The come-from-behind win has the Chiefs set up to surge at the right time.
The big team win in Carolina marks a team on the rise. The Kansas City Chiefs look like they can get stronger in three areas over the latter half of the 2016 season. If they do, an AFC Championship can be within reach.
…that step forward could become a giant leap for Chiefs-kind.
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There are several factors pointing to the Chiefs being a rising team. Kansas City has already put together one of the five best records in the NFL and is currently sitting in second place in the AFC. Now, they are set to get another huge piece of the roster back on the field. Few things could be bigger.
The return of Justin Houston is imminent. He was back out at practice to start the week Wednesday. When Andy Reid was asked about his possible return to the field again the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Reid responded:
“We’ll just see. He was feeling pretty good last week. He says that he’s feeling pretty good today, so we’ll get him out there, and see what he can do and move him around a little bit. We’re heading in that direction.“
An Elite pass rusher in this league when healthy, Justin Houston could make this front-seven a premiere unit in the second half of 2016.
And Justin Houston will not be alone. Dee Ford has been playing with his hair on fire. He continues to progress as a pass rusher and all-around outside linebacker. Ford has been on a tear over the last few weeks and now stands tied for the NFL lead in sacks. The duo will work in a rotation with Tamba Hali and have more interior rush thanks to rookie Chris Jones. All told, it forms what could be the most potent passrush in recent Chiefs memory.
The Chiefs offense is a different story
The Chiefs offense has been up and down over the last few weeks. Injuries have been the biggest factor holding that unit down. The injury bug has been an ongoing issue in Kansas City. We looked at one key example with Brandon Thorn from Inside the Pylon. Here’s the show:
Alex Smith did not look like himself against Carolina, despite returning from his non-concussion injury that held him out the week prior. Spencer ware, on the other hand, has returned to his normal level of play. Mitchell Schwartz has been playing through a high ankle sprain for weeks and his performance has understandably fallen off a bit. The number of false starts could be related to compensating for the injury.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 30: Jeremy Maclin
The big concern for the Chiefs’ offense is Jeremy Maclin. He was not able to practice to start the week. Without him against the Panthers, we saw the offense struggle with its lowest passing performance of the season. Smith threw for only 178 yards, an interception and an abysmal 7.12 yards per completion. On the bright side, the team ran for 4.6 yards per carry on the day. That is the Chiefs’ best ground outing since game 5 against the Raiders.
In his absence, the young group of wide receivers will have to improve. Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley need to take a step forward. They had a combined for 11 receptions on 16 targets in Carolina. So long as Alex Smith can settle back into his pre-injury groove, the passing will jump when Maclin is able to return. Down the stretch, If Maclin can have two complimentary receivers in the lineup with him, the passing offense can take another big step forward.
There is still more firepower to potentially be had. It’s a longshot but if Jamaal Charles can return from his meniscus injury, that step forward could become a giant leap for Chiefs-kind.
Flexing the Nov 17th game into the Sunday Night Football primetime slot is a sure sign that the NFL sees the team as a contender. The secondary has been improving steadily for such a young group. Only Ron Parker and Eric Berry have more than three seasons experience.
It certainly helps to have a leader like Eric Berry, who made the play of the week and earned the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award. Marcus Peters continues to find ways to make an impact. He has seen fewer passes thrown his way in the last 4 weeks, but Peters is still tied for the league lead with 5 interceptions. The defense has only given up and average of 15.2 points during the current 5-game win streak.
Now, the secondary is even being considered among the league’s best. They are even being compared to units like Denver and Seattle by the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah:
An aggressive, playmaking secondary is a critical piece to a championship team. This Chiefs unit has already seen New Orleans and Pittsburgh. Facing teams like Atlanta, Oakland, and San Diego, all of whom are top-5 passing offenses, will test and hone this group further. Then they’ll be better prepared for a deep playoff or dare I say it, a Championship run.
What do you think this team can do, Addicts?
KANSAS CITY, MO – SEPTEMBER 17: Outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) of the Kansas City Chiefs sacks quarterback Peyton Manning (18) of the Denver Broncos as Ryan Harris (68) blocks during the first half of play at Arrowhead Stadium. The Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Denver Broncos on Thursday, September 17, 2015. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)