AFC West: Sean Smith

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t waver from their commitment to starting cornerback Ron Parker in their return to training camp at Missouri Western State University. Two days after Parker was burned for a long pass and a touchdown and penalized twice during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Parker was still in the starting lineup, with veteran Sean Smith running second-team.

“He’s got to be like any player, especially being out on the edges," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “You need to have a short-term memory. You need to learn from whatever happened to you out there. He needs to play that particular route better."

Meanwhile, Smith intercepted a pass in his first play as Parker’s replacement against the Bengals and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. Though the differing levels of play between Parker and Smith weren’t enough to prompt the Chiefs into a lineup change, Sutton indicated such a move might not be far off.

“There’s far less separating them than it might appear," Sutton said. “I hope they make it a hard decision. That would be the best thing for us. That would be great."

Smith started 15 games for the Chiefs last season, plus the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Parker was a backup except in the season-ending game against San Diego, when the Chiefs rested many of their starters.

“You want it to be a battle," Parker said. “You want it to be a competition."
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Four days into training camp, there’s been no change of status for the Kansas City Chiefs' most accomplished cornerback. Sean Smith is still running with the second team behind starters Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker.

This isn’t what the Chiefs envisioned last year when they signed Smith as a free agent from the Miami Dolphins. It can’t be what they envisioned last month when they released Brandon Flowers, a cornerback even more accomplished than Smith.

There’s plenty of time for Smith to return to the starting lineup. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton held out some hope that it could happen soon.

“He’s not far away," Sutton said. “He’s obviously played a lot of football and played very well for us. We just thought coming out of the spring ... the other guys were a little in front so we went that way as we started camp.

“He’s in the hunt. He’s just got to keep working."

Credit to the Chiefs for benching Smith, despite his considerable salary cap number of $5.75 million, if they didn’t think he was deserving of a starting spot. But in a sense, the Chiefs, at least for the time being, have lost both of their starters from last year at a position where they weren’t deep to begin with.

Flowers was a holdout, which complicated his situation. In a way, he forced the Chiefs to release him by staying away from offseason workouts.

But the Chiefs can’t make these moves in a vacuum. It makes no sense for them to release Flowers if they’re also going to bench Smith.

The Chiefs can afford only so many setbacks at cornerback. They’ve already exceeded their limit. Cooper looked promising for a time last season as a rookie but also played so poorly as the third cornerback for a stretch that the Chiefs had to bench him. Parker is a journeyman.

Smith isn’t a perfect cornerback, but that type of player is few and far between anyway. The Chiefs’ best defensive lineup is with Smith in it, and the sooner they get back to it, the better they will be.

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.
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.

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.
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.

Chiefs might need to play some zone

November, 27, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you're looking for some statistics than portray just how bad the Kansas City Chiefs were in pass coverage last week against the San Diego Chargers, sink your teeth in these numbers: Their three top cornerbacks were targeted in coverage a total of 22 times, according to some great stats from Pro Football Focus.

Sean Smith, Brandon Flowers and Marcus Cooper allowed a total of 17 catches on those 22 passes for a total of 350 yards. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was far less effective when he threw at Chiefs players supposedly less skilled in pass coverage.

The Chargers had an astounding 228 yards after their catches. The Denver Broncos had 187 yards after the catch the week before against the Chiefs.

Blame the loss of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, if you want. That certainly didn't help the Chiefs hold off the Chargers. Blame the officials for not doing a better job of policing the pick plays, if you want. Blame defensive coordinator Bob Sutton for not adjusting better to the loss of Hali and Houston, if you want.

The Chiefs can't play the press man-to-man coverage Sutton prefers if they don't do a better job than they have the past two weeks. Is better coverage on Sunday against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium a reasonable expectation?

The probable loss of Houston and possible loss of Hali complicates the answer. But that's something Sutton needs to take a hard look at.

Smith has been a good cover cornerback for the Chiefs this season. It seems reasonable to believe he will bounce back. Flowers was miserable against Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys in an early season game but until San Diego arrived had otherwise done a nice job. The Chiefs probably have little to worry about there.

Cooper might be a problem. The rookie, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, was claimed off waivers at the start of the regular season and had been a gem for the Chiefs. His play was no small factor as the Chiefs built a 9-0 record.

