AFC West: Justin Houston

Camp preview: Kansas City Chiefs

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation reporter Adam Teicher examines the three biggest issues facing the Kansas City Chiefs heading into training camp.

Where is Houston? Having outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick in 2011, outside linebacker Justin Houston was absent for all the offseason practices, including the mandatory minicamp. Since Houston’s only leverage for getting a contract extension this year is to stay away from camp until he gets it, it's unlikely he will show without a new deal. That would be a tough blow for the Chiefs. Houston is their top proven pass-rusher and arguably their best all-around defensive player. The pass rush, which was on a record pace for sacks over the first half of last season, sagged measurably after a dislocated elbow caused him to miss the final five regular-season games. The Chiefs would not be left without quality edge pass-rushers. Veteran Tamba Hali, another Pro Bowler, is on the other side, and the Chiefs drafted Auburn’s Dee Ford in the first round. Ford looked promising as a pass-rusher during offseason practice, but it’s a bit much to expect him to immediately be as versatile as Houston. Ford was a defensive end in college and has much to learn before he is on Houston’s level.

Who is at corner? The Chiefs released Brandon Flowers last month, leaving them perilously thin at cornerback. With the exception of 5-foot-9 nickelback Chris Owens, all their remaining cornerbacks are big and capable of getting physical with opposing receivers, as the Chiefs prefer. But the quality is a concern. Veteran Sean Smith steps in as the top cornerback, and he held his own as a starter last season. Marcus Cooper will at least begin camp as the other starter. As a rookie, he played well for the first half of last season as the third cornerback, but his play tailed off badly in the second half, to the point that the Chiefs benched him. Cooper has the physical tools to be a decent starter, but he showed over the final few games of last season that he has a lot to learn. The Chiefs drafted Phillip Gaines of Rice in the third round this year, but during offseason practice it didn’t look like he was ready to contribute. Journeyman Ron Parker played well in his one start last season. But he got a lot of playing time during the offseason and was often exposed.

A rebound for Bowe? In September, Dwayne Bowe turns 30, an ominous age for a wide receiver because that is when many begin to lose their skills. That process might already have started for Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013. Still, Bowe represents the Chiefs’ most realistic hope for improvement at what was largely an unproductive position last season. The Chiefs added former Canadian League star Weston Dressler and drafted speedy De'Anthony Thomas in the fourth round, but they are slot receivers and are merely trying to replace the production lost with the free-agent departure of Dexter McCluster. Otherwise, the Chiefs will go with the same uninspiring cast of receivers as last season, meaning Bowe needs to get back to what he was earlier in his career. That is not an unreasonable expectation. Bowe was never particularly fast, so he doesn’t have a lot of speed to lose. The Chiefs need to do a better job of playing to his strengths, the main one being his ability to find yards after the catch. The Chiefs should get back to the bubble screens that were so productive for Bowe earlier in his career.
Justin HoustonDavid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCTKansas City's top pass-rusher, Justin Houston, has 26.5 sacks in his past 32 games.
Those of us who regularly watch the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t find this to be news, but the confirmation was welcome, anyway. Pro Football Focus recently released its list of the 10 most underpaid players in the NFL, and Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston came in at No. 7.

The only surprise was that Houston wasn’t higher on the list. A Pro Bowler in two of his first three NFL seasons, Houston has become one of the league’s best pass-rushers and all-around defensive players. He has 26.5 sacks in his past 32 games, and PFF gave him a higher rating last season than any other outside linebacker playing in a 3-4 system.

For this, the Chiefs are scheduled to pay Houston about $1.4 million this season. No wonder he stayed away from offseason practice, including a mandatory three-day minicamp.

Houston wants to get paid and he wants his money now. The Chiefs should accommodate him.

Houston has clearly outperformed the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. Normally, it’s not a good idea to spend sympathy on players who no longer like the terms of the contract they once signed, but Houston doesn’t fall into that category. As a middle-round draft pick three years ago, he had little choice but to accept whatever the Chiefs were offering.

