Sunday, January 15, 2017

Steelers Can't Scare KC

My confidence in the Kansas City Chiefs winning at Arrowhead Stadium tonight grows as I look further into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 schedule. Sure, the Steelers won their last seven games in the regular season, but two of those wins were against the Cleveland Browns, and only one was against a 2016 playoff team. The only playoff teams Pittsburgh beat this season were the Chiefs and the New York Giants – a Wild Card team that lost by 25 in the first round of the playoffs. That is the unabridged list of Pittsburgh's impressive regular season wins. Seriously, the Steelers managed to win just three games against winning teams. They beat the 8-7-1 Washington Redskins in Week 1, then they beat up the Chiefs in Week 4 and defeated the Giants in early December. That’s it. Embarrassing KC was the high-point of Pittsburgh's regular season.

By the way, if we want to put any stock in that Week 4 Chiefs loss, when Pittsburgh crushed KC 43-14, then we must do the same with Pittsburgh's 34-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3. The Eagles went on to claim a losing record and last place in their division this season, while KC only lost games against winning teams. We can forget those fluky failures in the early season for both teams, as the mentality and makeup of both squads is undoubtedly different now that it’s playoff-time.

After that win against KC and an easy victory over the Jets, the Steelers faced the toughest stretch of their schedule. They needed to travel to Miami to face the Dolphins, and then head back home to play the New England Patriots. Then, they traveled to Baltimore for a heated rivalry game, and then finally hosted the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10. Pittsburgh lost by 15 in Miami, lost to the Pats by 11 at Heinz Field, lost by a touchdown in Baltimore and lost 35-30 to Dallas. When the Steelers faced consecutive legit opponents, they started losing like losing was cool. When KC faced their toughest stretch of this year’s schedule – facing Denver, Atlanta and Oakland in consecutive weeks – the Chiefs managed to win every game.

When you look at the good teams KC already defeated this year, it seems clear that beating the Steelers is possible for the 2016 Chiefs. This team already played a prolific offense in the Atlanta Falcons, and KC limited that offense just enough to sneak away with a win in the Georgia Dome. The Chiefs already played three games against teams with top-3 sacks totals this year, and neither the Broncos nor the Panthers could stop KC from achieving victory. The Chiefs have seen defending Super Bowl champs, current Super Bowl contenders and numerous elite offenses, and KC proved they could persevere every time.

That should scare fans in the Steel City, but it’s the balance of this Pittsburgh team that should scare fans in Chiefs Kingdom. Kansas City must limit the production of the league’s best wide receiver, arguably its best running back and one of NFL history’s most underrated QBs. Eric Berry's ability to jump up a level and act like an extra linebacker on running plays makes his effectiveness against Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell critical to KC's success. The snaps when Antonio Brown lines up against Marcus Peters won’t terrify me, but every snap when it’s Brown on Steven Nelson will get hearts racing in Kansas City tonight.

Whoever runs the ball with more success will most likely win the game (depending on turnovers, as usual.) While we’ve often discussed KC’s struggles with stopping solid running backs this year, Pittsburgh isn’t the run-stuffing juggernaut they used to be, either. The Steelers D ranks 13th in rushing yards allowed per game this year, and the Chiefs allowed a frighteningly high 121.1 rushing yards per game, which is better than only six teams in the NFL. No team that allowed a higher average than KC reached the playoffs.

That doesn’t bode well for the Chiefs, but KC’s offense will attempt to limit Pittsburgh’s offense simply by keeping them off the field. That means winning the time of possession battle, and that means the Chiefs must also run the ball successfully to keep this game close. This is why Spencer Ware’s play tonight is so integral to how this game plays out at Arrowhead.

Pittsburgh’s defense allowed 127 yards and two TDs to LeGarrette Blount in their loss to New England, not to mention 204 yards and two TDs to Miami’s Jay Ajayi. Cowboys’ rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot also pounded Pittsburgh for 114 yards and two TDs. Unfortunately, Spencer Ware isn’t experiencing the kind of success we’re seeing from Zeke or Ajayi, but this bye week gives the Kingdom reasons to believe he’ll play well tonight. Andy Reid gets an extra week to prepare and an extra game to analyze, while Ware’s body enjoys an extra week of rest. If early-2016 Spencer Ware shows up to play tonight, he becomes a crucial component to KC’s game-plan. Even without a solid night from Ware, a combination of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce is tough for any team on the planet to defend.

