Tuesday, November 12, 2013

the midseason chiefs thoughts.

“Flashback to a girl,
With a song in her heart,
As she’s waiting to start
The adventure.

The fire and drive,
That make dreams come alive?
They fill her soul!
She’s in control!

The drama, the laughter?
The tears just like pearls?
Well they’re all in this girl’s
Repertoire.

It’s all for the taking!
And it’s magic we’ll be making!
Let me be your star!

I’ll just have to forget the hurt,
That came before;
Forget what used to be.
The past is on the cutting room floor –
But the future’s here with me.
Choose me!

Fade up on a star,
With it all in her sights,
All the love and the lights,
That surround her.

Someday?  She’ll think twice,
Of the dues and the price,
She’ll have to pay –
But not today! …”


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Before I get into my midseason thoughts, awards, and grades for the Red and Gold, allow me a brief moment to possibly express why this team has such a different feeling for me, than any other Chiefs team I can think of in my lifetime (save for one -- hang on, we're getting there, eventually.)

The Chiefs have made the playoffs three times since the 1997 season.  Which is pathetic, to be honest; it's pathetic and embarrassing.  (Although to be fair, they have been the first team out two other times (1999, 2005), and been within a game of a playoff berth two other seasons (2002, 2011), but still, that's pathetic and laugh-out-loud embarrassing.)

Let's take these in reverse.

In 2010, entering their tenth game (a victory at Arrowhead over the woeful Arizona "Super" Cardinals), the Chiefs sat at 5-4, one game ahead of the Chargers in the AFC West.  But they'd lost 4 of their last 6, including an absolute de-pantsing effort the previous week at fake mile high, that prior to last year's "Sur" William Callahan-esque demolition, was the worst defeat ever in denver by the Chiefs. 

They'd had their share of "luck" and skill, to get to where they were, but no Chiefs fan thought that team had a chance to do anything more than reach the divisional round.  Put it this way: we knew we weren't winning at Foxboro, we'd already lost in Indy, and we weren't winning at The Ketchup Bottle.

And as it turned out, we weren't beating the Ravens at Arrowhead, once January arrived, either.

That team would actually win five of their next six, before losing the season finale and the wildcard game, by a combined 68-14 score, to the raiders and Ravens.

In 2006, entering their tenth game (a sensational victory over the raiders at Arrowhead), the Chiefs sat at 5-4, drawing dead on the division (the Chargers were 7-2, and wouldn't lose another game in the regular season), but in control of its' own destiny for the wildcard.  In fact, this was THE key week for that team, as it turned out -- the goalline stand against the raiders, coupled with the Thanksgiving night win over denver on a short week, gave the Chiefs their margin of error to get into the playoffs via the Immaculate Fourfecta.

They'd had their share of adversity -- Damon Huard had started the last eight games, somehow going 5-3 in that stretch, despite having not played an actual down of football that counts in five years.  They had their issues on offense -- we roo-eened Larry Johnson's career by giving him 416 carries that season.  And like that 2010 team, every Chiefs fan knew the divisional round was our likely ceiling, because we knew we weren't winning at Foxboro, we weren't winning at The Q, but we did see a win at Indy at possible, although as history would show, that was a false hope; the Colts whipped the Chiefs 23-8 in a game in which the offense didn't record a first down until the first play of the fourth quarter.

In 2003, entering their tenth game, the Chiefs stood at 9-0, just like in 2013.  But that season, wasn't like this one either.

Sure, there were similarities.  They kept finding a way to win, despite the odds.  They'd already won two contests thanks to kick returns (the 17-10 win in Baltimore, where Dante Hall's kickoff return with three and change to play, provided the winning margin ... and of course, the 24-23 victory over the denver broncos, when Dante Hall took on all eleven of the my little ponies, to incredible success, with six and change to play, to swing the game to KC's side of the ledger).  They'd had an epic comeback (week five at Green Bay; Chiefs trailed 34-17 with 8:43 to play, and won 40-34 in overtime on a bomb to Eddie Kennison), and they'd had an epic goalline stand (week seven at oakland; tim brown was tackled at the one inch line as time expired, to preserve a 17-10 victory).

But we could see the writing on the wall.  There was no doubt we'd win the AFC West, but the defense had already begun to show how the season was going to end -- in a 38-31 defeat at Arrowhead to the Colts in the divisional round, in a game in which neither team punted, and the only drives that did not result in points for both squads were one interception each, and one kneeldown to end a half each.  Along the way, the defense got tuned for 45 by the broncos, 40 by the Vikings, and even "Sur" William Callahan's hapless raiders dropped 27 on the Chiefs in the rematch (a game won 30-27 on a late Morten Anderson field goal).  The signs were there, if you were willing to look.

This year, though, guys?

Where are the warning signs?

Where's the flashing "DANGER AHEAD!!!" defense from 2003?  Where's the "whoa, Trent Green is done-zo!" reality from 2006?  Where's the candy bar wrappers from 2010?  Where's the "Greg Robinson can't coach!" realization from 2003?  Where's the "wait, Mike Solari is calling the plays?" horror of 2006?  The "what the hell do you mean, our offensive coordinator just quit?" bombshell from 2010?  Where's the "wait, "cut" glen cadrez, Mike Mazlowski, and Scott Fujita are our starting linebacker corps?" legitimate query from 2003?  Where's the "wait, Eddie Kennison and Marc Boehrigter are our starting wide receivers?" legitimate query from 2006?  Where's the "wait, Matt Cassel is our starting quarterback?" legitimate query from 2010?

When I get into some statistics in a moment, you'll see that even the one area a lot of Chiefs fans are concerned about (the offense), really isn't an issue at all, compared to the glaring issues other contenders have. 