Another bad idea is to pay players based on past performance. The Chiefs have done that too many times over the years and been burned. The latest episode happened last year, when one of John Dorsey’s first moves after joining the Chiefs as general manager was to give wide receiver Dwayne Bowe a five-year contract worth about $11 million a season.

[+] EnlargeFord
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsDee Ford gives the Chiefs a young pass-rusher to complement Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
The Chiefs might never get their money’s worth from that deal. But the Chiefs, by giving him a lucrative and long-term contract, wouldn’t be rewarding Houston for what he’s done. They’d be paying him for what he’s going to do.

Houston is 25. Giving him a contract that makes him happy has plenty of benefit for the Chiefs as well. They would be locking up their best pass-rusher and, perhaps, their best defensive player for the foreseeable future.

Is there something about this strategy that doesn’t make sense? Is it ever a bad idea to secure a good, young player for the long term at today’s prices?

The Chiefs would occasionally go wrong with this plan. But there is nothing about Houston’s first three years with the Chiefs, on or off the field, that would suggest it would go wrong with him. He dropped to the third round of the draft in 2011 for allegedly testing positive for marijuana at the scouting combine that year, but there have been no suggestions he’s been anything but a positive for the Chiefs ever since.

Houston won’t come at a bargain price. Green Bay’s Clay Matthews is the highest-paid outside linebacker in the league based on average salary at about $13.2 million. Houston’s Kansas City teammate, Tamba Hali, is next at about $11.5 million.

Numbers in that neighborhood shouldn’t scare the Chiefs. Pass-rusher isn’t a bad spot to hold such a heavy investment, one that now for the Chiefs also includes their first-round draft pick, Dee Ford.

The Chiefs drafted Ford in part as insurance for Houston’s holdout. Ford showed promise as a pass-rusher during offseason practice and could possibly do a reasonable imitation of Houston as a rookie.

Even so, there is no way the Chiefs are a better team with Houston off doing his own thing instead of playing for them. But this shouldn’t be about the immediate future, anyway. The Chiefs would pay Houston for his presence over the longer term, and that is when his deal really makes sense.

Hali turns 31 in November. He has yet to show any signs that his skills or production have begun their inevitable decline.

His price nonetheless goes up next year. He costs the Chiefs almost $11.5 million against their salary cap this season and a little less than $12 million in 2015. Having a tandem of Houston and Ford gives the Chiefs the flexibility to move Hali next year, if they feel it’s necessary, and still carry on with a couple of premier pass-rushers.

It’s always easy to spend someone else’s money. From this corner, though, we’ve generally preached fiscal sanity when it comes to that of Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt. You heard it here months ago that the Chiefs should let offensive tackle Branden Albert walk (they listened). You heard no panic from these parts when, in rapid succession during the opening moments of free agency, they lost Albert, guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, receiver/kick returner Dexter McCluster and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Each one of those players was worth more to his new team than to the Chiefs. They would have been foolish to pay premium prices for any of them.

That is not the case with Houston. They passed on re-signing any of their five prominent free agents so they could save to spend on what’s really important.

If that’s not Justin Houston, what is?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The issues regarding cornerback Brandon Flowers and outside linebacker Justin Houston are very different, but the two were joined by one factor as the Kansas City Chiefs began full-squad offseason practice Tuesday. The players, both Pro Bowlers last season, were missing.

The practices are voluntary, and technically they can’t be disciplined for being absent. But only three others among the team's 90 players were missing from the practice field. Two were injured and one, draft pick De'Anthony Thomas, isn't allowed to be here under NFL rules because classes at his college, Oregon, are ongoing.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesBrandon Flowers, 24, is to cost the Chiefs $10.5 million against their salary cap this season.
A couple of factors are evidence the absences of Flowers and Houston aren’t casual or innocent. First, the Chiefs ignored the issue publicly. Coach Andy Reid didn't answer media questions after practice, and players issued bland and repetitive answers to questions about their missing teammates as if they were coached on their responses.

