AFC West: Marcus Cooper

Camp preview: Kansas City Chiefs

July, 17, 2014
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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.
The Kansas City Chiefs begin their three-day minicamp on Tuesday. Here are three things I'll be looking for:
  • The full-squad debut of De'Anthony Thomas. The Chiefs' fourth-round draft pick, Thomas hasn't been able to practice since the rookie camp shortly after the draft. Classes had still been in session at Oregon, where Thomas went to college, and NFL rules prohibited him from working with the Chiefs. That ban is now over and it will be interesting to see how Andy Reid utilizes Thomas' speed in the offense. He lined up in a variety of spots during rookie camp, including wide receiver, slot receiver and running back. He also should get a turn as the kickoff and punt returner.
  • The return of Travis Kelce. Another player who could provide an offensive boost, Kelce also hasn't practiced this spring. He had knee surgery last year, missing all of the season, and has been rehabbing, but Reid held out some hope Kelce could get some work this week. That's good news for the Chiefs, who other than Thomas added no significant new offensive skill players. Kelce is a tight end, but also lined up in a variety of spots before his injury last year. He showed then the ability to get down the field to beat coverage and make plays.
  • Life without Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs have been practicing without Flowers all spring but there was always the sense that having Marcus Cooper in the starting lineup was a temporary thing. The spot is Cooper's now and there doesn't appear to be anyone who can challenge him for the job. Ron Parker, who has been getting recent snaps in the starting lineup, has been beaten several times. Rookie Phillip Gaines, a third-round pick, doesn't look like he's ready to help yet.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At their latest practice, the Kansas City Chiefs lined up with second-year player Marcus Cooper as their top cornerback, veteran journeyman Ron Parker as the other starter and developmental player Malcolm Bronson as the nickel back.

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It's only June and offseason practice, but regardless of the time of year it's not a good look that the Chiefs are having to dig deep into their depth chart to line up at a crucial position. It got even uglier when wide receiver Donnie Avery got behind Parker in practice to catch a long touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith.

One of the normal starting cornerbacks, Sean Smith, has been dropped to second team after his recent arrest for DUI. Smith will eventually be back in the starting lineup, but an NFL suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy looms with him.

The other starter, Brandon Flowers, hasn't been participating in offseason practice and it's unclear whether he will show for next week's minicamp, the only mandatory event of the offseason, or even for training camp. The usual nickelback, Chris Owens, is out with an injury.

So while the start of training camp is more than a month away, it's not too early to be alarmed with what's going on at cornerback. The Chiefs ask much of their cornerbacks. They play a lot of press coverage and are often left without much help from the safety. It's not ideal for the Chiefs to have backups in their starting lineup at those positions or be forced to back off the way coordinator Bob Sutton wants to play because they do.

Maybe Flowers eventually shows up, Smith gets promoted back into the lineup and Owens returns healthy. Then the Chiefs can relax at cornerback. Until all of that happens, they need to be concerned.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some quick observations on the Kansas City Chiefs' first full-squad offseason practice:
  • The Chiefs went with veteran Frank Zombo instead of rookie Dee Ford in place of the absent Justin Houston as one of the starters at outside linebacker. Zombo started five games in place of the injured Houston last season and had two sacks and one interception. Marcus Cooper, the Chiefs' rookie of the year last season, started in place of Brandon Flowers at one of the cornerback spots. Houston and Flowers were missing from practice, which is voluntary. The only period during the offseason program with mandatory participation is the minicamp June 17-19.
  • The other new starters on defense were Allen Bailey (for the departed Tyson Jackson) at end, Joe Mays (for the departed Akeem Jordan) at linebacker and Husain Abdullah (for the departed Kendrick Lewis) at free safety.
  • Left tackle Eric Fisher didn't participate in the team portion of practice and tight end Travis Kelce didn't participate at all. Fisher had offseason surgeries to repair a balky shoulder and for a sports hernia and participated in individual drills. Right tackle Donald Stephenson moved into Fisher's spot with Jeff Linkenbach starting in Stephenson's usual place. Kelce, who missed all of his rookie season because of a knee ailment, is not a starter but the Chiefs are hopeful he can play a lot and be a productive receiver .
  • Sanders Commings is for now at least Abdullah's backup. But he showed free safety skills when he covered a lot of ground to intercept a Tyler Bray pass along the sideline.
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.
The NFL will hand out in 2016 $3.46 million in performance-based pay to Kansas City Chiefs players from last season. The system is designed to get money into the pockets of lower-paid players who got a lot of snaps and, in theory at least outperformed their contracts.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper was the big winner among Chiefs players. Cooper will receive $253,736 in addition to his league-minimum $405,000 salary he received from the Chiefs last year.

Cooper was a nice find for the Chiefs last year. A seventh-round draft pick by San Francisco, Cooper was placed on waivers by the 49ers just days before the start of the regular season. The Chiefs claimed him and it didn't take Cooper long to become the third cornerback.

