AFC West: Eric Fisher

The Kansas City Chiefs drafted last year for the first time with John Dorsey as their general manager and Andy Reid as their head coach. This will be a much different draft for the Chiefs, who had four of the top 99 picks last year. They have just one of the top 86 this year.

But a look back can provide some idea of what the Chiefs can expect from this year’s draft.

 

The season behind: The Chiefs didn’t get much from this group when they were rookies. In fact, their rookie of the year was a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, cornerback Marcus Cooper. Fisher started 13 games at right tackle but his season wasn’t what could reasonably be expected from the first overall pick in the draft. His play was uneven at best, particularly earlier in the season. He struggled as a pass-blocker against stronger opponents and their power moves. He proved unreliable, missing three regular-season starts plus the playoff game with injuries ranging from shoulder to concussion to groin. The Chiefs were counting on productive playing time from Kelce and Commings before injuries cost them all of their rookie seasons. Kelce in the preseason developed a knee ailment that eventually required surgery. Commings broke his collarbone during the first practice of training camp. The Chiefs were hopeful Johnson could be a starter at inside linebacker, but a preseason injury set him back and he never made a serious challenge. Kush and Catapano were drafted as developmental players and that’s the role both settled into, though injuries forced the Chiefs to use Catapano at times and he showed some pass-rush ability. Wilson was a huge disappointment, even as a sixth-round pick. He was cut during the preseason and the Chiefs didn’t think enough of him to bring him back to their practice squad.

The seasons ahead: Fisher may be the only full-time player from this group again in 2014, but it’s reasonable to believe the Chiefs could still get some production from the others -- Wilson being the exception. The Chiefs are confident that despite his rocky debut season, Fisher will eventually become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. He will move over to left tackle after playing on the right side and should benefit greatly from an offseason in the Chiefs’ weight program. Commings could wind up as the starter at free safety if the Chiefs don’t draft a player to fill that position. Otherwise, the Chiefs will look for ways to get him on the field. He was going to challenge for playing time in their nickel defense last year before his injury. The Chiefs are eager to get Kelce involved in their passing game. He was very involved before his injury. The Chiefs lined him up in a variety of spots to best use his ability to get down the field and beat coverage to make catches. Davis became more involved as last season went on and should get more playing time this year, assuming the leg he broke in the playoff game allows him to and his fumbling habit doesn’t reappear. Eventually, Davis could be the replacement for Jamaal Charles. At 227 pounds, he’s bigger and more powerful than Charles and he’s fast for a player his size. He probably won’t ever give the Chiefs what Charles delivered as a pass receiver last season. It speaks to what the Chiefs think of Johnson that one of their first moves in free agency was to sign veteran Joe Mays to be a starter at inside linebacker. Johnson may be a special-teamer for whatever remains of his Chiefs career. Catapano may never develop into a full-time player but his ability as a pass-rusher gives him a shot at a lesser role. Similarly, Kush may continue to be a backup, but watch what the Chiefs do with starting center Rodney Hudson, who is scheduled to become a free agent next year. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Chiefs, Kush could inherit the spot if he develops as the Chiefs hope.

Best pick: As expected for the first overall pick, Fisher should become this draft’s best player. Despite his struggles last season, he frequently showed the athletic ability a great offensive tackle needs. But Kelce should eventually become the best pick from a value standpoint. He could become the Chiefs’ best pass receiver at tight end since the traded Tony Gonzalez.

Worst pick: Since Wilson couldn’t hang around until the end of his rookie preseason, he has to qualify, for now. The others still have a chance to be productive players. But the situation doesn’t look good for Johnson, either. As an inside linebacker, he would be a part-time player, coming out of the game on passing downs. But the Chiefs evidently believe he’s not advanced enough to handle it yet.
The notion of building a team though the NFL draft and using free agency as a mere supplemental tool is a proven one. The NFL teams that have been successful over long periods during the free-agency era have generally used this method.

But it puts a lot of pressure on a team to get things right each year through the draft. It doesn’t have to get one or more eventual Pro Bowlers every year, but the teams that do in this way certainly can't afford to whiff in the draft, any draft.

Judging from their words and this year's actions, the Kansas City Chiefs plan on being one of those teams. That’s fine, but they had better use their six draft picks to maximum an advantage.

ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha takes it a step further in his latest column, suggesting no NFL team needs to get it right in this year’s draft more than the Chiefs. Chadiha writes that if the Chiefs don’t find more difference-makers, they’re primed to slide backward next season after winning 11 games and making the playoffs last year.