Second, and perhaps more telling, the first two players drafted by the Chiefs this year were an outside linebacker, Auburn’s Dee Ford, and a cornerback, Rice’s Phillip Gaines.

So the Chiefs appear to be preparing for life without Houston and Flowers, one the team's choice and the other not. Flowers has no reason to otherwise avoid the Chiefs at this point. He is slated to make a healthy $5.25 million in base salary this season.

But he’s been a bit of a misfit in the Chiefs’ new world since they hired Reid and general manager John Dorsey last year. Flowers excelled under the previous Chiefs administration and coaching staff, playing well enough to earn a five-year, $48.75 million contract in 2011.

Reid and Dorsey, though, have otherwise been collecting bigger cornerbacks. Last year, they signed 6-foot-3 Sean Smith, the other starter, and claimed off waivers 6-2 Marcus Cooper, who replaced Flowers as a starter in practice on Tuesday. This year, the Chiefs drafted Gaines, who is 6-0 but has long arms. The staff believes he plays bigger than his size.

Flowers is 5-9. Throw in the fact that he had a rotten season last year, perhaps the worst of his six-year NFL career despite making the Pro Bowl. That honor, by the way, was a shock to the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have taken an odd public stance with Flowers this offseason. Their answers to questions about him have been short and slightly awkward. Asked during the draft whether Flowers was a good fit for the Chiefs’ press man-to-man coverage, Dorsey said, "Brandon Flowers is a good football player. He’s a good fit for what we do."

Flowers costs the Chiefs $10.5 million against their salary cap. They would reduce that number to $7 million by cutting or trading him before June 1; after June 1, the cap number would reduce to $3 million.

Houston, meanwhile, is in the final year of the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. A two-time Pro Bowler with 26.5 career sacks, including 11 in 11 games last season, Houston has outplayed that contract. He is due a salary of $1.406 million this season.

He could walk through the Chiefs’ door any day and return to practice. The Chiefs obviously don’t think he will.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Auburn outside linebacker Dee Ford in the first round with the plan that he would be a situational pass-rusher as a rookie along with the starters at his position, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

That's the plan, anyway, and maybe it will work. It's a better idea not to count on a lot from Ford, at least not next season.

Outside linebacking pass-rushers tend to struggle as rookies. Pro Football Focus last year ranked the pass-rush productivity of all 3-4 outside linebacking pass-rushers using a formula that includes sacks and quarterback pressures. Among the 41 outside linebackers who rushed on at least 25 percent of their opponent's passes, three rookie first-round draft picks were among the bottom eight.

This group includes Cleveland's Barkevious Mingo, Pittsburgh's Jarvis Jones and Indianapolis' Bjoern Werner. Together, they totaled nine sacks.

Houston and Hali were the fifth and sixth most-productive pass-rushers among 3-4 outside linebackers, by the way.

All players and situations are different, and maybe Ford will be one of those rookies who thrive as a pass rusher. Maybe he will benefit from having strong pass-rushers like Hali, Houston and Dontari Poe on his side.

But Ford doesn't have history, at least that of the recent variety, on his side. For that reason, I've picked slot receiver/kick returner De'Anthony Thomas as the Chiefs' rookie most likely to have an immediate impact.
Joining a team with two Pro Bowlers at his position, outside linebacker Dee Ford showed the proper deference to the Kansas City Chiefs and his new teammates. That includes linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, even if he couldn't remember Houston's name.

"I love edge rushers,'' Ford said after he was picked by the Chiefs in the first round. "I'm a big fan of Tamba Hali. I'm definitely a big fan of his and the one on the other side.''

Otherwise, Ford, who had 10.5 sacks last season at Auburn, said all the right things. He's making the transition from a college defensive end, so he won't be an immediate starter.