Trust me, guys.  My name isn't Barack Hussein Obama; I won't intentionally, willfully, and deliberately lie to you, about something this important.

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The 1995 Chiefs are my favorite Chiefs team of all time, at least to this point, and nobody other than maybe the 2006 squad*, is in the discussion for that honor.  That was an amazing, miraculous season.  Three overtime wins in the season's first six weeks.  The (for me at least) "Free As A Bird" game against the Oilers, for another miraculous win.  The divisional record -- eight and oh, highlighted by whipping denver's ass in the snow, and whipping oakland's ass, in the first Chiefs / raiders game played by the Bay in over a decade.

But even that team, I didn't feel about, like I do this one. 

Because for all the grief and blame Lin Elliott (correctly) takes, and for all the vitriol and abuse Steve Bono (unfairly) takes?

We weren't beating the Steelers, in the AFC Title Game, if we'd gotten there.

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(*: for the record, my ten favorite Chiefs seasons of all time (excluding this current one).  (1) 1995 (13-3, AFC West Champions, L Divisional Round vs Colts 7-10).  (2) 2006 (9-7, AFC Wildcard, L Wildcard Round at Colts 8-23).  (3) 1997 (13-3, AFC West Champions, L Divisional Round vs broncos 10-14).  (4) 1993 (11-5, AFC West Champions, L AFC Title Game at Bills 13-31).  (5) 1986 (10-6, AFC Wildcard, L Wildcard Round at Jets 10-35).  (6) 2003 (13-3, AFC West Champions, L Divisional Round vs Colts 31-38).  (7) 1999 (9-7, no postseason).  (8) 2010 (10-6, AFC West Champions, L Wildcard Round vs Ravens 7-38).  (9) 1991 (10-6, AFC Wildcard, L Divisional Round at Bills 14-44).  (10) 1989 (8-7-1, no postseason).

Not appearing in this listing -- not now, not then, and most assuredly not anytime in the future, is your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs.)

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The only Chiefs team in my lifetime that this squad even remotely resembles, is the best Chiefs team of my lifetime, the 1997 bunch that finished 13-3, won the AFC West, earned home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and is the only Chiefs team of my lifetime that I’ve felt was good enough to beat anyone, anywhere.

In other words, the only Chiefs team of my lifetime, that was good enough to not just bring Lamar’s Trophy home, but throw in that Lombardi character’s to boot.

My 21st birthday was, for all intents and purposes, Super Bowl XXXII.  I know officially, it was played three weeks later, at (back then) The Murph, and the broncos beat the Packers in one of the greatest games ever staged.  But the real Super Bowl was at Arrowhead, the weekend of January 3rd.  broncos at Chiefs.

I was absolutely convinced entering that game, that whoever won it, was going to win the Super Bowl.  The winner was going to roll Pittsburgh in the title game, whether that be at Real Three Rivers (if denver won) or Arrowhead (if Kansas City won).  I was beyond convinced the winner of that game, would beat whoever the NFC threw out there as an opponent, be it the 49ers or Packers or an upstart Giants team that stunned the football world by walking away with the NFC East.

To this day, it is the single most painful defeat of my sports career*.  Nothing even approaches it.  To this moment, if I close my eyes, I can still see Paul Hackett leaning halfway out of the coaches box, trying desperately to get the playcall down to the sideline, or onto the field, as the headsets had stopped working.  I can see the 4th and 6 throw to Lake Dawson hit the turf.  I can remember the finality of that THUD! of the ball hitting the beyond frozen turf of Arrowhead (it was -9 windchill at kickoff … and kickoff was at 3:30pm).

Hold these last few thoughts – I’m coming back to them on Thursday in the picks post.  Because I think that 1997 season, is what Sunday night – and every remaining game of this season – is now all about.

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(*: for the record, my top ten most painful sports defeats.  (1) broncos over Chiefs, 1997 AFC Divisional round.  (2) Bulls over Knicks, Game 5, 1993 Eastern Finals.  The things I would say to Charles Smith, if I ever ran into that man**.  (3) Phil Mickelson three putting 17 to lose to Retief Goosen, 2004 US Open at Shinnecock.  (4) Raptors over Knicks, 2001 Eastern First Round.  Don’t sleep on this game, gang – the Knicks have never recovered from it.  (5) Georgia Tech over Kansas, 2004 Midwest Regional Final.  Other than (1), I have never felt more sick, disgusted, and hurt leaving a sporting event, than I did this one.  It also didn’t help that monsoon-like conditions greeted us, for the walk back to the Landing, to find the car.  (6) raiders over Chiefs, week 17, 1999 season.  Just scroll down to numero uno.  (7) Pacers over Knicks, Game 7, 1995 Eastern Semis.  (8) Missouri over Kansas, 2007 Border Showdown.  The one moment in my lifetime when KU Football was relevant.  (9) Rockets over Knicks, Game 7, 1994 NBA Finals.  (10) Colts over Chiefs, 1995 AFC Divisional round.)

(**: in case you doubt me, I refer you to one Hearn, Ed.  It is either my lowest moment, or most inspired moment, in life.  I lean the former; many people strongly believe the latter.)

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So, let’s hand out some favorites and awards, for the first nine games of the 2013 Chiefs season.

* Best Game (Performance): at Jaguars, week one.  The Jags didn’t cross midfield until barely six minutes remained.  This was as thorough an ass kicking, as you will see in the National … Football League.

* Best Game (Personal Choice): vs Texans, week seven.  This one, wasn’t just pretty – it was a thing of beauty.  It was everything I love about this team, about that stadium, about this sport.

* Best Play (Performance): Dexter McCluster’s punt return touchdown, vs Giants, week four.  You really could see the play unfold from my vantage point.  And man, did Dex make it work.