His strong play was no small factor in Kansas City's 9-0 start. Cooper's play faltered down the stretch, one reason the Chiefs wound up winning just two of their last eight games. But the performance-based pay system is designed to take care of players like Cooper and in this case at least, it worked.

Other Chiefs who will eventually collect a big check under this system include safety Quintin Demps ($193,180), tight end Sean McGrath ($185,734) and wide receiver Junior Hemingway ($182,389).

Everybody who played in a game for the Chiefs last season will receive some extra money. Linebacker Tamba Hali received more than $15 million last year from the Chiefs in salary and bonuses, but he will pick up an extra $7,540. Defensive lineman Kyle Love, who joined the Chiefs at midseason and played in one game before being released, will get $568. Tight end Travis Kelce, who was in uniform for only the season-opening game in Jacksonville before a knee injury ended his season, gets $209.
Last week's signing of veteran nickelback Chris Owens was an interesting one for the Chiefs. Owens has been an effective player covering opposing slot receivers the past five seasons, first for the Atlanta Falcons and then last season for the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.

Owens joins a group of cornerbacks for the Chiefs that includes starters Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, backup Marcus Cooper and a group of younger, developmental players that includes Ron Parker, who played well in a limited number of snaps last season. That doesn't account for safety Husain Abdullah, who played some at cornerback in 2013.

That's not a drastic change from last season. Owens in effect takes the roster spot of Dunta Robinson, who was released at the end of last season. Robinson played most of his 252 snaps last season early in the year before he was benched for ineffective play.

I have my doubts whether this group is strong enough to compete week in and week out. The drop in Flowers' play last season was troubling and could be a sign he isn't a good fit in coordinator Bob Sutton's defensive schemes, ones that require the cornerbacks to play a lot of press coverage.

The Chiefs have to match up next season with, among others, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos. Do you feel better about their ability to do that with more success than they did last season?

I didn't think so. So cornerback is on my list of positions to watch for the Chiefs in the first round this year. If, say, Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State is available when the Chiefs make the 23rd overall pick, it would be a mistake for them to pass on him. While the signing of Owens might make for a good start for the Chiefs in upgrading at cornerback, it shouldn't be the end of their effort.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- John Dorsey has made many correct moves since joining the Kansas City Chiefs as their general manager a year ago. Along with coach Andy Reid, he helped set the much-needed tone of professionalism throughout the organization. He led the charge in the trade for quarterback Alex Smith, though with the Chiefs desperate for a quarterback the deal with the San Francisco 49ers made too much sense for it not to happen.

Dorsey was named as the NFL’s Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writer’s Association. There’s no greater example of where Dorsey shined in Year 1 with the Chiefs than his move shortly before the start of the regular season.

The Chiefs, who at the time were still first in line for waiver claims, grabbed seven players in an effort improve the bottom of the roster. Three came from the Seattle Seahawks and two from the 49ers, two of the deepest teams in the NFL.

Three of those players helped the Chiefs this season and could continue to do so in 2014. Rookie Marcus Cooper, from the 49ers, became the Chiefs’ third cornerback early in the season and, despite hitting a rough patch late in the season, probably has more immediate impact than any of Kansas City’s other rookies. That includes tackle Eric Fisher, the first pick in last year’s draft.

Two players plucked from the Seahawks, tight end Sean McGrath and cornerback Ron Parker, also made contributions. McGrath was fifth on the Chiefs with 26 catches and also scored two touchdowns.

Parker helped preserve a one-point, early-season win over the Dallas Cowboys with a sack and a forced fumble.

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.

Chiefs should keep Cooper on bench

December, 24, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper was one of the stars of the Kansas City Chiefs' defense almost from the minute his team claimed him off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers at the start of the regular season. He is a big, physical cornerback who was doing a nice job of disrupting routes at the line and making plays on the ball down the field.

But as with many of his defensive teammates and Kansas City's defense as a whole, the quality of Cooper's play has fallen sharply. Over the last several games Cooper has allowed numerous big plays, and it got to the point in last week's game against the Indianapolis Colts that the Chiefs benched him. They gave his job as the third cornerback to veteran Dunta Robinson.

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Robinson played well enough to keep the job in this week's game against the Chargers in San Diego. He played well enough in coverage. He missed an attempted tackle on Donald Brown's long touchdown run, but was also contending with a blocker at the time.

“[Cooper] is a young player I think has a good future,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "Sometimes you’ve got to take a little step back to take a big step forward. That’s how it works sometimes in this game. I’ve done that with younger guys in the past. I thought he handled it the right way. He got a few snaps in there in the game and did OK. We’ve just got to let him work his way back in.’’

Next year and beyond, Cooper might have a role for the Chiefs. He showed plenty over the first eight games of the season, and the Chiefs shouldn't give up on him yet.

But it is troubling that Reid and the Chiefs felt it necessary to give Cooper a break. That being the case, they're better off sticking with Robinson, a known commodity, as the third cornerback in the playoffs.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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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
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.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

December, 8, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 45-10 victory against the Washington Redskins:

What it means: The Chiefs got back to playing the kind of game that produced a nine-game winning streak earlier in the season, even if it was against the lowly Redskins. After getting just two sacks in the last five games, the Chiefs dragged down Washington quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins six times. They also scored two special teams touchdowns. The 10-3 Chiefs snapped their three-game losing streak.