We’ll have numerous Hall of Fame-level play-makers on the field at any given time tonight, which makes this a thrillingly unpredictable game. I can confidently predict a wet, raucous Arrowhead Stadium crowd that’s hungry for greatness and thirsty for revenge. The Chiefs will survive a memorable mud-fight tonight by the score of 27-23, and my vocal chords will ache for a week.

Doug LaCerte occasionally does Twitter stuff @DLaC67, and he still has Facebook

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Regular Season Stats Analysis: Points Scored

The 2016 regular season is officially in the rear-view mirror for fans in the Kingdom, and that means it’s time to analyze the ever-livin’ out of those regular season stats. Your Kansas City Chiefs rank 20th in the NFL in yards per game, but they rank 13th in total points per game. Five of the 11 other teams with a playoff berth this year averaged fewer points per game than the Chiefs' 24.3. However, four of the NFL’s five highest-scoring offenses belong to Super Bowl contenders.

The Panthers, Cardinals, Pats, Steelers and Seahawks ranked #1-5 in points per game last year, in that order (with Pittsburgh and Seattle tied.) Each of those teams went to the playoffs and won at least their first game. This indicates that a top-shelf offense strongly correlates with playoff success, but it doesn't necessarily correlate with championships. We need only remember that none of the aforementioned offensive juggernauts won it all in 2015. Last year's Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos ranked 19th with 22.2 points/game in 2015. They defeated the Panthers, the team that led the league with a 31.2 points-per-game average.

Three AFC playoff teams finished this regular season scoring more points per game than KC. Odds say the Steelers, who rank 10th league wide with 24.9 points per game, will face KC at Arrowhead on January 15th. If the Steelers lose, the Raiders, who rank 7th with 26 points, still need third-string QB Connor Cook to win a playoff road game against Houston today to earn another shot at the Chiefs this year. The New England Patriots, a fearsome foe looming in the distance as KC's potential opponent in the AFC Championship game, rank 3rd in the league with 27.6 points per game.

The two teams presumably standing in KC’s way to a Super Bowl appearance – Pittsburgh and the Pats – are the only other clubs in the AFC with better regular season offensive numbers than KC. If Pittsburgh takes care of business today, KC will face the Steelers at Arrowhead on the 15th. The last time Pittsburgh traveled to KC was the only time the Chiefs lost a game by more than one possession this year. You better believe the Kingdom will be starving for sweet revenge if we get that chance.

Doug LaCerte apparently has a Twitter account @DLaC67, and he still has Facebook.

How Dorsey's Drafting Helped KC to Current Playoff Position

Hank Stram and Andy Reid are the only coaches to ever lead three different Kansas City Chiefs teams to 11-win seasons. Only Stram and Marty Schottenheimer made it happen twice. Andy deserves a lot of love from Chiefs Kingdom, but we must also remember to appreciate the general manager who set up the entire organization for success. John Dorsey spent more than a decade developing his draft-scouting skills in Green Bay, and his expertise in that field has given KC a foundation any team on the planet can admire.

Just look at these insane draft classes:

In 2013, Dorsey drafted Eric Fisher in the first round. Fisher developed into KC's starting left tackle and is now a 2016 Pro Bowl alternate. Most importantly, Dorsey knew to draft a lineman who could fill Branden Albert's shoes once he left after the '13 season. Dorsey then picked Travis Kelce, who somehow fell to the third round. Seems like that worked out okay, too.

The Chiefs had several holes to fill in 2014, but their GM could only help with one of the draft's first 86 picks. Following a year when Justin Houston and Tamba Hali recorded 11 sacks each, Dorsey drafted another edge-rushing linebacker in Dee Ford. After Houston's rehab from knee surgery and the steady decline of a quickly aging Tamba, the emergence of Dee Ford gave KC's defense new life this year. Without him, the Chiefs may still be looking for their next playoff berth.

Even though Dorsey is responsible for drafting Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and the other studs mentioned in these previous paragraphs, KC's 2015 draft class could prove to be his greatest drafting accomplishment yet. KC's GM chose Marcus Peters in the first round. Peters is on par for a Hall of Fame career at this admittedly early stage, and the Chiefs urgently needed secondary help, so that decision deserves an A+.