He has collapsed the past two weeks to the point where his confidence must be shot. Sutton has to be wary at this point of trusting Cooper after he had two dismal games.

It's not an easy decision because the Chiefs thrived much of the season playing man-to-man coverage. But it may be time on Sunday for Sutton to change things up and play more zone coverage.

The Chiefs can hardly do that much worse than the man they've played the last couple of weeks.

What Chiefs need to fix against Broncos

November, 26, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, here are some things that went Denver's way that the Kansas City Chiefs need to turn around Sunday in their rematch against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium:
  1. The Chiefs didn't sack Peyton Manning in his 40 dropbacks in the first game, won by Denver 27-17. They put pressure on Manning just five times. Ramping up the pressure might be difficult if their two top pass-rushers, the injured Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, don't play. If the Chiefs can't figure out a way to get consistent pressure on Manning, they need to do better in coverage. Manning got rid of the ball that night in an average of 2.55 seconds but still completed five passes of 20 yards or more, including a 70-yarder to Demaryius Thomas.
  2. The Chiefs have to get better play from their secondary. The Broncos had 187 yards after the catch in the first game against the Chiefs, who didn't tackle well or take good angles to the ball carrier. Not only were those problems unfixed last week against the San Diego Chargers, they got worse. The Chiefs allowed 228 yards to San Diego receivers after the catch. Cornerbacks Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper were all scorched by the Chargers. Nickel safety Quintin Demps also had a horrible game.
  3. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has to do a better job of handling Denver's blitzes. He completed just 4 of 16 passes with two sacks when the Broncos rushed five or more players in their first meeting. When Denver sent four or fewer players, Smith was 17-of-29 and took just one sack.
  4. The Chiefs need to get more from Jamaal Charles, particularly as a pass-receiver. He had a season-low 72 yards from scrimmage (78 rushing, minus-6 receiving) against the Broncos the last time. Smith threw to Charles eight times, but he caught just two. Both of those receptions were for negative yardage and came on Kansas City's final possession in the last minute when they were hopelessly behind. Earlier, Charles dropped a throw that would have gone for a touchdown.

Chiefs need to get swagger back -- soon

November, 18, 2013
Justin Houston, Dontari PoeAP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe Chiefs entered Sunday leading the NFL in sacks, but they could not once get to Peyton Manning.

DENVER -- Forget about the rematch against the Denver Broncos in two weeks. There's only one game on the Kansas City Chiefs' schedule that matters now, and it's next Sunday's meeting with the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs have to get their swagger back. They haven't played their game in several weeks, and on Sunday night they paid for it by losing for the first time this season, 27-17 to the Broncos.

It's just one game, and at 9-1 the Chiefs are still tied for first place with the Broncos in the AFC West. Still, their world suddenly feels like it's teetering. That's what happens when a defense that had carried the Chiefs through the first nine games collapsed, failing to make a single impact play in Denver's 76 offensive snaps.

Think about that for a second. The Chiefs, the league leader in sacks, never got to Peyton Manning, rarely even got a hand on him.

The Chiefs, the league leader in turnovers forced, got one takeaway, but it wasn't forced. A bad exchange on a handoff between Manning and Montee Ball wound up on the ground, and the Chiefs' Derrick Johnson was there to pick it up.

"That's us. That's what we do," Johnson said, referring to the sacks and turnovers that fueled the Chiefs through their 9-0 start. "It's just one game where we didn't do what we usually do."

Similarly, coach Andy Reid described the loss as just one bad day.

"We played a good football team," Reid said. "They got us today."

The Chiefs had better not fall into that trap. They haven't been themselves for weeks, and to believe the Chiefs will return to their previous form is, in all likelihood, wishful thinking.

The Chiefs didn't get a sack in their previous game against Buffalo, either. The week before that, they had just one against Cleveland.

Not every opponent will be able to exploit Kansas City's defense like the Broncos, who have Manning at quarterback and an impressive array of receivers. But other opponents have caught on to Kansas City's methods of pressure and have adjusted. The Chiefs need to adjust as well.

"It's one thing to say offenses are catching up to us just because we lost one game," cornerback Sean Smith. "Our defense is still very good. We're not hanging our heads low. You've got to give some credit to the offense. They're very efficient. They don't make too many mistakes. But still we have to find some kind of way to force turnovers. We definitely need more opportunities for our offense."

