The secret is out on our Chiefs. We loyal brethren have suffered through thick and thin, waiting for this moment: fielding a relevant team. Now all the talking heads are on the bandwagon too. Could you envision in your wildest dreams the storyline heading into Week 6 being, “are the Chiefs really this good or is their record a farce?” While it drives me nuts to listen to that argument play out, I have to remember that it’s the best kind of argument you want to hear being discussed about your team.
The problem I have now is the fair-weather fans and TV analysts that think they know this team…OUR team. I can’t listen anymore to how well “Alex Smith has managed games and failed to turn the ball over.” Congrats on your award-worthy commentary Mr. TV-Hack. What about, “this team will go as far as its top-rated defense will take it”? Another dynamite drop-in Monty, that broadcasting school really paid off. Let’s leave the in-depth analysis to ones who actually know this team inside and out, and can shed more light on the team aside from the so-obvious-tidbits-that-everyone-who-has-ever-watched-football-can-point-them-out. On that note, here are three players that will make the difference between the Chiefs sneaking in as a Wild Card team or making a claim as one of the best teams in the NFL:
1) Donnie Avery
He has quietly been the best offseason addition by John Dorsey and I truly hope his shoulder injury isn’t serious. While it would certainly prove my point if he had to sit out by letting you see what this offense looks like without him, my pride as a fan is much too great to hope for that.
Avery is quite simply, the ONLY reason that defenses have to respect the deep ball when facing the Chiefs offense. While Dwayne Bowe has been a nonfactor, partially because of Reid's offensive scheme working completely opposite to his strengths as a WR, he’s also been garnering the attention of double-teams and man-under with the Cover-1 safety leaning to his side of the field. In years past, this has typically been the case but Bowe would make a ridiculous jump ball catch in the endzone on a duck flubbed into the air by some turd named Cassel or Palko or Quinn. Or he would be nonexistent all game and then take a quick slant and go to the house. Now that the slants are almost nonexistent in this offense that relies more heavily on drags and crossing routes and multi-level high-low reads, his only hope is the deep jump ball. The problem is, he can’t outrun anyone and Alex Smith throws the worst deep ball in the NFL (that is, IF he ever throws it). What does that mean? He is the non-factor we’ve seen so far with 17 catches through 5 games at a 10.8 ypc average.
Quite the contrary, Donnie Avery, while catching 1 less ball so far this season (16) has managed a 19.0 ypc average, almost doubling Bowe’s production. The fact that he has executed this in Reid’s offense that thrives in 5-8 passes is astonishing. Avery has managed to get himself so wide open deep (partly because of the coverage rolling to Bowe and partly due to his game changing speed) that even Smith can't screw up getting the ball to him. To put it simply, the guy is a gamebreaker.
Avery’s 16 catches account for 14.8% of the receptions on the team and while he’s targeted a bit more (16% of targets go to Avery), what really explains his value is the fact that he still accounts for 25.3% of the receiving yards. His average of 19 ypc is also well above the team average of 11.0 ypc. He is getting less opportunities and making the most out of them.
Defenses are forced to respect his speed and big play potential and when they don’t, he kills them (ie. Vs. Philly and last week against Tenn). The fact of the matter is that he had 3 catches for 91 yds last week against the Titans and he was badly underthrown on 2 of them. If Smith hit him in stride, 2 of those would have been TDs instead of just long catches. So he is putting up this production despite the complete inability of Smith to play to his strengths.
This is why if Avery goes down or if the shoulder injury appears to be more serious than it looks currently, the offense is in trouble. Avery is the only reason teams need to respect the deep ball against Andy Reid's offense and can't put 9 men in the box and play tight man on everyoen else. Here’s hoping he’s healthy and we keep feeding him the ball to make things happen. I’ve always been a Bowe fan, but it’s Avery who will make the difference on how far this team will go when they are forced to put points on the board to keep up.
2) Marcus Cooper
You must be thinking this guy’s lost his damn mind if he’s telling me an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers that was picked up on waivers is really going to make a difference on this stout defense. You may be right, but I think the difference between this defense being “very good” and “simply unbeatable” lies with Marcus Cooper.
Cooper has literally soared up the depth chart and now for 2 games (Flowers was hurt vs. the Giants) is playing man coverage on the #2 WR of the opponent. This has allowed Sean Smith (one of the best cover corners in the league) to lock down the #1 WR, and put All-Pro CB Brandon Flowers on the slot receiver. I’ve always thought B-Flowers was a hidden gem at CB, but he has always struggled against bigger receivers. By putting the big, physical, Cooper on the #2 WR, it has allowed Flowers to defend the slot, typically a smaller & quicker WR where he can excel. The Chiefs have gone in the span of one season from forcing Flowers to defend the #1 stud WR on every offense he has faced, forcing a bunch of nobody's at the CB position to cover #2’s, to having him take the slot WR out of the equation. By acting as a #3 CB (with the talent of a #1), this has given opposing offenses fits.
Marcus Cooper is the reason the Chiefs have the luxury of moving Flowers over the slot. Cooper will make rookie mistakes (see: pass interference penalty vs. the Titans), but he will also make incredible plays seen more often in a 5-year veteran picked in the 1st round than in an undrafted rookie (see: Cooper's athletic interception vs. Titans).
But don’t the Chiefs have a great defense anyway without him? Yes. However, Cooper may be the key to defeating the mighty Broncos when it matters most. If Cooper proves his play has not been a fluke, that means KC can isolate Sean Smith on Demaryius Thomas, have Cooper take on Eric Decker, allowing Flowers to focus on Wes Welker. If Powe continues his pressure up the middle and Hali and Houston collapse the edges, then I like our chances playing tight man-to-man with that crew. Only time will tell, but Marcus Cooper provides us with the ability to dream that dream.
3) Sean McGrath
When the season started, I felt that a position which had recently been a weakness was now a position of strength. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to see my Chiefs trot out guys like Jake O’Connell, Kevin Boss, Steve Maneri, Anthony Becht, and the 8-ft tall and unathletic Leonard Pope at the TE position. Finally this year before the season it felt like the Chiefs had adequately addressed the spot.
While I’ve always liked Moeaki, we've learned that he just cannot be relied upon to stay healthy. So when KC brought in a reliable, if not underwhelming, Anthony Fasano paired with the dynamic rookie, Travic Kelce, keeping Moeaki as a #3 TE (when healthy), I was considering that a coup d'état. Instead, Moeaki went on IR, Kelce never saw the field, and Fasano has only played in 2 games. One would think that would lead to a complete implosion at the TE position. Well when I saw Kevin Brock and some dude that looks like he’s on Duck Dynasty named Sean McGrath on the field for the Chiefs (and - [gasp] - getting passes thrown their way!), I thought for sure the sky had fallen on the season. As it turns out, McGrath can ball.
Sean McGrath wasn’t just an unknown, he was an enigma. He came out of a school called Henderson State and without Google I wouldn’t be able to tell you it’s a Division-II school in Arkansas that competes in the Great American Conference. Aside from having possibly the best conference name I’ve ever heard, it’s not really known for churning out NFL prospects. Even if you may have heard of the conference, or school, it’s not likely you had a guy with the 10th best receiving season for Henderson State on your radar. Tenth. Best. Receiving season. For Henderson State.
All he’s done is step into this pass catching, beard-growing badass who has allowed the crucial TE position in Andy Reid’s offense to flourish as it should. While he won’t make you forget about a guy named Tony Gonzalez anytime soon, he’s just what the Chiefs needed when they turned to their 4th string option at a key position to make this offense work.