But the situation has the potential to get messy. He could be the eventual replacement for Hali, who turns 31 in November and has a contract the Chiefs may later decide is too expensive, or Houston, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next year.

"My No. 1 goal is to be a sponge and be a great teammate,'' Ford said. "I’m not concerned with the hype. I’m concerned with things that I can control, which is coming into this organization and being a great teammate. I really hope I don’t sound generic or sound like I’m just trying to say the right things. I really mean that. I’m going to humble myself, learn from these vets and man, we’re going to do some things.

"I can’t measure what I’m going to do from what [Hali] did. He’s a dynamic pass-rusher, he’s so beyond me. I need to learn. That’s my No. 1 goal, be a teammate and learn.”

While Ford is learning to play linebacker, the Chiefs will experiment with pass-rush combinations that include all three of their edge pass-rushers. Ford, though, said he is prepared to play on more than just passing downs. He is slightly taller than 6-foot-2 and weighed 252 pounds at the combine in February. That's smaller than either Hali or Houston, so Ford will need to prove he can hold up against the run.

"I’m not perfect in my pass rush or my run game,'' he said. "But let’s be honest, I played in the SEC and I was a starter for two years [and] you have to stop the run. You have to stop the run. And I was a starter. I was not a liability to my defense. I think sometimes when your specialty is pass rush, the natural thing to do is question their ability to stop the run because we’re getting off the ball. And my height, the height issue and all of that, I can stop the run.''

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs sent outside linebackers and pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to the Pro Bowl last season, but one sentence from coach Andy Reid explained why they drafted Auburn’s Dee Ford in the first round Thursday night.

“You can’t have enough good pass-rushers,’’ Reid said, “and Dee falls into that category.’’

If Ford, who had 10½ sacks as a hand-on-the-ground defensive end at Auburn last season, can eventually become the equal of Hali or Houston, the pick is a great one even if linebacker wasn’t an immediate need for the Chiefs.

He will have to learn to play outside linebacker. But with Hali and Houston, the Chiefs can afford to let Ford develop.

In fact, the selection of Ford may be aimed more at the future than 2014. Hali will turn 31 in November and his big contract could become too much of a burden for the Chiefs by 2015. Houston is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next year.

In the meantime, the Chiefs now have another pass-rusher they intend to use along with Hali and Houston on passing downs.

“You need as many of those guys as you can possibly get out there,’’ Reid said. “It just gives you a ton of flexibility to do some different things. He’s rushed from the inside, he’s rushed from the outside. He’s very quick and very fast. If he wasn’t the quickest defensive lineman off the ball in this draft, he surely was close to it. He’s got great explosion off the football. At the same time, he’s strong and he does a pretty good job against the run.

“He can edge [rush] like crazy. He’s going to present [opposing] tackles an aggressive target.’’

The Chiefs had more urgent needs at wide receiver, where they could have had USC’s Marqise Lee. They could have used another capable body at cornerback, where they passed on Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.

That they passed on other key needs is indicative of what the Chiefs thought of Ford.

“We clearly thought he was the second best pass-rusher in this draft,’’ general manager John Dorsey said.

The best, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, was far out of the Chiefs’ range. He went to the Houston Texans with the first overall pick.

Ford will have to learn his new position. But time is a luxury the Chiefs have with him because they have Hali and Houston. They combined for 22 sacks last season, even though they combined to miss six games because of injuries.

“We’re going to teach him to play outside linebacker,’’ Reid said. “He doesn’t have the snaps at outside linebacker. He’s a little bit like Tamba when Tamba came out. That’s not where he’s had the majority of his snaps. He’s been a rush defensive end. But he’s somebody that you can work in there immediately in third-down, nickel situations.

“I think he can make that conversion.’’

Chiefs star in Pro Bowl

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs were represented by 10 players at the Pro Bowl and some figured prominently. A look at how they fared:

-- Linebacker Derrick Johnson was the game's defensive MVP with eight tackles and a forced fumble. He also had a big hit on his Chiefs teammate, running back Jamaal Charles, in the first quarter.