Perhaps the Chiefs will bounce back next week against the Chargers and return to their dominant form. Yet some ominous signs popped up against the Broncos that more likely mean it could be some time before the Chiefs right themselves defensively.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, who had been a gem since he was pulled off waivers from San Francisco to begin the regular season, had his worst game. Linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali looked like average pass-rushers.

When opposing quarterbacks get rid of the ball quickly, as Manning mostly did and Buffalo's Jeff Tuel frequently did, the Chiefs look average, and sometimes not even that. So expect San Diego's Philip Rivers and other opposing quarterbacks to continue to throw quickly to neutralize Kansas City's pass rush.

"This league is a copycat league," Johnson said. "Whenever things work against you, other teams are going to do it, too."

Indeed, the fate of Kansas City's season depends on the defense pulling itself together. The Chiefs certainly can't count on their offense to carry them.

The Chiefs blew their only realistic chance to win Sunday night in the first quarter. After Johnson returned Manning's fumble to the Denver 18-yard line, the Chiefs had a chance to recover from an early 3-0 deficit.

Earlier in the season, they would have jumped all over the opportunity. This time, they returned the favor on the first play when fullback Anthony Sherman fumbled. Denver recovered and, with the help of a 70-yard pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas, soon had a 10-0 lead.

It was Kansas City's first double-digit deficit of the season. Predictably, they couldn't overcome it.

So after just one defeat, the Chiefs' season has that fragile feel. They don't have much time to fix their problems. If they don't do it by next week's game against the Chargers, the Dec. 1 game against Denver might not matter much, anyway.

"We have a big division game coming up next week, so there's no time to feel sorry for ourselves," Smith said. "You take [the Denver loss] with a grain of salt."

They'll do so at their own peril.

Locker Room Buzz: Kansas City Chiefs

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

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.

Now, KC can match up with Denver WRs

November, 15, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The last time the Chiefs played against the Broncos, Kansas City tried to cover big Denver receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker with a pair of 5-foot-9 cornerbacks.

Brandon Flowers and Javier Arenas were often in position, but because they are a half-foot shorter than Thomas and Decker, they couldn't stop the Denver receivers. The pair combined for 14 catches, 198 yards and three touchdowns on Dec. 30, 2012, in a lopsided Chiefs defeat, 38-8.

[+] EnlargeSean Smith
AP Photo/Gary WiepertSean Smith, a 6-3 receiver who is in his first season with Kansas City, returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against Buffalo in Week 9.
When new general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid joined the Chiefs in January, one of their first priorities was to look for corners who could not only look players such as Thomas and Decker in the eye, but get physical with them as well.

"The No. 1 thing in corners is coverage," Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "It's just like receivers. The No. 1 thing is the ability to get open. But if you're bigger and can get open, that's even better. With corners that are bigger and can cover, that's even better."

The Chiefs signed Sean Smith as a free agent, and at 6-3, he's one of the league's tallest cornerbacks. They also claimed off waivers 6-2 rookie Marcus Cooper, who has been a find. Flowers also plays and will likely cover Denver slot receiver Wes Welker who, at 5-9, is Flowers' size.

The Chiefs are confident what happened last year against Decker and Thomas won't be repeated in Denver on Sunday night when they play against the Broncos again.

"It's going to be a tough challenge, but I feel like we've got the players to get it done," Flowers said.

Smith has been a key figure for the Chiefs all season. He has allowed them to play the press man-to-man coverage that Sutton prefers, and Smith's 100-yard interception return was the crucial play in the win against the Bills in Buffalo two weeks ago.

But it's not an oversimplification to say that when boiled to its essence, Smith was signed with the matchups against Thomas, Decker and the Broncos in mind. The teams are fighting for first place in the AFC West and meet again on Dec. 1 in Kansas City.

And there could be a third game between the teams in the postseason.

"I can see how you can look at it that way," Smith said. "But I think it's more that the Chiefs wanted to bring in some big, physical cornerbacks, some guys who can play well in all the games. It's not just about the Broncos. This team was trying to win some more games and do some big things. I'm just a small piece of that."

More accurately, he's a big piece of it.

"Sean is a huge man," Reid said. "He's the size of a linebacker, really."