Dorsey then picked guard Mitch Morse in the second round to shore up KC's flawed offensive unit. Morse has played 100% of the Chiefs' 963 offensive snaps in 2016. According to some awesome statsmanship from the Star's Terez A. Paylor, the combination of Fisher, Morse, Mitchell Schwartz, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Zach Fulton allowed one quarterback hit, four pressures and zero sacks against the league's #1 defense in sacks when the Chiefs beat up the Broncos two weeks ago. That kind of dominance was accomplished against the defending Super Bowl champs that needed a win against an old rival on Christmas night to keep their playoff hopes alive. KC’s offensive line continues to step up when it matters most, and Dorsey’s draft picks are pillars of that part of the team.

Injuries to KC’s defense also highlighted Dorsey’s winning strategy of drafting for depth in 2016. 3rd-round pick Steven Nelson, 4th-round pick Ramik Wilson, 5th-round pick D.J. Alexander and 6th-round pick Rakeem Nunez-Roches all played a part in the current playoff push when other Chiefs defenders lost time to injury. Alexander also proved to be a special teams prodigy, which made him a Pro Bowl alternate.

Throw in Chris Conley – a vital part of the passing attack moving forward – and we’re talking about at least seven Chiefs drafted just last year who made an impact for the 2016 Chiefs. That’s how Dorsey helped give the Kingdom hope for a Super Bowl.

Doug LaCerte still struggles to remember he has a Twitter account @DLaC67, and he really only uses his Facebook to shill these posts.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How KC Can Claim the AFC West in Cali Today

Our Kansas City Chiefs hope to wrap up the regular season with a win over the cellar-dwelling Sandy Eggo Chargers this afternoon. On most weeks, I would think of the Chargers as "New England Light", since they're a very similar, but less-effective team. Today, they're without their top-ten running back Melvin Gordon, but it’s still hard to tell how the Chargers will respond to losing against the Cleveland Browns last week. I can't tell you if this 5-10 squad will get mad and play well or get sad and pack it in today. This could be the Chargers’ final game in San Diego after all, so they could still be psyched into playing this game like it’s important to them.

KC’s ineffectiveness against the run would’ve been key in this article if not for Gordon’s hip injury, but the lack of their starter makes the Chargers’ rushing attack less-than-scary. Gordon’s contributions gave him the 10th-highest rushing yards total in the NFL and the 8th-ranked yards per game average. Even with him healthy, San Diego ranked 27th in rushing yards per game. The Chargers can only successfully run the ball in a certain context, and that context is handing the ball to Melvin Gordon.

Philip Rivers helped the Bolts become the 6th-ranked passing offense in the league, but KC has already beaten the #9 Raiders (twice), #7 Colts, #3 Falcons and #1 Saints. Rivers can still have a tremendous game and be beaten, and none of his receiving options are outstanding right now. Tyrell Williams leads the team with 989 receiving yards, which ranks 17th among all NFL receiving options. Dontrelle Inman, the #2 threat on San Diego’s roster, ranks 50th league-wide.

Despite KC having a clear advantage, today’s game is still tough to predict. The Chiefs' 31 total takeaways make for the league's highest total, but San Diego's 27 takeaways ranks 4th. If KC is on the wrong side of the turnover ratio today, the Chargers can shorten the game with short passes, limiting KC's chances on offense and ultimately threatening the Kingdom's chances at a division title this year. Despite the Chiefs being forced to play in the terrifying atmosphere and abhorrent weather of San Diego, I think the Kingdom rings in the New Year with a 30-23 victory. We’ll dig deeper into playoff drama once we know who and when KC plays next.

Doug LaCerte sometimes uses Twitter @DLaC67, and he still has Facebook.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Even With Flaws, KC's Defense Is Elite

Your Kansas City Chiefs just earned their spot in the driver’s seat to a first-round bye in the playoffs, but which aspect of this team will be remembered for getting them there? After seeing your Chiefs bailed out time after time by a turnover or a crucial 3rd-down stop, is it really a question? The stats could dissuade you at first glance, but the defense in Chiefs Kingdom is elite.

Don’t let the league’s 27th-ranked yards allowed per game fool you; only seven teams allow fewer points per game than Kansas City does, and six of those teams are playoff-bound. Despite not forcing any turnovers last Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, KC is still tied for the most takeaways in the NFL this season. KC's efforts against some of the league's best QBs prove that the defense stays stout when it's needed most.