-- Quarterback Alex Smith was just 9-of-22 for 116 yards, but he threw the winning touchdown pass, a 20-yarder to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.

-- Charles rushed five times for 43 yards and caught a pass for four yards.

-- Dexter McCluster returned five punts for an 11-yard average, including a 26-yard return.

-- Safety Eric Berry and nose tackle Dontari Poe each had an interception. Berry also had four tackles.

-- Linebacker Tamba Hali and cornerback Brandon Flowers each had a pair of tackles.

-- Linebacker Justin Houston registered no stats. Neither did offensive tackle Branden Albert, but he had a good time nonetheless in his first Pro Bowl game. Albert tweeted afterward, "Hawaii.... I'll see you next year."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Earlier I posted on the team grade given to the Kansas City Chiefs by Pro Football Focus and how the Chiefs made the second biggest leap from 2012 to 2013 behind only the Carolina Panthers.

The Chiefs' big jump was fueled by improved performances from several players. On offense, the grade PFF gave to running back Jamaal Charles went up dramatically from one season to the next. PFF's grade for quarterback Alex Smith in 2013 was vastly improved to that of his 2012 predecessors, Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel.

On defense, the grades for defensive linemen Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson and Allen Bailey, linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and safety Eric Berry were all significantly up from 2012.

A few players had their grades drop. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and offensive tackle Branden Albert were among them, but neither player had a huge drop.

One player did have a huge drop; cornerback Brandon Flowers. He will participate in the Pro Bowl on Sunday in Hawaii, more of an honor for what he did in previous seasons than how he played in 2013.

Flowers had some dismal games in 2013, none worse than the torching he received against Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys early in the season, and then by the San Diego Chargers halfway through. In fairness to Flowers, he missed a couple of games early in the season because of a sore knee, and it might not have been right the rest of the way.

Still, it's a fact that Flowers didn't play very well, and it's to the point it's natural to wonder about his future with the Chiefs. He's a 5-foot-9, 187-pound player on a team that now prefers bigger cornerbacks. It's more than a little telling that the Chiefs used Flowers to cover the slot receiver in their nickel defense as the season went on.

Flowers has a big contract (he counts $10.5 million against the Chiefs' 2014 salary cap) and he might not be the best fit for a team that requires it's cornerbacks to play so much one-on-one coverage.

It might be a mistake for the Chiefs to give up on Flowers, who turns 28 next month. Flowers has played well in seasons past, and though he's a little guy, but doesn't usually play like one. He's not afraid to stick his nose into the running game.

But in a division with big receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Keenan Allen, Rod Streater and Andre Holmes, it's a fair question: Is Flowers right for the Chiefs?

It will be interesting to see in the coming months what general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid think.
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 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.

All-AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs were appropriately honored with nine players on ESPN’s All-AFC West team.

Each of the nine players deserves his spot on the all-division team. No strong argument could be made for any Chiefs player who didn’t make the team.

Running back Jamaal Charles and left tackle Branden Albert were the offensive players selected. Charles had a strong all-around season, emerging as a legitimate threat as a pass-receiver. Charles beat out some strong competition from Denver’s Knowshon Moreno and San Diego’s Ryan Mathews.

Albert had a solid season despite missing three games late in the year with a knee injury.

On defense, nose tackle Dontari Poe, inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston and strong safety Eric Berry were chosen. Poe, Johnson, Houston and Berry may have had their best NFL seasons. Poe was a force against both the run and the pass and was so valuable to the Chiefs that he rarely came out of their lineup.

Johnson and Berry showed outstanding all-around games. Johnson tied his career high in sacks. Berry set a career high in sacks and scored twice on interception returns. Houston was among the NFL leaders in sacks in late November before dislocating his elbow, an injury that forced him out of the lineup for four games.