Smith's length, as well as that of Cooper, could make a big difference. Given the accuracy of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who can often put the ball exactly where he wants it, having a tall cornerback could make the window very small in which he needs to fit the ball.

"It gets down to a game of contested throws," Sutton said. "You have to contest those plays. You have to challenge them."

The Chiefs pulled Cooper off waivers from the 49ers days before the start of the regular season. A former wide receiver at Rutgers, Cooper almost immediately claimed playing time by showing strong instincts, good ball awareness and excellent ball skills.

Smith and Flowers are the starters, but Cooper plays when opponents send an extra receiver on the field.

"He'll be all right," Smith said when asked how Cooper will fare against Decker and Thomas. "He's come in and worked hard and gotten better every day, so his confidence is very high right now. He's playing some good ball. This week shouldn't be any different for him. We definitely hold him to the same standards as everybody else on the defense."

It doesn't hurt Cooper that he's tall, at least in the minds of the Chiefs. Dorsey prefers bigger, taller cornerbacks. It's not a coincidence that Arenas, one of last year's starting cornerbacks, was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in the spring.

The Chiefs knew how he matched up with bigger receivers in general and Decker and Thomas in particular. Even over in Denver, Manning has noticed the change in Kansas City's secondary.

"I don't know how much height comes into play," Manning said. "Either the guys can cover or they can't cover, and these guys can cover. They're good players and they're playing well."

Double Coverage: Chiefs at Broncos

November, 14, 2013
The Denver Broncos (8-1) are the highest-scoring team in the league, so much so that not only are they the only team in the league averaging at least 40 points a game -- 41.2 after nine games -- but they are the only team in the league averaging at least 30 points a game.

The Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) have the league's best record, remain the NFL's only undefeated team and lead the league in several major defensive categories, including fewest points allowed per game (12.3), sacks (36) and turnover margin (plus-15).

And after the two have feasted on many of the league's downtrodden over the season's first 10 weeks -- they are a combined 17-0 against teams that do not currently have a winning record this season -- they will finally get down to some serious AFC West business Sunday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Chiefs team reporter Adam Teicher and Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold break down this game.

Legwold: Adam, let's get right to it: How do you think the Chiefs will come after Peyton Manning, who has been battered over the past four games?

Teicher: I would think Kansas City would test Denver's protection and Manning's ankle right off the bat. The Chiefs still lead the league in sacks, but they've cooled off considerably. They have just one sack in their past two games. On the back end, the Chiefs feel they have the corners who can match up with Denver's big receivers. They signed 6-foot-3 Sean Smith as a free agent from Miami in the offseason in large part so they could have a cornerback who can look Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in the eye. We all remember how Manning picked apart Kansas City's two 5-9 corners last season. Smith is big and physical and runs well enough to stay with either receiver. The Chiefs picked rookie Marcus Cooper off waivers from San Francisco at the start of the season, and he has been a real find. At 6-2, Cooper is also capable of matching up with Thomas or Decker. The Chiefs also have Brandon Flowers to cover Wes Welker in the slot. The tight end, Julius Thomas, could be more of a problem for the Chiefs. Strong safety Eric Berry has done a nice job of covering the tight end this season, but Thomas is a size mismatch.

With that in mind, how is Chris Clark doing at left tackle for injured Ryan Clady and how equipped is he to deal with the Chiefs' combination of pass-rushers that includes Justin Houston and Tamba Hali?

Legwold: At the time, folks were looking at the winless Jacksonville Jaguars as one of the biggest underdogs in league history when they came to Denver last month. But it was the Jaguars who gave defenses a glimmer of hope. They were more aggressive in attacking the Broncos' protection schemes, especially when Denver was in its favored three-wide set, and got physical with the Broncos' receivers. People have followed suit as Manning has progressively taken more punishment and a long line of defensive backs have tried the rough stuff against the Broncos' wideouts. That said, the Broncos have remained in their three-wide set much of the time, which often leaves Clark or right tackle Orlando Franklin working the edge solo. The Broncos are far more comfortable letting Clark do that because he has quality movement skills, but he doesn't have Clady's recovery skills -- few do -- and, when a rusher gets the corner, it's often difficult for Clark to get himself back in the play. Hali would give him more trouble because Hali never really stops working back to the quarterback and has worked more effectively to the inside from time to time.

I know folks haven't really talked on a national scale about Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, but what has his role been in their 9-0 start?