* Best Play (Personal Choice): Tamba Hali sacks, strips Case Keenum / Derrick Johnson recovers the fumble to seal a Chiefs win, vs Texans, week seven.  You really could see the play unfold from my vantage point.  And man, was it beautiful.  That might be my favorite play in that stadium since Bernard Pollard’s punt block / touchdown, to open the scoring against the Jaguars in 2006’s finale.

* Best Offensive Gameplan (Execution): at Jagaurs, week one.  A flawless masterpiece, save for the blocked punt … and that wasn’t the gameplan’s fault.

* Best Offensive Gameplan (Personal Choice): second half vs Giants, week four.  Masterful halftime adjustments by Doug Pederson and “Fat” Andy Reid turned a nail-biter into a blowout barely twenty minutes later.

* Best Defensive Gameplan (Execution): at Jaguars week one.  A flawless masterpiece.

* Best Defensive Gameplan (Personal Choice) second half vs Texans, week seven.  It’s one of my favorite stats of the season (more coming up) – the Texans ran sixteen plays in the fourth quarter in week seven.  They lost one yard, scored zero points, and went punt / punt / punt / turnover, in the process.

* Offensive MVP: Alex Smith, QB.  I honestly don’t know how you can pick anyone else.  Yes, I know the popular pick is Jamaal Charles … but peoples and peepettes?  The offensive line hasn’t really changed (save for Mr. Fisher replacing Mr. Winston, and Mr. Hudson returning to health, in place of Mr. Lilja).  The receiving corps is worse than last year, if anything, talent-wise.  Jamaal Charles put up lights-out, Pro Bowl nod numbers last year.  Other than the system, what’s changed?

(Quarterback).

The pick has to be Alex Smith, in my mind. 

* Offensive MVP, Runner-Up: Jamaal Charles, RB.  Again, I honestly don’t know how you can pick anyone else.  He’s the key to the offense producing … but he’s not the key to it functioning, if that makes sense.  It’s the old “what matters more, the manager or the employees” question when it comes to a working unit’s success.  The answer is “both matter equally” … but a good manager can overcome deficient employees, to produce a respectable product.  I don’t care how gifted and talented your employees are, if your management is inept and incompetent, you will fail 100 times out of 100.

Charles is the employee.  Smith is the manager.  Without Smith, this team is in shambles.  And if you don’t believe me, see Cassel, Matt; Quinn, Brady; and Stanzi; Ricky, as my rebuttal to your argument.

* Defensive MVP: Justin Houston, OLB.  I’m going to make a statement that as recently as a month ago, would have been viewed by even me as blasphemy … or at least would have led to Stevo Rule 34* being invoked.

This 2013 Chiefs defense … is the best in franchise history.  The most talented, arguably the best coached, and without question – (allard baird voice) without question! – the most productive.

Derrick Thomas NEVER had a linebacker on the other side, like Justin Houston.  And he’s my first half defensive MVP not just with the Chiefs, but the entire damned League.

(*: I really need to update the Stevo Rules of Life, but Rule 34 will always be a given.  “The surest sign you're making a mistake is when someone drops the "you'd have to be mentally retarded or named Steve" blast on your decision.”)

* Defensive MVP, Runner-Up: Mike DeVito, DE.  Folks?  This might be the best free-agent signing in franchise history, and again, I’m not saying that for shock value.

Everything this defense has accomplished, has been because Mike DeVito is so damned spectacular at breaking the line, that teams have to account for him.  (Unlike Glenn Dorsey before him.)  Because teams have to commit to both Poe and DeVito, that leaves three linemen and (if need be) a fullback or tight end, to commit to the four linebackers (Hali, Jordan, Johnson, Houston).  Meaning teams can’t double cover anyone in the front seven, and they can’t account for the blitz off the edge from the corner position, or up the gut from the safety position.

It also explains why the coverage downfield has been so spectacular tight and effective (although that is about to get tested in ways that condom manufacturers would drool over, on Sunday night). 

Just walk through a base play with me for a moment.  Say, 2nd and 8, donkeys ball, at their own 35.

donkeys will likely go three wide / one back – decker and thomas wide, welker in the slot, moreno in the backfield.  You’ll likely see the tight end stay in to block, if it’s a pass, or shift to the weak side to block, if it’s a run (also, the shift will help peyton determine if it’s man or zone coverage he's throwing into, if the play call is a pass).

So, walk through it.  decker and thomas likely run matching patterns – either seam routes, or ten yard in / out patterns.  welker is likely the checkdown option; moreno can be the blitz picker (if the Chiefs blitz), or the safety valve (if they don’t).

That leaves six men – the five lineman, and the tight end – to block.  (Seven if moreno is employed).

On defense, the Chiefs will likely commit Brandon Flowers to thomas, and Sean Smith to decker.  (At least, that’s what I’d do).  Stick either Akeem Jordan or Derrick Johnson on welker in the slot; the other rushes the line, and covers moreno if he’s involved in the play as something other than a blocker.

Tyson Jackson and Mike DeVito eat up the tackles; Dontari Poe eats up the center, and (depending on which side he lines up) one of the guards.  Whichever center backer is rushing (Jordan or Johnson) eats up the other guard.

This gives you options, if you’re “Bulldog” Bob Sutton.  You can change it up – have Eric Berry cover welker, and send both Jordan and Johnson, so you’re sending seven, have the three wide-outs covered, and Kendrick Lewis as the safety valve.  Or you only send six, neutralize moreno, and play cover two with Berry and Lewis both deep.  Or you stun denver, and drop the linebackers, flood the zone, and only send the front three.  peyton manning is a freaking genius; he might be the single most intelligent person to ever wear a National … Football League jersey. 

But he can’t predict what’s coming with this defense.

Because Mike DeVito guarantees, that four of the five linemen, are taken up by just the front three.