It's impossible to argue with that. Given the way the Chiefs wobbled the last half of last season, it was obvious they would need an upgrade at some key spots for this year. Not only has that yet to happen, but the Chiefs have watched as many of their competitors, including division rivals Denver and Oakland, loaded up.

But with just six picks and only one in the top 86, immediate expectations for this year’s draft should be minimal. Because of that, last year’s draft is more important to 2014 success for the Chiefs than this year’s crop of rookies.

As Chadiha noted, last year’s draft picks were disappointing as a group. The Chiefs' rookie of the year was Marcus Cooper, a cornerback they pulled off waivers at the beginning of the regular season, and not one of their own eight selections.

For the Chiefs to go anywhere in 2014, their 2013 rookies have to get better. Tackle Eric Fisher needs to play a lot more like the first overall pick in the draft. What running back Knile Davis gave them late last season, he needs to give all season. Tight end Travis Kelce and defensive back Sanders Commings have to overcome the injuries that ruined their rookie seasons and be the players the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted them.

If this happens, then the 2014 Chiefs can prosper without much immediate help from their rookies. If not, it might not matter how the Chiefs fare in this year’s draft.
After months of research, the Kansas City Chiefs determined around this time last year they would make an offensive tackle, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, the first pick in the NFL draft. While the Chiefs smiled and seemed pleased with their choice, there was also the understanding they were making the best of a less than ideal situation.

Fisher
The Chiefs had the first pick in the NFL draft for the first time ever and were faced with a largely unappetizing array of choices. The 2013 draft contained no can’t-miss quarterbacks or other franchise-rescuing players at other high-profile positions like outside linebacker, wide receiver or cornerback.

So the Chiefs went with Fisher, who projected to be a solid player but still seemed like a consolation prize.

Just how much of a consolation prize he was comes into better view by looking at what was available in the drafts immediately before and after. If the Chiefs had the first pick in the 2012 draft, they would now be quarterbacked by Andrew Luck.

If they had the top choice this year they could choose from a bounty that includes a player with uncommon pass-rush skills (South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney) or a can’t-miss wide receiver (Clemson’s Sammy Watkins), among others.

They could also have had any of three offensive tackles that ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said this week he would have rated ahead of Fisher if Fisher was available in this draft. Those tackles are Greg Robinson of Auburn, Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan.

“It’s a completely different year than last year,’’ Kiper said. “He would have been the fourth offensive tackle taken, probably somewhere between eight and 15 (overall).’’

So it’s the luck of the Chiefs that they were stuck with the draft’s top pick in a down year. Fisher’s rookie season was a rocky one, but there is reason to believe he won't become the player the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted him.

He is a very good player. But not the kind of franchise savior they could have picked had they drafted No. 1 in 2012 or 2014.
For those with ESPN Insider access, a team of ESPN’s personnel analysts (including former Colts general manager Bill Polian) have graded free agency for each of the NFL’s 32 teams. The Kansas City Chiefs ranked 16th for the things they have and haven’t done in free agency Insider, and received a C+.

Sanders
One analyst, Matt Williamson, a former scout with the Cleveland Browns, thought the Chiefs took too big a hit on their offensive line by letting starters Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz walk away in free agency. He will be proved right if Eric Fisher, appointed as Albert’s successor by coach Andy Reid, can’t adequately handle the starting left tackle spot, and the Chiefs don’t capably fill the vacant starting position at right guard.

The other analysts praised the Chiefs for their restraint in not overpaying for any of the five departing free agents. They suggested what I had written earlier, that losing Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the Denver Broncos was their biggest failure of free agency.

“Sanders would have been a perfect complement to Dwayne Bowe," wrote Louis Riddick, a former personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles.

While the Chiefs’ success in free agency was ranked in the middle of the league, they were second among teams from the AFC West. The other three teams were at or near one end of the spectrum or the other.

The Denver Broncos were rated fourth with a B+. The San Diego Chargers were 26th with a C, and the Oakland Raiders were 32nd and last with an F.
Branden AlbertPeter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins bolstered their O-line by agreeing to a five-year, $46 million deal with Brandon Albert.
NFL free agency kicked off with a bang Tuesday, and Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was one of the biggest names to switch teams. Albert signed a five-year, $46 million contract with Miami Dolphins. He spent the previous five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

One team’s loss is another team’s gain in free agency. ESPN.com’s Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in on both sides of the Albert signing.