Hali was among the AFC leaders in sacks.

On special teams, punter Dustin Colquitt and punt returner Dexter McCluster were selected. Colquitt didn’t have the best average in the division but landed a huge percentage of his punts inside the 20, an important statistic for a team that relied on favorable field position.

McCluster scored a touchdown on two punt returns, including an electrifying 89-yarder against the New York Giants.

Kansas City ChiefsDavid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesAlex Smith and Jamaal Charles were among the Chiefs starters who sat in advance of the playoffs.

SAN DIEGO -- Linebacker Derrick Johnson won’t wake up on this Monday morning with the normal bumps and bruises, aches and pains. He will feel fresh, like he didn’t even play football on Sunday, which of course he didn’t. Johnson and many of his key Kansas City Chiefs teammates were given the day off.

"It’s going to be great," Johnson said. "I’m going to be moving fast. We’ll be rested and ready to go and we’ll get started on Indy. We know we’ve got a great opportunity to beat a team we didn’t play [well] against a couple of weeks ago. We know if we can play better than we played … this way, it’s going to be an interesting matchup."

Multiply Johnson’s situation by several others, and you understand why coach Andy Reid rested as many of Kansas City’s playmakers as possible and why it was the right thing for the Chiefs to do, even though they finished the regular season on Sunday with a 27-24 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers.

This game was all about giving them a better chance to win Saturday’s wild-card playoff game against the Colts in Indianapolis. Reid’s move will no doubt do that.

The Chiefs might not beat the Colts. But if they don’t, it won’t be because running back Jamaal Charles didn’t absorb the 20 or more hits he would have against the Chargers, because quarterback Alex Smith didn’t take the two sacks backup Chase Daniel did, because nose tackle Dontari Poe didn't wind up on the bottom of a pile of humanity on each of San Diego’s 72 snaps.

"I look at the positive of it when I do that," said Reid, who had the starters take some snaps in practice during the week. "It gave the guys a week to heal up and rest up and still at the same time get good practice in. If we do meet up again with San Diego then they’ve got that practice time in with a game plan."

It might be tempting to believe Reid’s maneuver cost the Chiefs a victory, but don’t go there. The Chiefs should have won in regulation but failed to finish when Ryan Succop’s 41-yard field goal went wide to the right with four seconds remaining.

Charles, Smith, Johnson, Poe and the rest of Chiefs’ starters lost to San Diego 41-38 last month in Kansas City. So it’s fair to wonder whether the backups didn’t do a better job on Sunday than the starters might have.

At any rate, the Chiefs had nothing to lose. They were destined, win or lose, to be a wild-card playoff entrant and the No. 5 seed. Wild-card teams don’t get a playoff bye, like the Chiefs would have had they won the AFC West. So Reid created a bye for them.

Among the starters who did not play were left tackle Branden Albert and linebacker Justin Houston. They were injured but would have hurried back to play for the first time in weeks if not for Reid’s decision.

Instead, they had another week to get ready for the Colts.

"That’s one way of looking at it," Reid said about giving these players a bye. "There were a couple of guys with a lot of snaps under their belt like Jamaal and [strong safety Eric] Berry. These guys have been playing and they play physical positions. They had a chance to rest up. It gave Albert and Houston another week to heal up. They’re both ready to go but it gave them a chance to have one more week.

"That’s all for the good."

What the Chiefs did is forfeit any chance at building some momentum for the playoffs. In their last game heading into the postseason, on Dec. 22, the starters played their worst game of the season in losing to, yes, the Colts 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium.

But that goal is and was secondary to the one the Chiefs accomplished Sunday.

"We’re wiping the slate clean now," Smith said. "It’s a brand new season. This game is such a week-to-week thing anyway. [The notion of momentum going into the playoffs] is talked about but not necessarily realistic."

For the Chiefs, the game had an odd, preseason-in-December kind of feel. Smith, not in uniform as one of the inactive players, stood around during pregame warm-ups, searching futilely for a way to be useful.