Circle me intrigued at what Mr. DeVito’s presence will mean, come 10:15pm on Sunday night.

* Special Teams MVP: Dusty Colquitt, P.  Virtually tied in my book with …

* Special Teams MVP, Runner-Up: Ryan Succup, K.  You figure out who’s more valuable; I can’t. 

* Best Tailgate: vs raiders, week six.  Our good South Dakota friends made it in; we had the best of both worlds (raider ribs and a fish fry); and given what the week was for me prior to that game, my God, did I need the release. 

And speaking of which …

* My Favorite Moment Period, So Far, In The 2013 Chiefs Season: Stevo and his dad watch the Bills game together, week nine.

That’s one, I’ll take to my grave … and one that I cannot even begin to express, how much it means to me.

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Time for a few stats, that excite me!

* The Texans 16 plays / -1 yards stat from week seven, is pretty cool.  But what’s cooler?   How about these:

* The Chiefs have allowed 40 points in the second half all season.  They have allowed 16 points, in the fourth quarter – three at Philadelphia week three, ten at Tennessee week ten … and three against Dallas, in week two.

Meaning,

* The Chiefs have allowed THREE TOTAL POINTS AT HOME SO FAR THIS SEASON IN THE FOURTH QUARTER!!!

And NONE since the home opener!

I mean, my God, how do you respond to that?

This team literally is unbeatable on defense, in the fourth quarter at home!

And on the road!

They haven’t allowed a fourth quarter point to be scored, since the day my dad’s issues hit the fan.

That was FIVE WEEKS AGO!

Or to put it another way: if peyton manning and his “my little ponies” can’t manage to score in the last 28 minutes of a game against the San Diego Chargers defense …

… how the hell are they going to score, against the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense, Sunday night, in those last 28 minutes?

* OK, I promised you stats that would make you breathe easy about the offense.  You ready?  Here goes -- four of 'em, so in the words of Bush: "breathe in, breathe out; breathe in, breathe out; breathe in ..."

(1) The Chiefs rank 14th in scoring, averaging 23.9 points / game.  Along that same line,

(2) The Chiefs rank 16th in total points scored, at 215.  I'm not saying either number is great.  They're both squarely middle-of-the-pack numbers.

But you know who they top?  Your Carolina Panthers (23.8 / game, 214 overall), your San Diego "Super" Chargers (23.6 / game, 212 overall), your Cincinnati Bengals (23.4 / game), and your New York Football Jets (18.8 / game, 169 points).  All of those teams are within a game of the postseason, or currently occupy at least a wildcard position.

(3) The Chiefs lead the league in turnover ratio, at +15.  The Cowboys are second at +11 (and my God, how we all wish they were +12, and could have that one dumb ass brain fart against denver back).  Your donkeys?  Are 21st at minus two.

Folks?  If anyone's built their first nine game record on smoke and mirrors, I'd suggest you look at the home team Sunday night, not the visitors.

(4) The Chiefs are sixth in time of possession, holding the ball for 32:14 / game.

What the Chiefs are, is a middle of the pack offense, that doesn't turn the ball over, mounts time-consuming drives that save the defense from exposure and wear and tear, and oh, by the way -- the Chiefs are +104 in scoring margin.  Plus One Hundred and Four (215-111).  

To put this in perspective, the only other AFC team that is above +60 is the broncos (at +133); the Patriots are third in the conference at +59.  Only two teams in the NFC are greater than +75: the Saints (+102) and the Seahawks (+106).


Sunday night?  Is gonna be fun.

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And now, for the always fun-filled portion of these prepared remarks: Professor Stevo's Grades!  (kazoo voice) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As always, I grade on a fairly liberal curve.  Every player, coach, executive, you name it, starts out with a B average.  If they simply contribute at a minimal expected level of performance, that's where they'll stay.  If they fail to meet minimal expectations, their grade will plummet.  If they exceed rock bottom standards, their grade will rise.

We'll start with the offense.

* QB Alex Smith: A.  Everyone's knock on Ol' Al so far, is that he hasn't really executed the vertical passing game.  To which I respond first by calling (seventh day adventist voice) "fertilizer" on that knock, and respond second by simply saying pay attention Sunday night.  I think you're going to see, the Alex Smith I was ecstatic to receive, back in March.  I really am impressed with Mr. Smith's play so far.  I really, really am impressed, given how horrific his line has been, at picking up the blitz.  (my buddy pickell voice) Put it this way -- do you really think Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn would be upright and ambulatory, given how much the quarterback has been running for his life, through the first nine games?

* QB Chase Daniel: B.  I like my backup quarterbacks to be invisible.  So far, not a single sighting of Ol' Chase under center.  Circle me happy, Bert.

* QB Tyler Bray: B.  As much as I like not seeing the backup quarterback on the field?  I really don't like seeing the designated clipboard holder on the field.

* RB Jamaal Charles: A+.  How anyone can find fault with anything Mr. Charles has done so far, I have no idea.  He's been nothing short of remarkable.

* RB Knile Davis: C.  We're all aware dude has serious fumbling issues.  You know who else couldn't hang onto the damned ball his first year in this league?  Jamaal Charles, that's who.  I think the kid has a bright future.  Then again, I don't drink beer out of a can because I think it tastes funny, so what do I know.

* RB Cyrus Gray: B.  Has been solid on special teams, and has had a few good rushes the few times he's gotten a carry.

* FB Anthony Sherman: A-.  Has been a reliable blocker, a sneaky decent pass receiver, and quite frankly is the best fullback this team has employed since Tony Richardson was clearing the road for LJ and Priest.