Teicher: He isn't the reason the Chiefs are 9-0, but Smith hasn't messed up a good thing. One key to their defensive success this season is that the Chiefs haven't put their defense in many bad situations, and much of that has been Smith taking good care of the ball. He has only four interceptions. An underrated factor in his play has been his running ability. Sometimes through scrambling and sometimes by design or off the option, Smith has been able to run to make many big plays for Kansas City at crucial times. That said, Smith needs to play better. He's completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes, and he's capable of much better. He completed 70 percent for the 49ers last season. The Chiefs are scoring touchdowns on only 48 percent of their trips inside the red zone, and Smith deserves at least some of the blame.

The Chiefs are allowing 5 yards per carry, and, although a lot of that damage has been done by scrambling quarterbacks, they've still been vulnerable at times against the run. Do you think the Broncos will make more frequent use of their running game against Kansas City?

Legwold: Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase has his roots in Mike Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" offense -- Martz tutored Gase in stints in Detroit and San Francisco -- and that offense always had a hefty run component. The Broncos would like to run more and more efficiently, if for no other reason than to protect Manning better. That said, they ran just 22 times Sunday against a Chargers team that tried to play keep-away on offense for much of the day. But the real impact of their run is when they get their play-action going. Manning was 9 of 9 passing for 187 yards and three touchdowns on play-action plays in San Diego. The Broncos have leaned on Knowshon Moreno more and more of late as their two young running backs -- Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman -- haven't always handled things the way the team would like them to. Denver wanted more of a rotation, but the gap in performance between Moreno and the other two backs has made Moreno the go-to guy. Ball has gotten more carries of late, but the Broncos figure to gauge the Chiefs' defense by pounding away at it a bit. But nose tackle Dontari Poe will be a tough matchup inside, especially when Denver runs the ball out of a three-wide set with Manning in the shotgun.

The Broncos have plenty of speed on defense, but how much do you expect the Chiefs to try to muscle up and run it at them?

Teicher: That strategy makes sense on a lot of levels, not the least of which is that, if the Chiefs are successful running the ball, they'll burn some clock and keep Denver's offense on the sideline. But Kansas City's play calling has been puzzling at times this season. The Chiefs have attempted a lot of passes for a team that has spent a lot of time in the lead, and I don't expect Andy Reid to change his methods just because he's calling plays against the Broncos. That approach is somewhat problematic for the Chiefs, as well. They've squeezed about as much from Jamaal Charles as they reasonably can. He already leads the Chiefs in rushing yardage and receptions. Kansas City doesn't seem to trust either of its other backs, Knile Davis and Cyrus Gray. So, even more of the burden would go to Charles if the Chiefs rely more on their running game against the Broncos.

Everybody knows about Demaryius Thomas, Decker and Welker. But tight end Julius Thomas seems to have come out of nowhere. Is his development a surprise, or did the Broncos see it coming?

Legwold: Many defensive coaches will say they can deal with three targets in an offense, that there are ways to double-team, or at least have help in the area, against three primary targets in the passing game if things are done right. But a fourth player who can consistently win one-on-one matchups stretches a defense thin and becomes an issue. That's what Julius Thomas has been, especially in the scoring zone. He is tied for the team lead -- with Demaryius Thomas and Welker -- with nine red zone catches and is a matchup dilemma for linebackers and for safeties because of his size and speed. The Broncos always saw flashes of this in offseason workouts -- Julius Thomas was one of the regulars at the on-your-own workouts Manning had right after he signed in 2012, so he meshed with Manning quickly -- and in training camp, but this is the first season he has been healthy enough to show it on game days. As you would expect from a player who had just one season of college football after his hoops career was over at Portland State, he has struggled at times with some of his blocking responsibilities, especially in some of his footwork. But he has worked to get better, and, in the passing game, he already is just the kind of receiver they Broncos had hoped he would be.

In the Chiefs' offense, Charles has already had so many touches in the first nine games. Can he stay healthy at this pace, and what effect would it have on the offense if he doesn't?