James Walker: Adam, the Dolphins are ecstatic to land a player of Albert’s caliber. Pro Bowl left tackles do not grow on trees, and Albert was the highest-rated player at that position on the market. Albert also filled Miami’s biggest need on the offensive line, which was torn apart last season with the bullying controversy. The price tag wasn’t cheap. But the Dolphins feel it was worth the investment, especially after watching their quarterback get sacked a team-record 58 times last season. Albert will protect Ryan Tannehill’s blindside. Adam, how are the Chiefs dealing with the loss of Albert?

Adam Teicher: It’s a loss for the Chiefs for the short term without a doubt. Eventually, the Chiefs should be able to handle his departure. The Chiefs and Albert were so far apart on a long-term contract last year that they knew it was never going to happen. So they began preparing for this day last year by selecting a tackle, Eric Fisher, with the first pick in the draft. Fisher started as a rookie at right tackle but didn’t play well. He was a huge disappointment, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t eventually become the player the Chiefs envision. He needs a year in Kansas City’s weight program. That alone should make him better.

The Chiefs and Dolphins talked about a trade involving Albert last year. How disappointed was Miami they couldn’t acquire Albert then?

Walker: The Dolphins liked Albert last year, but the person calling the shots this year is different. Miami fired former general manager Jeff Ireland and hired new GM Dennis Hickey in January. Ireland liked to acquire picks as opposed to trading them away. So it wasn’t a shock when talks with Kansas City failed. It turned out to be a mistake as Miami’s offensive line was atrocious, which played a factor in Ireland losing his job. Hickey doesn’t want to make the same mistake. It appears he values the perks of a good offensive line and is making it a priority by putting money into Albert.

Adam, the Chiefs’ offensive line appears to be in transition with losses of Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz. How will they recover?

Teicher: They’ve tried to prepare for this. Over the last four drafts, the Chiefs have used five picks in the first three rounds on offensive linemen. Four of them will start next season. They have three developmental linemen and the Chiefs could slide one of them into a starting spot in the middle of the line. Their depth will definitely take a hit, particularly at tackle. They’ll have to find some backups and perhaps even a starter through free agency or the draft.

With regard to the offensive line, is anything left for the Dolphins to do or are they set?

Walker: The Dolphins are far from set, Adam. Unlike Kansas City, Miami has not invested much in the offensive line in the past year. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey is the only starting offensive lineman expected to return. Last year’s starting guards -- Richie Incognito and John Jerry -- will not return due to their involvement in Miami’s high-profile bullying scandal. Offensive tackles Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie are both unrestricted free agents who are long in the tooth. Pouncey and Albert are a solid foundation. But the Dolphins still need two starting guards and a right tackle to play alongside their two Pro Bowlers.

Moving day for many Chiefs?

March, 11, 2014
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The free-agent signing period begins Tuesday, and as of now the Chiefs have yet to re-sign any of their significant free agents. The parade appears to be lining up at the exit door. Left tackle Branden Albert is at the front, as he reportedly has already agreed on a contract with the Miami Dolphins. Receiver/punt returner Dexter McCluster, offensive linemen Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and linebacker Akeem Jordan could be right behind him.

The Chiefs have attempted to re-sign defensive end Tyson Jackson, and that could still happen. But the Chiefs didn't appear confident in that happening. They had arranged a free-agent meeting with defensive end Red Bryant before he signed last week with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Free safety Kendrick Lewis has been a longtime starter and is also a potential unrestricted free agent. But the Chiefs may be ready to move on from him.

The Chiefs have some money to spend in free agency and draft picks to use on potential replacements. In some cases they've already prepared for the eventuality of losing some of these free agents. They drafted tackle Eric Fisher in the first round last year knowing this day with Albert would probably come this year. They signed Weston Dressler of the Canadian Football League hoping he could be the next McCluster. Last year they drafted linebacker Nico Johnson and defensive back Sanders Commings, and they are possible replacements for Jordan and Lewis.

That doesn't mean this isn't an meaningful day for the Chiefs. With the exception of Jordan and Schwartz, who were signed to one-year, free-agent contracts last year, these players didn't join the Chiefs as stopgap players but as those they could build around. Albert and Jackson are former first-round draft picks. McCluster was drafted in the second round, Asamoah in the third, Lewis in the fifth.

More importantly, many should be heading into their prime seasons. Albert will turn 30 in November but plays a position where he could retain his skills for the life of the new contract he will sign. Jackson is 27; McCluster, Asamoah and Lewis are 25.