* WR Dwayne Bowe: A-.  If you haven't read our good buddy Ol' Pete King's MMQB column this week, read the second page.  Having noted that, how blanking retarded have you got to be, to get popped on a Sunday night just outside of the Argosy for possession of a controlled substance?  I mean, anyone who has ever been to Parkville, or especially anyone who has ever been to the Argosy, knows that stretch of road is one gigantic speed trap.

And as if those two things aren't dumb enough, how stupid have the other two in the car got to be?  Don't they know by now that you always take the fall for the star athlete, and he'll pay you back via a couple thousand under the table and hiring a semi-competent officer of the court, to defend you?  What was that Sunday night, amateur hour at the Apollo?  Pathetic Dwayne.  Pathetic.  That's negative Tommy Points for you, sir!

* WR Donnie Avery: B+.  Has disappeared the last few weeks, but has been solid and dependable to this point.

* WR Dexter McCluster: A+.  Has been rock solid returning punts.  Has made two gigantic receptions that provided the difference in the last two home games -- the 2nd and half a mile conversion against Houston, the touchdown against Cleveland.  Keep this up Dex.  Especially the next three weeks (which are going to determine if the road to the raw sewage and swamps of North Jersey goes through fake mile high, or Terrorhead.

* WR Junior Hemingway: D.  Has really disappointed me.  Maybe I had too lofty of expectations after his preseason, but has really underwhelmed so far.

* WR AJ Jenkins: Inc.  (the who voice) Who are you?  Who who, who who?

* WR Chad Hall: Inc.  (the who voice) Who are you?  Who who, who who?

* TE Anthony Fasano: Inc.  When healthy, he's been solid.  Unfortunately, that hasn't been very often.

* TE Sean "Mountain Man" McGrath: A.  That's what the Steve I sit next to, calls him.  I think it works.

* TE Travis Kelce: Inc.  Hasn't played much due to injury.

* LT Branden Albert: C.  It's not been a stellar season so far for Ol' Branden, who is routinely getting beaten off the edge, and has been flagged for holding so many times, Jeff Criswell is embarrassed for him.  Having noted that, Alex Smith is upright and ambulatory, and hasn't missed a snap.  Which means the blind side tackle is doing something right.

* LG Jeff Allen: B.  Has been serviceable.  That's about the highest compliment you can pay an interior lineman.

* C Rodney Hudson: A.  To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a single botched center exchange this season -- not even an errant snap in the shotgun.  As Chiefs fans, we've been spoiled with how talented our centers have been for the last 25 years -- Tim Grunhard, and Casey Weigmann.  Rodney Hudson looks like he'll be the next ten-year starter under center for the Red and Gold.

* RG Jon Asomoah: B.  Has developed into a solid interior lineman.

* RT Eric Fisher: D.  When you watch this team, notice one trend I picked up on during the Texans game, that just becomes more glaring each week: Alex Smith almost never takes off to his right, when he's forced to scramble.  He almost always takes off between Hudson and Allen / Stephenson / Albert.  Almost always.  And the Chiefs don't run it often to the right either.  Gee, think there might be a reason?  Still, people forget how atrocious John Tait was his rookie season.  All John Tait developed into was one of the best linemen in the game for the better part of a decade.  So there's hope.  There's also crap.  If one hand is told to hold hope, and another is told to hold a pile of crap, you tell me which one is going to fill up first.

* OL Donald Stephenson: B-.  His last two games moved him from failing, to nearly reaching "attains barest minimum rock bottom standards".  Let's hope his strong work -- particularly against Cleveland -- is a sign of things to come for the local kid.

* OL Geoff Schwartz: A.  He should be starting ahead of Eric Fisher.  Even Vice President Biden knows Mr. Schwartz should be starting ahead of Eric Fisher.

And now, the defense.

* LDE Tyson Jackson: B.  He's finally playing at a level commeasurative with his salary!  Although he took at $12 million pay cut, to reach that level, but still, baby steps!

* DE Allen Bailey: A.  Has been a beast inside on third down.  Poor terrelle pryor looked ready to poop his pants, if Allen Bailey had sacked him one more time on "The Road to 3rd and 48".

* DE Mike Catapano: B.  It's a testament to how good the starters have played, that Catapano struggles to get playing time.  He's looked good when given the chance to contribute.

* NT Dontari Poe: A.  Folks?  The Chiefs haven't field a defense this loaded with talent, since 1999.  And most of that talent, is either just starting out, or just hitting the prime of their careers.

* NT Jaye Howard: B.  Another promising (joe pesci voice) ute, who can't get playing time.

* RDE Mike DeVito: A+.  Is the key to everything the Chiefs, have been able to do.

* DE Anthony Toribio: B.  Another "effective when given the chance" kid.

* LOLB Justin Houston: A+.  Considering he somehow hasn't failed a pee test since entering the league, despite failing three of them during the combine, Mr. Houston should pull Mr. Bowe aside, and teach him how to hide the habit well. 

* OLB Frank Zombo: Inc.  I have never heard of this dude.  But I like the last name.

* OLB Josh Martin: Inc.  Yeah, I got nothing.

* LILB Akeem Jordan: A.  Considering he came in off the street to replace who I thought was the most underrated Chiefs player of the last four years, he's done admirably well.  If anything, he was an upgrade from Jovan Belcher.  And other than that whole "I murdered my wife in front of my child before killing myself in front of my coaches and bosses in management" thing, I really liked Belcher.

* ILB Nico Johnson: A.  Report: Stevo likes the name Nico.  Also, a good buddy of mine in college, we all called Nico.  It's unbelievable to me that my fifteen year anniversary of conning the fine folks at TCU into a diploma is here next month.  It seems so much more recent, than fifteen years.

* RILB Derrick Johnson: A.  Good Lord, the Chiefs have a lot of Johnson's in the linebacking corps.  There's still another one to go!