Teicher: That to me is the key to Kansas City's season. Charles is the Chiefs' MVP, in my opinion. He's only about 200 pounds, so he's not built to carry the workload the Chiefs have given him. He was in for all but one offensive snap of their last game in Buffalo, for instance. They need to find ways to lighten his load because the odds are he will wear down, but the fact is no one else has stepped forward to be a consistent playmaker. The options at running back are Davis and Gray, and the Chiefs aren't comfortable with either one. Kansas City drafted Davis in the third round for this very purpose, but he's been a prolific fumbler who, at least early in the season, had trouble grasping the playbook. The coaches say he has made progress; if true, he needs to play more. He's big and fast and is one player the Chiefs can reasonably grow their offense around.

Some of the numbers suggest the Broncos are pushovers defensively. But how many of the passing yards and points they give up stem from the fact that teams are usually desperate to play catch-up against Denver?

Legwold: Initially, at least through the first month of the season, that was certainly the case. However, the 506 yards Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo put up Oct. 6 came in a tight game the Broncos trailed 14-0 early on. The Broncos have had flashes of being a game-changing, speed defense, but then they will have lapses at times, and opposing quarterbacks have consistently pounced on those for big plays. Denver already has surrendered more pass plays of at least 20 yards (43) than it did all of last season (38). Certainly, the Broncos missed Von Miller during his six-game suspension, and Champ Bailey has played in just two games so far because of a foot injury, but they have not consistently pressured quarterbacks when the game is still in the balance as they did last season. Denver had several late-game sacks in 20-point wins that aren't quite as valuable as a second-quarter sack to stop a drive in a three-point game. It can potentially be far better, and, if the team wants to go deep into the postseason, the Broncos will have to reach that potential.

Overall, in all that has gone right for the Chiefs in the 9-0 start, how big an impact has Reid had on all of that?

Teicher: This sounds simple, but Reid brought a professionalism and instilled the attitude that the players are individuals and should be treated like men. That was a huge change from the way Kansas City had been run under the previous general manager, Scott Pioli. Then, the Chiefs were run like a circus. Different people had different agendas and were pulling in different directions. Reid walked in the door with an impressive résumé and ended all of that. Players were tired of the losing and the constant paranoia and being treated like kids, and so, when Reid -- with his history of success -- arrived, they were willing to listen and follow. He got players to put aside personal goals for the greater good. It certainly helped his cause that the Chiefs haven't lost yet. If they had been losing from the start, players might have already bailed on him.

Kansas City has been solid on special teams, but Denver's return specialist looks like he's the real deal. Give us a little scouting report on Trindon Holliday as a punt and kickoff returner.

Legwold: Holliday might be one of the better waiver claims the Broncos have ever had. In 20 games with the team, including a playoff game since being claimed five games into the 2012 season, Holliday has six return touchdowns: three punt returns for scores and three kickoff returns for scores. Holliday is just 5-foot-5 and graciously listed at 170 pounds, but the eight-time track All-American at LSU is a football player who just happened to have run, and been very good at, track. He has an inherent toughness about him that enabled him to play running back at LSU and a fearlessness with the ball in his hands. And then there's the speed -- Bailey called him the fastest player he has ever had as a teammate -- and Holliday was the NCAA 100 meters champion in a field that included Jacoby Ford. Now, he can be an adventure handling the ball at times, but he has worked hard to improve and the Broncos let him field more punts deep in their own territory this year than they did last season. Teams have taken to kicking away from him of late, but, in his short tenure with Denver, he already has changed some games.

That's a look at this week's matchup, enjoy the game.

Smith knows dangers of Denver's WRs

November, 13, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The last time cornerback Sean Smith played against the Broncos, he didn't see Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in all their glory. Smith, in fact, spent much of that 2011 afternoon defending the run as the Broncos were quarterbacked by Tim Tebow.

Things will change dramatically on Sunday night for Smith, then playing for Miami and now with the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver is now quarterbacked by Peyton Manning and the Broncos don't grind out their yards on the ground, but throw to Thomas, Decker, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas to be the NFL's highest-scoring team.

"Any of those guys can make plays at any point in the game," Smith said. "Peyton Manning is a guy who will spread the ball around. It might be Thomas going for 100 yards one week. The next week, it's Decker's turn and Wes Welker the next week and now they have a tight end doing his thing. With all of that going on, Manning can find the matchup that he likes."

Smith, at 6-3, is one of the NFL's biggest cornerbacks. After Manning picked apart Kansas City's pair of 5-9 cornerbacks in the final game of last season, the Chiefs knew they had to get bigger and more physical at cornerback to better match up with the 6-3 Thomas and the 6-3 Decker.