If they're all out the door at a single time, that's a hefty blow to the Chiefs. They made plenty of progress in the past year, going from two wins in 2012 to 11 victories and the playoffs in 2013. Continuing on that track will be difficult enough but perhaps impossible if they lose this entire group of players.

If the Chiefs fall back to the pack in 2014, they may look back on this day as a big reason why.

Some options for the Chiefs' OL

March, 10, 2014
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The NFL’s free-agent signing period begins Tuesday. Though teams have been able to talk with the representatives of prospective free agents since Saturday, no contracts can be signed until Tuesday.

Once that moment arrives, it shouldn’t take long for the Kansas City Chiefs to lose their left tackle of their last six seasons, Branden Albert. He reportedly will sign with the Miami Dolphins shortly after the signing period begins.

The Chiefs have two other free agent offensive linemen who could strike a deal with another club. Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah shared the starting right guard spot last season and one or both could depart as well. Though Albert is a Pro Bowler and plays a premium position, it would hurt the Chiefs more to lose Schwartz and Asamoah than Albert. The Chiefs began preparing for the eventuality they would lose Albert from the day they drafted Eric Fisher with the first overall choice last year. The Chiefs have Fisher and Donald Stephenson to play tackle and they believe both will soon develop into high-quality players.

The Chiefs don’t have that kind of depth in the middle of their line. In center Rodney Hudson and left guard Jeff Allen they have two young players in the same category as Fisher and Stephenson. But the rest of their offensive linemen are in the developmental category.

If the Chiefs lose Schwartz or Asamoah or both, they could turn to the draft to replace them. The Chiefs have the 23rd pick, but that’s their only selection among the top 86. They traded their second-round pick to San Francisco in last year’s deal that brought quarterback Alex Smith. One of the best guards is Stanford’s David Yankey. The Chiefs could plug him in as their right guard from the start. One problem with using a rookie there is that the Chiefs already have a young offensive line. If the Chiefs lose Albert, Asamoah and Schwartz, Stephenson becomes the oldest of their linemen and he doesn’t turn 26 until September. Hudson, with three years of experience, is the eldest of the group in that regard.

Free agency is another option for the Chiefs. The problem there is that, according to Pro Football Focus, Schwartz and Asamoah are the best available free-agent guards. PFF has them rated 1 and 2, so the Chiefs would be taking a step or two backward no matter whom they sign, in theory at least.

The Chiefs could also promote into the starting lineup one of the developmental linemen on their roster. They have three: Eric Kush, Rishaw Johnson and Rokevious Watkins. The Chiefs got a peek at all three when they started the final regular-season game last year in San Diego. Each had a negative grade in the game, according to PFF’s system. Watkins particularly struggled with his pass blocking and Kush his run blocking. Johnson distinguished himself in neither area.

One of them could wind up in the Chiefs’ starting lineup next season. Those chances increase if the Chiefs fail to re-sign either Asamoah or Schwartz.
On to this week's questions:
 
General manager John Dorsey denied Friday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that the Kansas City Chiefs have determined they will not re-sign left tackle Branden Albert, as recently reported by a Kansas City radio station.

Albert
Fisher
"That’s the first I’ve heard about it," Dorsey said. "We have ongoing conversations with all of our unrestricted free agents. It just so happens we’ve had conversations with Brandon’s representatives, and that’s the beauty of the combine. Those guys are here. We will continue to have conversations with those representatives as the combine passes."

Tackle Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's NFL draft and a starter as a rookie opposite Albert, is widely expected to replace Albert as the Chiefs' left tackle in 2014. Said Dorsey of Fisher: “Right now, he’s our right tackle."

That said, don't look for Albert to return to the Chiefs next season. The Chiefs and Albert were nowhere close to an agreement on a long-term contract last year, and that prospect appears unlikely this year unless one side has a dramatic change of position.

The Chiefs retained Albert as their franchise player last year, and that option exists again this year. But Dorsey indicated it was unlikely the Chiefs would have a franchise player in 2014.

Fisher had an uneven rookie season. He looked lost to begin the year, but finished a bit better. A year in the Chiefs' weight program should help Fisher improve immensely. At any rate, as Dorsey continued to talk about Fisher, he sure didn't sound like he was speaking about a player who will continue to play right tackle.

“The one thing I’m proud about Eric is that he made great strides as the season went along," Dorsey said. "You could see a great degree of comfort with him in the second half of the season.

"I’ve always said that between the first and second year, that’s when those guys make their greatest strides. I expect great things from Eric in his second year."