* ILB James-Michael Johnson: B.  I've never understood the fascination with hyphenating your name.  Pick one or the other already.  Oh, and I have no idea who this tito is.  Never heard of him before.

* ROLB Tamba Hali: A+.  You can make a very credible case on every starter in the front seven deserving a Pro Bowl berth, save for Tyson Jackson.  That's how great the front seven has played.  And it's not like Tyson Jackson has been terrible.

* OLB Dezmun Moses: B.  I've heard of him!  Yay!  But I couldn't tell you a damned thing he's done.  So, he meets "barest minimum rock bottom competency achievement" level.

* LCB Brandon Flowers: B+.  Gets dinged because he's been hurt, and because he's allowed two lengthy bombs for touchdowns so far this year (one to Victor Cruz, one to Andre Johnson).  Although I'm not negating you that much, for letting those two dudes fly by you into the end zone.

* CB Marcus Cooper: A+.  "The Voice of Reason" and I are both apoplectic that a front office and coaching staff as smartly run as the 49ers, would let this kid walk for no compensation.  Having a fabulous rookie season.  He might someday replace Ryan Succup as the most valuable seventh rounder on the roster.

* RCB Sean Smith: A.  Tremendous free agent signing so far.  (Pause).  What?  (Pause).  No, I'm not even remotely surprised the Dolphins let him walk for no compensation.  There's inept, there's incompetent, and then there's Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin.  Those guys are the benchmark in inept incompetence.

* CB Dunta Robinson: B.  It's a testament to how great Flowers, Cooper, and Smith have played, that Robinson -- a former Pro Bowler, and a guy with a lil' bit o' gas left in the tank -- can't get on the field except in nickel and dime packages.

* CB Ron Parker: Inc.  Never heard of him.  Couldn't identify him out of a lineup if you spotted me the mugshot and jersey number.

* SS Eric Berry: B+.  Has turned into a solid corner blitz option that routinely reaches the passer ... but how much of that is Berry excelling, and how much is the coaching staff realizing they're better off with Kendrick Lewis as the fail-safe line?  I still don't think he's fully recovered from the ACL tear to open the 2011 season, for what it's worth.

* S Quintin Dimps: B.  Whoa!  I didn't even know this guy was still on the roster!  It's not quite as stunning as opening your program every week back in that somehow, someway, Carlton Gray was still on the roster, but still.

* FS Kendrick Lewis: B+.  Another solid effort from a very underrated player.

* S Husain Abdullah: A+.  Has had two spectacular special teams plays (downing punts inside the two against both Houston and the Giants), and hasn't been half bad in nickel / dime coverage either.

This guy also led to one of the funniest moments of the year, at the tailgate before (I believe) the raiders game:

(gregg) You know that guy's a Muslim.
(stevo) Oh come on!  That's not necessarily true!
(gregg) Steve!  Do you know any guy named Husain or Abdullah, that isn't a Muslim?  Especially a black guy named Husain or Abdullah?
(stevo) Yeah -- Barack Hussein Obama!
(gregg) (in stunned disbelief that I (a) could think that fast on the fly, and (b) that he actually had to concede that I was righ ... righ ... righ ... possibly one hundred percent correct.)

* S Sanders Commings: Inc.  I have absolutely no idea, who this tito is.

Next up, the unit created by one Richard A. Vermeil forty years ago at the University of California at Los Angeles, that took the football world by storm --

The Special Teams.

* P Dusty Colquitt: A.  Another spectacular season from one of the best punters in the league ... who might not only be the second best punter in the division ... but the second best punter in the family.  ol' britt's giving him a run for his money up there at fake mile high.

* PK Ryan Succup: A.  Two of his three misses were from fifty plus, aka "crapshoot territory".  He's perfect on PAT's, routinely pins teams back with touchbacks on kickoffs, and hasn't had a truly "what the hell?" miss all season.  Welcome back, Mr. Irrelevant!!!

* LS Thomas Gafford: A+.  Hasn't had a bad snap all season.  (The blocked punt at Jacksonville was Dusty C's fault, not Gafford's.)  That's all you can ask, from a center.

The Coaching Staff.

* "Fat" Andy Reid: A+.  There are times I look down on the field, see Ol' Andy over on the far sideline, and think I'm in Bizarro World.

When did Andy Reid learn how to use the challenge flag correctly?  When did he learn proper clock management skills?  What fashion-averse person convinced an (approximately) 350 lb man to wear a short sleeve windbreaker?

Everything Mr. Reid has done so far, has worked.  Every hire, every roster decision, every depth chart, it's all worked.

I mean, my God, do you realize the most points the Chiefs have trailed by this season, is seven?  (At Buffalo, we trailed 10-3 entering halftime.)

This team has yet to trail by double digits!  And hell, screw that -- this team has yet to be more down by more than a touchdown and the PAT conversion!  Can any other team say that?  The donkeys can't -- they were down by twenty plus at Indy before their rally fell just short.

This team, which at this point last season was 1-8, coming off back-to-back prime time defeats, and facing a three game home stand that nobody thought would end in any fashion other than 0-3?

Is FOUR CLEAR OF THE FIELD FOR A PLAYOFF BERTH!  Let that sink in -- if the Chiefs lose all four of these next tough four (at denver, vs San Diego, vs denver, at Redskins)?

The BEST the rest of the AFC playoff field can do, is catch us at 9-4.  (The Jets are currently the last team in, at 5-4.)

Or to really put this in perspective?  If the Chiefs simply go 2-5 down the stretch?

Every single AFC contender save for the Jets, would have to win EVERY GAME REMAINING ON THEIR SCHEDULE, to simply tie the Chiefs for a wildcard berth.  And if that team that wins out to catch us is Tennessee?  They're screwed; we own tiebreaker.  If that team that wins out to catch us is Miami?  We're in great shape via conference record (6-0 vs 4-2 currently).  If that team to win out to catch us is San Diego?  We're really in good shape, since (a) we still play them twice, and (b) they've already lost to oakland; we beat the raiders, so divisional tiebreaker (which trumps all others) belongs to KC.

