll see a lot of four TE sets from the Chiefs. My main reason for believing this? A four WR set likely takes either Travis Kelce or Jamaal Charles (or Spencer Ware) off the field. Removing some of your best players for the sake of guys who haven’t proven nearly as much is an iffy proposition at best.

I mean, on the surface this is a tough call. For starters, maybe Andy Reid a few years ago can compete with this crowd. BUT... have you taken a look at ol’ Andy lately? Dude’s lost some weight. Now, he’ll never be confused for a svelte guy, but he’s definitely ranging into the land of a guy who only sometimes eats hamburgers. And I’m sorry, but anyone who is a remotely normal person doesn’t stand a chance against the likes of Poe, Schwartz, and Chris Jones.

Between the three big fellas, I gotta give the nod to Schwartz, if only because he’s written a book about food and clearly enjoys that part of life. Poe and Jones are massive, but both of them seem like guys who don’t put away a whole pizza in one sitting (as a guy who does this routinely, I’m something of an expert at identifying others who do it). Schwartz absolutely does that, I’d bet my life on it.

But it’s all for naught. Because the answer to any question about who wins is always, always, always Dustin Colquitt wins. Because that’s all he does.

Man, we’ve come a long way without talking about zombies. It’s shown my growth as a writer and...

Well, we all knew it was coming.

SPOILER ALERT!

Look, everyone has a theory on who got the bat to the skull in The Walking Dead finale. I know there’s a lot of information out there about who has been on set, and all that stuff. However, I’m going to assume for the sake of argument that the show’s producers would be willing to have someone come on set just to fake out viewers, and act as though there’s no clue to be had there.

Based ENTIRELY off my own theory of the show, I think the victim is Daryl. I don’t like it any more than the next guy, as I’ve enjoyed the character a great deal and really appreciate Norman Reedus as an actor.

But I’ve got a couple reasons for thinking he’s the guy who bites the dust.

  1. The first person view issue. Throughout the episode we saw someone’s POV in the first person, right up until they got their head caved in. Well, only four people were options for that first person view given the plot of the episode (which I don’t need to get into here): Daryl, Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita. No one cares if Rosita dies, Michonne has too much to do and too many interesting plotlines in the comics, and people have been preparing for Glenn’s death for so long it would lose some impact (regardless of how beloved his character is, and I heart that dude. He’s the last good person left).
  2. The fact that Daryl hasn’t had much to do but be cool over the last couple of seasons, especially since the crew hit Alexandria. Think about it... what is Daryl now? Michonne has kinda taken over as Rick’s right-hand man (though Daryl is still the enforcer of the group, regardless of Abraham being the beefcake he is), Daryl’s brother is gone, Beth is gone... only Carol remains as a close acquaintance of Daryl, and she’s been busy turning into a complete (reluctant) killing machine. Is there much else left for Daryl? Doesn’t really seem like it.
  3. Daryl’s cockiness regarding the Saviors. Besides Rick, he was the most “those guys ain’t crap” out of everyone. TWD isn’t known for being kind to such judgments.
  4. It would have the maximum impact, both on the audience and the group itself. With regards to the audience, people LOVE Daryl. He’s that everyman Bad Dude we all wish we could be if a zombie apocalypse broke out. He uses a freaking crossbow, guys. The audience would be the most horrified to watch him get splattered. As far as the group goes, Daryl has been borderline invincible in every encounter the group has come across. He kills walkers like crazy, wins fights with the living with ease, and BLEW UP A TANK. Watching him killed while helpless would shatter the group in a way no other death would outside of Rick. Yes, including Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, or Carl.

So that’s my theory: Daryl gets the bat. I could be talked into Michonne, though, for some of the same reasons as 1 and 4 above. The show has proven it will take out characters still living in the comics (remember Andrea?) and use other characters to fill plot lines, so Michonne isn’t beyond reach. And she’s nearly as “holy crap this person is invincible” as Daryl, maybe even more so at times. What’s more, her relationship with Rick (and being another fan favorite) makes her death impactful to both the group and the audience. Could be her.

I really hope it’s not Glenn. I like Glenn. Like I said, he’s the last good person alive as far as I can tell.

Holy moly, this HAS been a mega mailbag. One more...

You know, there IS a frightening amount of confidence among Chiefs fans right now, the likes of which I haven’t seen since... well, prior to the season opener against the Titans (gulp).

I guess my answer to that would be this... IF they lose Sunday, then we’ll all dissect the why and probably spend a great deal of time freaking out. Though to be honest, I really WON’T freak out, even though it would be frustrating.

Why? Because last year taught me that the first game of the season isn’t do-or-die. Neither is the second game, or the third, or the fifth... The Chiefs were 1-5, folks, playing like crap and written off for dead. They then rolled off 10 straight wins, won a playoff game, and gave the Pats a fight at New England without three of their best players. That taught me a lesson I should have learned a long time ago: it’s a longer season than we think, and Week 1 doesn’t mean anything more than, say, Week 11. We just emphasize it’s importance because it’s the first game.

So win or lose, I’m going to do my best to not overreact. Remember 2015. One never knows what the season will bring.

Can’t wait for Sunday.