1) It looks like the Texans and Chiefs mirror each other pretty well this season. Both teams had terrible starts, both teams lost their star running backs for the season, and both teams had fantastic finishes in the second half of the year to make the playoffs. What caused Kansas City's impressive turnaround?
As I'm sure the Texans know, it's a lot of different things but the Chiefs just didn't make many mistakes. The defense forced a bunch of turnovers and the offense wasn't turning it over. The first five games of the Chiefs winning streak they forced 14 turnovers and didn't lose a turnover. Alex Smith nearly set an NFL record for consecutive passes without an interception. Jeremy Maclin had one drop in 120 targets this year. Charcandrick West (who?) and Spencer Ware (who?) are actually running the ball better on a per carry basis than Jamaal Charles was earlier this year. This is a team that is deep and very smart. The biggest thing here has to be the defense though. I pitied the fools facing the Chiefs defense. The offense played well enough to win but it was the defense that was the true star of the show, and I can't really pick out one area. I love the secondary with Eric Berry, Sean Smith, and Marcus Peters, I love the pass rush with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston (when healthy). I love the defensive line with Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard, and Allen Bailey. The defense gets the most credit for the Chiefs turnaround while complemented nicely by the Chiefs offense.
2) What does this offense look like without Jamaal Charles? How were they still so effective in his absence?
Credit backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, along with the offensive line. Most people thought Knile Davis would be the man but the Chiefs went to West after Jamaal's injury and later they found Ware. West is the lead back. He is similar to Jamaal in that he can do just about everything - he's just not quite the pass catcher or as explosive as Jamaal (but still explosive). West is a good pass blocker and can play on third down. Ware is more of the bruiser. He won't play as many snaps as West but he can still be very effective. For example, Ware had 29 snaps last week and 16 carries. Decent chance he's getting the ball when he's in. The Chiefs are at their best when they have a lead in the fourth quarter and they're using both West and Ware to wear down the defense (yes, it takes all my restraint not to make a bunch of "Ware 'em down" puns). I should also credit the Chiefs offensive line. They're a better run block team than pass block team and it showed with these backs.
3) Which has been a more important addition to the Chiefs' defense this year compared to 2014 - Marcus Peters' emergence as a stud rookie corner, or Eric Berry's return after kicking cancer's ass?
Geez, tough question. Because the Chiefs were deeper at safety last year I will say Marcus Peters. The Chiefs were not very good early on this season when Sean Smith was suspended. He came back and the Chiefs have been much better because they have two solid corners. The thing about Peters, he is getting BETTER as the season goes on. He's not hitting the rookie wall. Basically, he's been turning opposing quarterbacks into bad Peyton Manning. He's the defensive rookie of the year and there's some real buzz here in KC that he should be the team MVP.
4) I'm not saying that the Chiefs will lose, but IF they lose in the first round of the playoffs again, will Andy Reid's job security be affected at all?
Not at all. Reid has two more years left on his deal. Clark Hunt has talked about continuity in the past but he has not practiced that with Herm Edwards, Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel lasting a few years each (or just one year in Romeo's case) in the past decade. That needs to change with Reid and Hunt seems to know it. The Chiefs have been clamoring for a return to the good 'ol days of the 1990s when they were always competitive. Well, I always wished someone would tell you when you're in the good 'ol days and, folks, the Chiefs are in the good 'ol days right now. Andy Reid is here for the long haul, and he should be. If you don't fire the guy at 1-5, you don't fire him after 11-5.
5) Put your name on it: The final score for this game will be Chiefs ____, Texans ____. Why?
I am picking the Chiefs to continue what the Royals started. I know the Texans have changed since Week 1 but so have the Chiefs. Dontari Poe was coming off offseason surgery, Derrick Johnson was playing in his first game since tearing his Achilles, Eric Berry was't a full time player yet after returning from cancer, Marcus Peters was a rookie and Sean Smith wasn't playing. This is the time the Chiefs end their 20-plus year winning streak. They're going back to Houston where they last won a playoff game in 1994. The Royals did it. It feels like this has to happen. I'll go 24-16 Chiefs.
A big thank you to Joel for stopping by for the second time this season. You can get more updates on this weekend's game from a Chiefs perspective over at Arrowhead Pride if you feel so inclined. As always, please play nice while you are over there...for all of our sakes.
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