If this man isn't NFL Coach of the Year, the award should just be disbanded.

* OC Doug Pederson: D+.  Hang on, let me grab The Mother's* yellow umbrella, to block the barrage of rotted fruits and vegetables headed my way in three ... two ... one ...

For all my defense of the offense, let's just cut through the crap.  The vertical passing game is non-existent.  Turnover margin doesn't matter worth crap in the playoffs.  It's points, and yards per play, that wins games in January.  Namely, you need to score 30, and average 5.0 or better.

This team falls 7 points and nearly half a yard short, of those numbers.

Because they're playing too conservatively.

I'll explain Thursday, in the picks, why I think this is about to change (as soon as Sunday), and why I think Mr. Pederson's grade, will be at least two full letter grades higher, come the season in review in early 2014.

(*: I thought Monday's last seven minutes of "HIMYM" was amongst the best scenes, the show has ever done.  Yeah, it's limping to the finish line ... but Barney and "The Mother" was epic television.  Especially Barney's "wait, let me think of someone to set you up with ... yeah, I got nothing", moment.  Hell, even Alan Sepinwall was drawn back in for a week, by how not-sucky, Monday's episode was.  More of this, Carter Bays!)

* DC Bob Sutton: A+.  Look it, as a Jets fan, I've irrationally loved this guy's defensive schemes for years folks.  

And for those of you who doubt the Chiefs ability to make a postseason run?

This guy's defense carried "The Sanchize" to not one, not two, not three, but FOUR postseason road wins in two years, and two AFC Title Games.

They won at Cincinnati (AFC North champ) and San Diego (13-3 AFC West champ) in 2009.  They beat Indy (peyton's last gasp there) and stunned the Patriots in Foxboro, in 2010.  

You really think a man who can figure out a way, to overcome Mark Sanchez and his offense, is going to fail to find a way, to overcome Alex Smith and whatever alleged issues he has?

In the words of ... hang on, is he back to Chad Johnson, or still Chad Ochocinc ... who cares.  In the words of Lee Corso: "aah!  F*ck it!"

In the words of Chad: "Child?  Please!"

The fourth quarter of the Houston game, will live with me for the rest of my life.  The 3rd and 48 against oakland?  Ditto.  The "This Defense Has Given Up THREE Freaking Fourth Quarter Points At Home So Far This Year"?  In the words of the Kool-Aid Guy: "Oh yeah!"

* Special Teams Coach Dave Taub: A+.  All I can say, after watching the special teams this year, is what 9 year old me couldn't grasp, via the Frank Gansz Sr. hiring / John Mackovic firing, in early 1987.  I now get it.  Doesn't defend it, excuse it, pardon it, or make it justifable ... but I now get it.

* Wide Receivers / Assistant Head Coach Dave Culley: C.  Your unit needs to pick up the pace, sir.  Although if the shift in offensive philosophy I've noticed the last two games, continues it's liberal growth?  Your grade will likely climb two full spots as well, come February 2014.

* Running Backs Coach Eric "Sleeping With" Bieniemy: A+.  A flawless effort so far from one of the most underrated assistant coaches in the league.

* Offensive Line Coach Andy Heck: F.  If "G", as in "God Awful", was a viable grade, that's what he'd earn so far.  This line is a disaster at least 22.14% of the time.

* Assistant Offensive Line Coach Eugene "What's Maury Povich Doing?  Everybody Wang Connie" Chung "Tonight": F.  You can read into that letter (grade), along with Craig Kilborn's classic question to Maury himself, whatever you want.

(And how that clip isn't on Youtube!, is baffling.  It truly was laugh-out-loud funny.)

* Tight Ends Coach Tom Melvin: B.  Can't complain a lick about the tight end production so far.

* Quarterbacks Coach Matt Nagy: A.  The starter hasn't missed a snap; the backup(s) haven't taken one.  Can't complain a lick about Ol' Matt so far.

* Quality Control Coaches Cory Matthaei, Britt Reid, and Mark DeLeone: B.  What the hell does a team need three freaking "quality control" coaches for though?  And which one is stuck cleaning up after "Fat" Andy exposits lunch each day?  (I'm guessing it ain't Britt.)

* Strength and Conditioning Coach Barry Rubin: A+.  When Sal Anthony Fasano is your biggest injury to date, you're doing a helluva job.

* Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coaches Travis Crittendon and Brent Salazar: A+.  Although Mr. Crittendon's official face pic on the Chiefs website, is a little disconcerting.  Think "Chester Chester the Child Molester".

* Defensive Line Coach Tommy Brasher: A.  Phenomenal job.

* Linebackers Coach Gary Gibbs: A+.  The unsung hero from 2012; another brilliant job in 2013.  And yes -- if you'd told 13, 14, 15 year old Stevo that he'd be praising the University of Oklahoma's head coach at the time, as the best coach on the Chiefs' coaching staff in 2013?  13, 14, 15 year old Stevo would have laughed his ass off, at the ridiculousness of that assertion.  I mean, my God.  Mike Grant was chewing up Gary Gibbs' OU teams for 200 yards in the air, and Nebraska maybe launched eight forward passes a game in the early 1990s.

* Secondary Coach Emmitt Thomas: A.  Perhaps no coach on this team, or in this league, has my respect more, than Mr. Emmitt Thomas.  A truly class act, in every way, shape and form.  And a damned good coach to boot.

* "Special Projects" Coach Brad Childress: B.  He is "special", I'll give him that.