So they signed Smith as a free agent from the Miami Dolphins. He had the one game two years ago against Thomas and Decker and knows more about them than merely he can look them in the eye without needing a step stool.

"Long arms, strong and fast," Smith said of Thomas, who has nine touchdown catches, the same number as Welker and Julius Thomas. "Very explosive. Whenever you have a guy who's as big as he is and moves that fast, it's always a problem."

Decker has 49 catches, or six fewer than Thomas, and three touchdowns.

"Great route runner," Smith said. "Very good hands. He's dangerous, too."
Sean SmithAP Photo/Gary WiepertThe defense scored both of the Chiefs' touchdowns -- including a Sean Smith pick-six in the third quarter.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Brilliant football minds can watch all the video they want but they have no explanation for why the NFL’s best teams are not just good but lucky as well.

They can have no justification for what happened early in the third quarter Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs and their unbeaten season were teetering on the brink against the Buffalo Bills.

With Buffalo at the Kansas City 2, the Chiefs blew a coverage and left Buffalo’s best and most accomplished receiver, Stevie Johnson, uncovered in the end zone. The ball did not go to Johnson but in another direction and eventually the hands of Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.

One hundred yards later, Smith scored a touchdown himself and rather than falling behind by 14 points for their first double-digit deficit of the season, the Chiefs tied the score. They went on to win 23-13 to go 9-0 and remain as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

“We make mistakes while we’re in there," said linebacker Tamba Hali, who in the fourth quarter scored Kansas City’s second defensive touchdown of the day. “We blow coverages. There’s a lot that happens but we just focus on the positive. Sometimes things are going their way and we just keep playing and [then] things happen to go our way. Our guys are just strong-minded men."

Football purists might not like Hali’s answer but it better captures what’s happening with the Chiefs than any other reasoning. The Chiefs won’t be able to get away with leaving receivers open in the end zone in their next game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the following week against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers or in the subsequent game, a rematch against the Broncos.

The fact remains that Sunday they were playing against the Bills and undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel. He is Buffalo’s fourth-string quarterback, playing only because of injuries to the three quarterbacks ahead of him.

On the game’s most important play, Tuel didn’t go to Johnson but tried to force the ball into coverage instead. The whole stadium was shocked by his decision, Smith included.

“So surprised," Smith said. “It was like Christmas. You know, you go downstairs as a little kid and there’s a big box right there? That’s how I felt.

“Those are the plays that you always wish happens to you when you’re watching on TV. It was my day."

It was the Chiefs’ day, really. But all the days this season have belonged to the Chiefs and particularly in the fourth quarter. They again won the final period, which began with the score tied at 13.

The Chiefs scored both of their touchdowns on defense and managed just three field goals with their offense. But that’s not a crazy thing for them. They have five defensive and two special teams touchdowns this season and coach Andy Reid didn’t have to go back too far in his memory to recall winning a game in a similarly bizarre fashion.

“We’ve had a couple this year," Reid said. “We’re not making excuses for it."

Nobody is asking them to, but if the Chiefs think they can compete against the Broncos playing as they did against the Bills, they’re only fooling themselves. They were outgained in total yards Sunday 470-210 by a 3-6 opponent playing its fourth-string quarterback.

Yet if the Chiefs have proved one thing, it’s that it’s risky to underestimate them. They are on an amazing roll that goes beyond X's and O's.

Take the two touchdowns scored by Hali this season. Both have come from short range. He intercepted a pass in the season opener in Jacksonville and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.

Hali on Sunday scooped up a fumble and returned it 11 yards for the touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead for good.

The Chiefs were fortunate it was Smith called to go 100 yards and not Hali, who is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers and a relentless player who gives a maximum effort on every play. He’s just not built to go long distances, something he jokingly acknowledged.

“With blocking, I can run 100 yards if you’re not going to chase me," he said.

Smith is much better equipped to go the long haul. In truth, though, his touchdown return was so well-blocked that indeed even Hali could have scored.

“Do you know," Smith said, “how long 100 yards is in the cold?"

For the Chiefs, no distance has been too long, no hurdle too big. After going deep into the fourth quarter the past three weeks before outlasting under-.500 teams from Houston, Cleveland and now Buffalo, the Chiefs don’t appear they will pass any smell test.