"So weird," he said. "I was wandering around. I definitely felt out of place."

Likewise, Johnson was inactive and couldn’t have played once the game started.

"I’m on the sideline warming up the whole game," he said. "I didn’t know what to do with myself."

So, some awkward moments for the Chiefs? Sure. But they did what needed to be done and gave themselves a better chance at postseason success because of it.

"It’s not so much for the quarterback, but some of these guys who play the really physical positions and bang a lot during the game," Smith said. "That’s what’s most important. Come tomorrow, those guys won’t have all the dings and things that do go on in a game. They’ll be fresh and be ready."

Pro Bowl selections: Kansas City Chiefs

December, 27, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs put an impressive eight players into this year's Pro Bowl but one who didn't get selected could be among the year's biggest snubs.

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is having perhaps his best NFL season, but isn't among the eight Chiefs going to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Those eight are running back Jamaal Charles, offensive tackle Branden Albert, nose tackle Dontari Poe, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, cornerback Brandon Flowers, strong safety Eric Berry and punt returner Dexter McCluster.

Johnson leads the Chiefs in tackles, an unofficial statistic, with 107. He also tied his career high in sacks with 4.5.

Statistics don't tell Johnson's complete story. He is a down-to-down presence for the Chiefs and his game hasn't slipped even as that of the defense around him deteriorated over the season's last half.

Punter Dustin Colquitt also deserved consideration. Colquitt doesn't have one of league's best averages but he's tied for most punts downed inside the 20 (35), an important statistic playing for a team that depends heavily on favorable field position.

Other than Flowers, it's difficult to argue with any of the eight players who did reach the Pro Bowl. Charles is having perhaps his best NFL season, having developed as a legitimate receiving threat. Albert is having a solid season as the blindside pass protector for quarterback Alex Smith.

Poe has been a force against both the run and the pass and is so valuable to the Chiefs that he rarely comes out of the game. Hali and Houston both have 11 sacks. Berry has been strong against the run and returned an interception for a touchdown two times. McCluster returned two punts for touchdowns, including an electrifying 89-yarder in September against the New York Giants.

Flowers' selection is odd. He isn't having one of his best seasons. The Chiefs often leave him alone in man-to-man coverage and he hasn't done a great job of holding up under the pressure.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Caught between his wish to keep some key players fresh for the upcoming playoffs and a desire to see the struggling Kansas City Chiefs build some momentum, Andy Reid may play things down the middle in Sunday’s final regular-season game against the Chargers in San Diego.

Reid said starters and backups alike at all positions would get some practice time this week with the first team. He will then decide later in the week which starters will play against the Chargers and how much.

“I’m having practice just like we’re going to play the San Diego Chargers, which we are,’’ Reid said. “At the same time I’m going to work some guys in. I’ll figure it out by the end of the week exactly how we’re going to work it. They’re all going to practice. Every position is going to do [its] thing. Then we’ll just kind of ... mix and match.’’

The 11-4 Chiefs can’t help or hurt their playoff standing by winning or losing against the 8-7 Chargers. The Chiefs are locked in as the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs and will know sometime on Sunday which opponent they will face in the wild-card round of the playoffs the following weekend.

The Chiefs have some players who could benefit from a week off, most notably running back Jamaal Charles. Defensively, they have a few more candidates, including outside linebacker Tamba Hali. He didn’t practice Thursday because of soreness and swelling in his knee.

On the other hand, two injured players, outside linebacker Justin Houston and offensive tackle Branden Albert, were scheduled to return to practice on an every-down basis. They might benefit from getting in a few plays against the Chargers since they haven’t played in weeks.

Quarterback Alex Smith was preparing to play. If he does, he might not be in the game long. Backup Chase Daniel would likely play more than Smith.