* Uncredited Consultant Chris Ault: A+.  How Jim Harbaugh didn't hire Colin Kaepernick's former coach to truly implement the Pistol offense, and let him instead get away to the quarterback he kicked to the curb's team instead?  Is damned near indefensible.

Finally, the Front Office and Ownership:

* GM John Dorsey: A+.  And I am fully aware his first draft pick as general manager right now, is one gigantic colossal failure.  

I am anxiously awaiting what he's going to do, when it's truly his team, he's putting together.  Because let's be honest -- save for Alex Smith, and a few role players here and there?  This is the same team as last year.

And they're already eight games better, than they were at this point last year.

* Former Chiefs Director of Player Personnel Bill Kuharick: A (blanking) Plus.  I'll continue to praise this man's four years running the draft, until I cannot type, talk, or draw breath, anymore.

Derrick Johnson.  Dusty Colquitt.  Branden Albert.  Jamaal Charles.  Brandon Flowers.  Ryan Succup.  Dwayne Bowe.  Tamba Hali.  

That's half your linebacking corps, both your specialists, your blind side tackle, your franchise running back, your primary receiving threat, and your shut down corner, all drafted under Kuharick's tragically short watch, as scouting and drafting director.

To say nothing of the players who moved on, that made an impact: Jarrad Page.  Bernard Karmell Pollard.  James "Boomer" Grigsby.  

It sucks that he'll probably be best remembered for the (indefensible, in hindsight, and in my opinion, at the time) belief that Derrick Johnson was a better choice, than Aaron Rodgers.  

But if someone finally had to be an adequate replacement for Ol' Bill?

At least it's the guy who convinced his GM, to draft Aaron Rodgers, in that 2005 NFL Draft.

* Owner Clark Hunt: A+.  He did everything we demanded, Chiefs fans.  Every single thing we demanded, he did.  (Even if he had to be dragged kicking and screaming into firing Scott Pioli ... but in his defense?  I wasn't on board the Fire Pioli Bandwagon either.  Not even after the season that was last year, was I fully on board with the firing.)

Finally, the grade that truly counts:

* Arrowhead Nation: B+.  In bits and pieces, you can see Terrorhead returning.  You can hear the echoes.  You can hear the crowd noise rise at big moments.

But we aren't all the way back yet, gang.  

We have three gigantic guaranteed games left, to impact this season.  San Diego next week.  Indianapolis in a month.

And denver in nineteen days.

Start prepping.  I suggest lots of hot tea and honey (with a little SoCo mixed in -- it's not half bad, trust me.  I am an expert, in the field of mixology.)

--------------------

denver at Kansas City got flexed to 3:25pm today, for the rematch.

The Chiefs sent us STH's an email to inform us of that, along with the revised times when things open.

They have set the gates, to open at 10am, on Sunday, December 1st.

I'm not sure who sent the "yeah, right -- like they won't be open by 7am!" email first, myself, or Gregg.

(Which, to be fair, I could care less; we buy the early-in pass every week, and in the words of the late, great Senator Edward M. Kennedy, "you can bet your ass", we'll be there at the ass crack of dawn, on the Highest, Holiest Day of the 2013 NFL Schedule.)

--------------------

I was going to save this for Thursday ... but screw it.

You know the moment I truly despised john elway the most, in his career?  And keep in mind, this is a man who, when he finally keels over dead, I will show up at his visitation just to spit in his face, and I will visit his gravesite just to defecate on his tombstone.  

It wasn't leaving Arrowhead on my 21st birthday, the hopes and dreams of the season shattered at his hands.

It was the following Sunday, a random, throw-away line in a postgame presser, after the donkeys pounded the Steelers, to reach the Super Bowl.

john was asked how it felt, to spend back-to-back weeks winning in stadiums, he'd lost in barely a month before.  (The Steelers blew out the broncos; the Chiefs won on the "Pete for President" kick.)

I should note, it was not a pro-denver reporter, who asked the question.

It was long-time Steelers color analyst Myron Cope, the inventor of the Terrible Towel that I'd love to wipe my ass with someday.  (Note: I almost hate Pittsburgh, as much as denver.  And I realize how pathetic, that last statement is.)

elway's response to the question?

"i told my teammates this morning, we can win here (meaning Pittsburgh and KC) in November, or win here in January.  i'd rather win in January.  (Look of pure arrogance and pride)  You?"

That was a b*tch slap across not just one, but two NFL franchises faces.  (Three, considering denver also lost at San Francisco in 1997, and the 49ers and Packers were playing at that moment, for the right to face denver in the Super Bowl.)

That, Chiefs fans?

Is what this season, is now about.

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Coming Thursday, my weekly picks, and my thoughts on this game coming up Sunday night ... and truly, what this season is all about.  I noted this in the Cowboys recap.  (Scroll down to the picture of the towel; it's a ways down there.)  

I feel even stronger about it, two months later.

I can tell you, that I have never once -- and I have been doing this for (hang on, carry the eight ...) twenty two years.  For twenty two years, I have been making weekly picks, since my freshman year in high school, co-running an illegal gambling operation with "The Voice of Reason".

Twenty one previous times, the Chiefs have traveled to denver.

Twenty one previous times, I have picked the broncos to win.

Twenty one previous times, five magical, season-altering words, have never once been used, to describe my feelings about a trip to denver.

Thursday?

Those five magical, season-altering words, five words I haven't hauled out in nearly two years, five words that define the exact moment, I buy full-scale into a team's fate?

Are going to get dropped.

Along with about another 2,000 some odd words, that no doubt will ramble, be incoherent, possibly profane, and probably offensive to anyone who loves Satan's Squad.

But the five that'll stand out?

You'll know it, as soon as you read it.

In the words of arguably the sh*ttiest rapper of all time: (archie voice) We ready ... we ready ... we ready ... for y'all ...

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