Franchise/transition tags: Chiefs

February, 17, 2014
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It makes no sense for the Kansas City Chiefs to use the franchise or transition tag on any of their prospective free agents this year. None of those players could be considered essential for the Chiefs next season or beyond. The Chiefs will also be tight to the salary cap and would find it difficult to take on another bloated, one-year salary.

The only potential free agent worthy of the franchise tag is veteran left tackle Branden Albert. He played in 2013 as the franchise player at a one-year salary of almost $10 million, but the Chiefs drafted another tackle, Eric Fisher, with the No. 1 overall pick last year. Fisher started as the right tackle last season and could move over to the left side to replace Albert in 2014. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have in backup Donald Stephenson a player they believe to be good enough to be a starter.

The estimated one-year cost for the Chiefs to retain Albert in 2014 is more than $11 million. Albert, who is a good player, made the Pro Bowl last season for the first time in his six-year NFL career.

But he missed five starts in 2012 because of back spasms and four games in 2013 because of a hyperextended knee. He has played in all 16 games for the Chiefs just once, so his durability is a question.

Fisher wasn’t anyone’s idea of a Pro Bowl tackle last season. He struggled as a rookie on a few occasions to the point he probably deserved to be benched. But the Chiefs believe Fisher has Pro Bowl potential. Another year in their weight program should help him progress as a player next season.

Likewise, Stephenson will never be a Pro Bowler, but he is an adequate player who will cost the Chiefs a little more than $750,000 against their cap next season. There’s isn’t more than $10 million worth of difference between Albert and Stephenson.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 10
Preseason Power Ranking: 19

Biggest surprise: The Chiefs plucked rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, off waivers to start the regular season. Cooper played better than the Chiefs had a right to expect for a long stretch of the season as the third cornerback. He had a rough stretch late in the season before bouncing back at the end. At 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Cooper has the size to match up with the league's bigger receivers. Cooper projects as nothing less than the Chiefs' third cornerback next season and could eventually become a starter.

Biggest disappointment: Offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the first overall pick in the draft last year but rarely played like it. The Chiefs used Fisher on the right side, and he initially had trouble making the transition. He also had trouble avoiding nagging injuries, which caused him to miss four games, including the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Fisher should eventually develop into the kind of player the Chiefs envisioned. He showed great athletic skills that will help him reach his potential. Fisher was usually unable to anchor against a strong pass rush and that's where many of his problems occurred. A year in Kansas City's strength program will benefit Fisher greatly.

Biggest need: The Chiefs need a fast wide receiver to energize their passing game. They gambled by giving Dwayne Bowe a lucrative long-term contract last offseason, but Bowe didn't play like a No. 1 wide receiver until the playoff loss to the Colts. Bowe will turn 30 next season, so if nothing else, it's time for the Chiefs to plan for someone else to step into that top receiver's role. The Chiefs have a couple of fast wide receivers in Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. While Avery delivered some big plays, he dropped too many passes and disappeared too many times. Jenkins hasn't been able to establish himself as a consistent threat.

Team MVP: The Chiefs have at least a couple of defensive candidates but the better choice is running back Jamaal Charles. He supplied much of Kansas City's offensive production, particularly early in the season when the offense around him frequently sputtered. Charles led the league in touchdowns and expanded his game to become a much more dangerous pass-catcher. Coach Andy Reid and his offensive staff did a much better job of getting Charles matched up against linebackers in the open field, and he rewarded them with a number of big plays. If the Chiefs had not lost five of their final seven regular-season games, Charles would have been a strong candidate for league MVP.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs remained hopeful that outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who has had swelling in his knee, would be available for Saturday's wild-card game against the Colts in Indianapolis (4:35 p.m. ET, NBC). Hali was listed as questionable, meaning he has a 50-50 chance of playing, on the Chiefs' injury report.

Hali
Hali didn't play in last week's game in San Diego nor did he practice this week. The Chargers' game was only the second of his career that Hali has missed because of injury, the other happening in 2008.

The Chiefs are still hoping to pair Hali with outside linebacker Justin Houston, who on Saturday will play for the first time in six weeks. Houston dislocated his elbow in a Nov. 24 game against the Chargers. Both players had 11 sacks this season.

If Hali can't play, he would be replaced by veteran Frank Zombo. Zombo did a nice job of filling in for Houston. Zombo had two sacks and an interception in five starts.

The Chiefs will play against the Colts without rookie right tackle Eric Fisher, the first pick in this year's draft. Fisher injured his groin in practice this week and was listed as out for the game on the injury report.