Stock watch: The Chiefs have been solid on special teams most of the season but had their best kicking game. Dexter McCluster returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown and set a team record for punt return yardage. Quintin Demps also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Knile Davis returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week against the Denver Broncos. After being shut out for the past four weeks, linebacker Tamba Hali had a pair of sacks. Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper was picked on mercilessly by Denver quarterback Peyton Manning last week but bounced back with a solid game.

Incredible Charles: Jamaal Charles entered the game as the AFC’s leading rusher and had his best game of the season, rushing for 151 yards and one touchdown. He also caught a touchdown pass. Charles last week went over 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth time in his Chiefs career. That’s a Kansas City record. The Chiefs removed Charles from the game after the third quarter was finished, and that may have cost him another score. His backup, rookie Davis, scored on a 17-yard touchdown run early in the fourth period.

What’s next: The Chiefs continue their two-game road trip by playing the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in Oakland. The Raiders are 4-9 after losing Sunday to the New York Jets. They lost 24-7 to the Chiefs in October in Kansas City.

It's time for Chiefs to bench Cooper

December, 2, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rookie Marcus Cooper may still go on to become a fine NFL cornerback. He played well enough over a long stretch in the season’s first nine games that the Kansas City Chiefs shouldn’t give up on him for the long term.

But for now the poor kid looks shell-shocked, and for his benefit as well as that of the Chiefs', it’s time for the team to sit him down. Cooper has had a string of three horrible games, punctuated by Sunday’s 35-28 to Peyton Manning, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and the Denver Broncos.

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In order for the Chiefs to get their defensive swagger back, it’s time to sit Cooper down and try veteran Dunta Robinson as their third cornerback behind starters Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith.

To his credit, Cooper put up a brave front following Sunday’s game.

I’ll just keep working,’’ Cooper said. “I’m a cornerback. This is the life I live. Sometimes things are going to work for me, sometimes things aren’t.’’

They worked for Cooper early in the game, when he intercepted one of Manning’s passes. But most of his day was spent chasing Decker or Thomas, just like he spent much of the previous week chasing San Diego Chargers receivers.

“He had the interception and then the one thing he did was he came back and he battled,’’ coach Andy Reid said. “That’s not an easy thing as a rookie, a young kid, and he’s put in a big-time position and he’s not giving up on himself, which is important. There’s a challenge on every play. They got him on a couple but at the same time he came back and he battled."

Robinson didn’t play well as the third cornerback early in the season and has played little since Cooper emerged. But as the aura of invincibility has been stripped away from Kansas City’s defense and its flaws have been exposed, Robinson’s experience can’t hurt.

Reid wasn’t in any mood to discuss whether Robinson might provide some relief for Cooper in Sunday’s game against the Redskins in Washington.

“[Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton] will go through all of that,’’ Reid said.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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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.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 35-28 loss to the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Chiefs lost both games in the season series to the Broncos. While at 9-3 the Chiefs trail the 10-2 Broncos by one game in the AFC West standings, they effectively trail by 1 games, because Denver has the tiebreaker. So the Chiefs would need to finish ahead of the Broncos in the standings to win the division, while the Broncos could finish tied in the standings with the Chiefs at the end of the season and still be the division champion.

Stock watch: The Chiefs again failed to sack Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. They were able to get some pressure on Manning early in the game and affect some of his throws, but that pressure dissipated as the game went on and Manning was able to step into all of his throws. They were frequently asked to cover for too long, but the cornerbacks again had a tough day. That’s particularly true for Marcus Cooper, who was beaten cleanly off the line by Demaryius Thomas on one of the game’s crucial plays. Thomas had a 77-yard catch and run in the third quarter to set up the Denver touchdown that put the Broncos ahead for good.

On offense, wide receiver Donnie Avery dropped a pair of deep passes, and a reserve, A.J. Jenkins, dropped another pass. The Chiefs received some contributions from unexpected places, though. Rookie Knile Davis returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in the first half, the longest such return in Chiefs history and second-longest in NFL history. Wide receiver Junior Hemingway had a pair of catches, including a 17-yard reception for the first touchdown of the game.

Losing steam: The Chiefs had everything going in the first half as they built a 21-7 lead. They came after the Broncos in all three phases with great energy and, with the backing of a loud home crowd, appeared headed for a lopsided victory. The Broncos weren’t matching their intensity. But while Denver put its game into a higher gear, it was the Chiefs who couldn’t sustain the pace. The Chiefs owned the last half of the fourth quarter, but after scoring one touchdown, their final drive stalled and they relinquished the ball on downs at the Denver 13.

What’s next: The Chiefs begin a two-game road trip next Sunday with a game against the Washington Redskins. The Chiefs will finish the road trip on Dec. 15 against the Oakland Raiders.

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