Keeler: Say it loud and say it proud — this Chiefs defense is for real
The game ball, of course, is going to go to that killer fourth-quarter drive, the one that allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to nibble away eight minutes of clock and little pieces of Chip Kelly’s heart, all in one fell swoop. It was old-school. It was brutal. It was gorgeous.
But one of the other key moments of Andy Reid’s 26-16 homecoming win over the Philadelphia Eagles — one that’ll probably get overlooked in the rush to find room on the 3-0 bandwagon — came a whole lot earlier than that.
If you don’t love this stinking defense, if you don’t believe in this stinking defense, you should. And here’s why:
Midway through the third quarter late Thursday night, trailing 16-6 at home, the Eagles were on the march. The Chiefs had gained just 21 yards on their first possession of the second half, a nowhere possession punctuated by the stuffing of running back Jamaal Charles on third-and-1 for no gain, forcing a Kansas City punt.
Quarterback Michael Vick was picking up a bit of a rhythm again, having driven the hosts to the Kansas City 23 when a fortuitous contact penalty on Eric Berry wiped out a Kendrick Lewis interception and gave Philly the ball and a first down on the Kansas City 18. Given the speed of the Eagles’ no-huddle attack, and the wheels of scatback LeSean McCoy, a 10-point lead felt more like three.
As McCoy worked off the left tackle for seven yards to the Chiefs’ 11, the momentum continued to tilt toward the green. The crowd stirred. The Eagles were supposed to be a sleeping tiger, one that had been poked with a stick too many times already.
On second and 3, Berry deflected away a pass meant for tight end Brent Celek. On third and 3, Vick’s shot in the end zone fell incomplete.
The engine stalled at the 11. The Eagles settled for a 29-yard field goal with 6:29 left in the period, trimming the lead to seven. The tiger closed its eyes and went back to sleep.
The Chiefs served notice Thursday night, nationally and loudly — and not just with the franchise’s first 3-0 start to a season since 2010. Going into the fourth quarter, an Eagles offense that had run roughshod over Washington and San Diego in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively, had totaled just seven gains of 15 yards or more, and 16 that accounted for three yards or less.
The zone read is dependent on delicate, choreographed timing and execution, just like any sort of option play. Mess that timing up and the roof caves in. When it’s running seamlessly, it’s a Porsche. When the skill guys muff the exchanges, it’s a Yugo. The Chiefs got inside Vick’s head five minutes into the contest thanks to Berry’s 38-yard pick-six, one that gave the visitors a quick, stunning 9-0 lead.
They never really left.
But then again, that’s what great defenses do, don’t they? Week 1, after they’d basically pitched a shutout in Jacksonville, sacking quarterback Blaine Gabbert six times in a 28-2 romp, out came the caveats: It was just Gabbert. It was only the Jags.
Week 2, they sacked Dallas’ Tony Romo three times, forced two turnovers and allowed the Cowboys to convert on just three of 11 third-down opportunities. Which was followed by more caveats: Well, the Eagles are a different beast. Let’s see how they do against a scoring machine, on the road, during a short week of prep time.
The Eagles came into Week 3 having averaged 31.5 points and 295.5 passing yards a contest. They left it with Justin Houston’s cleat marks up and down their respective backsides.
The scoring machine was sacked five times (3.5 of them at the hands of Houston), turned it over five times, and converted just three of 10 third-down opportunities. Kelly can’t hurt you if his quarterback is standing on the sideline next to him, arms folded.
Where are the caveats now?
What’s old is new again, and the longer this party goes, the more these Chiefs keep evoking the glories of MartyBall: Run the ball, take care of the rock, roll with an efficient, unflashy offense that can pick up the tough yards when it has to, where it has to.
Then, as now, the defense is the star, the alpha dog. You wonder how Reid, a noted quarterbacking and offensive guru, is with this. Although the last time The Andy Gang had a club start 3-0, it was 2004, and he was coaching the Eagles. That team wound up second in the NFL in points allowed and 10th in yardage surrendered. It danced all the way to the Super Bowl.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.