He will be replaced by Donald Stephenson, who started three games for Fisher this season and four for Branden Albert at left tackle. Albert missed the last four games with a hyperextended knee and will play on Saturday for the first time since the injury.

Injury situation could be interesting

December, 4, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Going to be interesting to see who is able to practice for the Kansas City Chiefs Wednesday as they begin preparation for this weekend's game against the Redskins in Washington.

Albert
Left tackle Branden Albert has a hyperextended knee and though he could play against Washington, it might be too soon for him to participate in practice in any significant way. If he doesn't practice, look for the Chiefs to keep Donald Stephenson at left tackle and Eric Fisher on the right side.

The Chiefs probably would have made a move for a tight end if they thought tight end Anthony Fasano (concussion) would be out for an extended period. They still could do that, of course, and could promote one of their practice squad tight ends to the active roster if need be. But Fasano's situation is one to watch. His loss would be a significant one. He has a touchdown catch in each of the past three games.

Don't expect linebacker Justin Houston back in time for this week's game. He had ligament and muscle damage in his elbow, so he's probably another week or two away.

Safety Kendrick Lewis was able to play last week's game after injuring his knee, but there could be some residual soreness there.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 13

December, 2, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 35-28 loss to the Denver Broncos:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Cooper and Eric Decker
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelMarcus Cooper struggled to contain Denver's wide receivers.
Trouble at cornerback: After playing well in the early part of the season, rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper had his third straight poor game. Cooper missed a jam at the line against wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on one play during the third quarter, leaving Thomas alone to catch a short pass and turn it into a 77-yard gain. Cooper recovered to tackle Thomas down the field, but the play set up the touchdown that put the Broncos ahead for good. The Chiefs were determined to take away the crossing routes than San Diego repeatedly burned them on last week, but that left Cooper and the other cornerbacks vulnerable to the deep pass.

Big play from Davis: Rookie running back Knile Davis had the biggest game of his NFL career. He returned a kickoff a team-record 108 yards for a touchdown, and he also carried once for 20 yards and caught two passes for 18 yards. Davis, a third-round draft pick from Arkansas, is a logical player for the Chiefs to try in their effort to improve their offense. Playing him on offense requires the Chiefs to take Jamaal Charles out of the game, but giving Davis the ball eight to 10 times a game could be worth the effort. At 227 pounds, Davis is big enough to make his own hole and also fast enough to be a big-play threat.

Injury update: The Chiefs appear to have lost starting left tackle Branden Albert for an extended period with a left knee injury. Albert was taken from the field in the back of a motorized cart, and the Chiefs were expecting to learn from his MRI on Monday that Albert has ligament damage. He was replaced at left tackle by Donald Stephenson, who filled in for Albert last season when he missed time with back spasms. Rookie Eric Fisher, the first player taken in this year's draft, will stay for the time being at right tackle. The Chiefs may also be without tight end Anthony Fasano on Sunday against the Redskins in Washington; he has a concussion. Fasano had become a threat in the red zone. Against the Broncos he caught a touchdown for the third straight game. The only other tight end on the active roster is Sean McGrath.

Playoff primer: At 9-3, the Chiefs are only a game behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West standings. But the Broncos in effect lead the Chiefs by a game and a half. They swept the season series from Kansas City, and would win any tiebreaker between the teams. The Chiefs will have to finish with a better record than Denver in order to win the division title.

Locker Room Buzz: Kansas City Chiefs

November, 18, 2013
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DENVER -- Observed in the locker room following the Kansas City Chiefs' 27-17 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday night:

Smith
Calling it closely: Both sides were penalized in the secondary for holding and pass interference in the secondary. Cornerback Sean Smith said it didn’t take long to understand how the officials were calling the game. "They throw a couple of flags and you understand you get one quick pop and then you’d better get your hands off," he said.

Forsaking the field goal: Coach Andy Reid initially sent Ryan Succop on to the field for an untimed down after a Denver penalty at the end of the first half for what would have been a 64-yard field goal attempt. Then, after seeing the Broncos send returner Trindon Holliday out to return the kick, Reid changed his mind and had the Chiefs try one more offensive play that didn’t come close to the Denver end zone. "(Sixty-four yards) is a pretty good shot, even in the high altitude," Reid said.

Injury update: Two starters on the offensive and defensive lines were injured in the defeat. Right tackle Eric Fisher injured his shoulder, guard Jon Asamoah his calf, defensive end Mike DeVito sprained his knee and defensive end Tyson Jackson strained his abdomen. Fisher, DeVito and Jackson were scheduled for MRIs.

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