“It’s not up to me,’’ said Smith, who had one of his worst games of the season last week against the Indianapolis Colts. “I’m getting ready for it. No answers yet. Just preparing to play and we’ll see what happens Sunday.

“If you play, the argument is that you’re staying in rhythm. You’re keeping your timing. The speed of the game, you’re staying used to it. The negative would be [the risk of] injury. Not playing, the benefit there is that you’re getting healthy and fresh.’’

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 16

December, 23, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

Preseason in December: Next Sunday's final regular-season game against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego is now meaningless to the Chiefs. Since the Denver Broncos won Sunday, the Chiefs have been eliminated from any chance of winning the AFC West championship or getting a first-round playoff bye. The Chiefs also cannot fall below the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. In that case, the smart thing for coach Andy Reid to do is rest key players such as quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles. Reid, though, wasn't saying how he would handle the game. "I haven’t even gotten that far. I wasn't anticipating this right here," Reid said after the Colts game. There's something to be said for heading into the playoffs with some momentum, although that's not worth the risk of losing a star player such as Smith or Charles. "To a certain extent, I think you you want to have some rhythm, a good taste in your mouth headed into the playoffs," Smith said.

Poe's meltdown: Nose tackle Dontari Poe is normally mild-mannered and quiet, seen but not heard. That's what made his taunting penalty so unusual. He was penalized after the Chiefs stopped the Colts on a third-down play in the third quarter. The penalty allowed the Colts to continue a drive that eventually ended with a field goal. Poe said after the game that he couldn't remember what he said to get the penalty. "There's no excuse for that," Reid said. "He knows that. He's a smart kid, and that's not his M.O."

Injury update: Outside linebacker Tamba Hali entered the game with some soreness in his knee, and he left the game in the fourth quarter after it swelled. He was scheduled for an MRI. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe took a shot that left him with a sore neck, although he was able to remain in the game. The Chiefs played without two injured starters, outside linebacker Justin Houston and offensive tackle Branden Albert. While it was obvious during the week Albert wouldn't be available against the Colts because of a sore knee, it appeared Houston's dislocated elbow had healed to the point that he could play. But Houston missed his fourth consecutive game.

Robinson in for Cooper: The Chiefs made a change at nickel back, replacing beleaguered rookie Marcus Cooper with veteran Dunta Robinson. There was no indication the change is permanent, and Cooper could be back in the lineup for next week's game against the Chargers.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs should play outside linebacker Justin Houston on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium if he’s ready to go. By all appearances at practice on Thursday, Houston is preparing to play.

Houston, wearing a brace on his injured right elbow, hit the sled during an individual drill at practice, something the injury wouldn’t allow him to do last week. Houston has been getting work with the starters, also something that didn’t happen last week.

“He’s practicing,’’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He’s in a lot of the drills. He’s worked with the first group. It’s really day to day and drill to drill, kind of.

“It’s great to see him back out there. The thing I really appreciate about Justin is that he’s practicing like he’s trying to play. That’s what we need him to do. We’ll just see where it goes. Hopefully we can get him [back]. He would be a great boost for us.’’

The Chiefs led the San Diego Chargers 14-3 in the second quarter on Nov. 24 when they lost Houston, then tied for third in the NFL with 11 sacks. For the rest of that game and for two of the three games since, the Chiefs haven’t been the same without him.

If Houston is physically ready to play, he needs to play both on Sunday against the Colts and in the final regular-season game against the Chargers in San Diego on Dec. 29. The Chiefs, at 11-3, have much to play for. They have clinched a playoff spot but can still win the AFC West and the first-round bye that would likely go along with that.

Houston also could use the work after missing 3 1/2 games.

“The first priority obviously is that we want him healthy,’’ Sutton said. “That’s not earth-shattering or anything. Obviously it’s advantageous for him if he can get back out there. It’s a benefit. The first priority is getting him 100 percent healthy. The second is getting him out there and getting him used to it. He’s got to get used to playing with a brace a little bit.’’