Conventional wisdom will undoubtedly hold that they’ll have trouble against the high-scoring Broncos in two weeks, after their bye. But little to happen this season to the Chiefs has followed conventional wisdom.

That Nov. 17 game in Denver will probably fall into that category as well.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

October, 27, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts after the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-17 win over the Cleveland Browns:

What it means: The Chiefs, the last of the NFL’s unbeaten teams, raised their record to 8-0 and assured themselves of retaining sole possession of first place in the AFC West regardless of how the Denver Broncos fare in their late-afternoon game against the Washington Redskins.

Stock watch: The Chiefs entered the game leading the NFL in sacks with 35 but were held without one by the Browns until the fourth quarter. Justin Houston got the sack, but even then it was the product of good coverage downfield more than great pressure by the Chiefs. Tamba Hali had been one of the league’s hottest pass-rushers, but matched up mostly against left tackle Joe Thomas, he rarely got close to Cleveland quarterback Jason Campbell. Cornerback Sean Smith had a rough game, first biting on a flea flicker to leave Josh Gordon alone for Cleveland’s first touchdown, and later getting beaten deep by tight end Jordan Cameron. Quarterback Alex Smith had one of his most productive games. He threw a pair of touchdown passes, his first in four weeks. Dexter McCluster had seven receptions, including a 28-yard touchdown.

Unproductive second-half offense: After rolling up 20 points in the first half, the Chiefs were scoreless in the second half until Ryan Succop kicked a field goal with 17 seconds left. The Browns had allowed 31 points in each of their previous two games. The Chiefs even got a break in the fourth quarter when Cleveland’s Davone Bess, who had possession at one point, fumbled a punt return without being hit. The Chiefs recovered near midfield, but couldn’t take advantage of the favorable field position. Smith was sacked five times in the second half.

What’s next: The Chiefs are back on the road for the first time in almost a month when they travel to play the Buffalo Bills next Sunday. The last time the Chiefs were undefeated so late in the season was 2003, when they beat the Browns at Arrowhead Stadium to go 9-0. They went on the road the following week and lost to Cincinnati.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 3

September, 20, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 26-16 win against the Philadelphia Eagles:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Flowers
John Geliebter/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Flowers and the Chiefs scoff at the notion they were faking injuries to slow the Eagles' offense.
Were they faking it? Eagles fans weren’t happy when Chiefs cornerbacks Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers didn’t get up after different plays in the second half. Fans thought the injuries were a tactic to slow down the fast-paced Philadelphia offense. Both players got a laugh from the notion they weren’t truly injured. Smith pointed to a bandage on his arm covering the spot where he said he received an IV for the leg cramps that sidelined him temporarily. Flowers was on the injury report during the practice week with a sore knee and didn’t return after he left the game. "My knee just couldn’t hold up any more," Flowers said. "I didn’t think I was going to play today. I wasn’t going to fake it at the end of a tight game to go to the locker room and leave my team out there."

Killing the clock: The Chiefs, for the second straight week, were able to protect their lead with a long, clock-eating drive. They had a 15-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter that consumed more than eight minutes and ended with a field goal that turned out to be the final points of the game. The Chiefs had the ball for more than 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.

Leaving points on the field: The Chiefs entered the game having scored a touchdown on each of their five trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line, but that streak came crashing down in Philadelphia, where they scored only one touchdown in six trips inside the Philadelphia 20. By settling for four field goals, the Chiefs turned a game that could have been a blowout into a tight affair. "If we were any better, with the way our defense was playing, the game wouldn’t have been as close as it was," quarterback Alex Smith said. "It’s something we need to get better at. We had a lot of opportunities down there early. You’ve got to capitalize, at least a couple of times."

Fast start: The Chiefs, notorious for their slow starts in many recent seasons, are 3-0. By beating the Giants at Arrowhead Stadium in their next game on Sept. 29, they would move to 4-0 for the first time since 2003. Their schedule over the next several weeks should offer them a chance for sustained success. After they play against the Giants, the Chiefs will face Tennessee, Oakland, Houston, Cleveland and Buffalo before their schedule takes a more difficult path. Among their final seven games, the Chiefs will play against the Broncos and Chargers twice, as well as against the Colts and Redskins.