Drew Brees currently commands the highest-ranked offense in football, but the Chiefs held the Saints to 6.5 points less than their current average. KC held Andrew Luck and Indianapolis to 11.2 yards below their current average. The Chiefs also held Matt Ryan and his outstanding Falcons offense to 12 points in the second half to sneak away with an overtime win in Atlanta. KC's defense limited Cam Newton, the reigning offensive MVP, and they humbled the former MVP front-runner Derek Carr by handing him an embarrassing loss at a crucial moment in the season. Twice.

Our Chiefs already played the teams who rank first, second, third and fourth in average points per game. The New England Patriots are #5. How's that for foreshadowing?

We can’t look too far ahead, however, as the Tennessee Titans could threaten our chance for playoff football at Arrowhead Stadium this year. It will continue to be painfully cold in KC tomorrow, and the Chiefs’ inability to stop the run makes Tennessee an opponent that should be taken seriously.

The Titans rank 3rd league-wide in rushing yards per game, while only five NFL teams allow more rushing yards per game than Kansas City. Only one of the teams worse at stopping the run than KC – the Denver Broncos – has probable odds to reach the playoffs. Tennessee is the best running offense the Chiefs will face this regular season, making Andy Reid and Company’s extra days of game-planning even more beneficial.

The mega-cliché of the “bend-don’t-break” defense will be tested on icy Arrowhead turf tomorrow, but our 2016 Chiefs consistently pass tough tests. It’s gonna be ugly, again, but I believe KC has the big-play potential – even in nasty conditions – to sneak away with another victory. I predict yet another gritty, hard-fought victory for KC. The good guys will win, 20-16, and we’ll all feel a little bit warmer here in Chiefs Kingdom. I hope.

Doug LaCerte occasionally remembers he has a Twitter @DLaC67, and he still has Facebook.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

3 Incredible Week 13 Performances, How to Beat Oakland in Week 14

(Pass formation) TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. 2-M.Ryan pass to 81-A.Hooper is incomplete. ATTEMPT FAILS. DEFENSIVE TWO-POINT ATTEMPT. 29-E.Berry intercepted the try attempt. ATTEMPT SUCCEEDS.

That's how it looks in the official scoring summary for last Sunday's game in the Georgia Dome, but the video takes us a step closer to understanding the uniquely grand moment Chiefs Kingdom just experienced. Let's take another step back and try, before moving on to Raider Hatin' time, to appreciate that historic moment, as well as others that made this last exhilarating KC win possible.

The Chiefs needed at least three incredible performances to claim their second-straight win over a playoff team in unlikely, nail-biting fashion. The first and most ESPN Films-worthy performance of the week came from Eric Berry. Upon returning to his home turf in Atlanta for the first time since traveling there for chemotherapy treatment, Berry changed the game with a pick-six moments before halftime and a late-game pick-two that stood as the Chiefs' one-point margin of victory.

Despite the purely poetic eight points put up by Berry, KC still needed help from their offense. Actually, the Chiefs are scoring about half their points via special teams and defense, but every team needs their offensive playmakers to make plays on occasion. A 418-yard, 28-point day for the Falcons offense made a solid game from KC's offense essential. Thankfully for Chiefs Kingdom, Alex Smith played perhaps his most complete game of the season.

The #2 and #3 incredible individual performances from last Sunday's win go hand-in-hand, as Smith and Travis Kelce spent the afternoon playing like the planet's best tight end-QB duo. Kelce caught eight of Alex's 21 completed passes and accounted for 140 of Smith's 270 passing yards. Criticism of KC's franchise QB has been so heavy, so recent and so justifiable that it makes his stellar performance last week feel almost surreal. Kelce's output, although impressive, looks much more believable, especially when measured by his recent success; this is his third-straight game with over 100 receiving yards. Tonight, in the bitter cold of a Kansas City winter that just arrived in earnest, short passes to Kelce could be the Chiefs' bread and butter.

This one could be ugly, but mostly for the right reasons. If you haven't heard, it's expected to be brutally cold at Arrowhead. Wind chill is expected to range anywhere from five to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for tonight's game. I'll just leave this tweet here...
Okay, those cold-weather numbers come against two stout defensive teams in the Broncos and, you know, our Chiefs. With that in mind, I still don't know how well Carr or the vast majority of quarterbacks can fare in this certain context. It's tough to envision anybody playing well in a road game in the record-breakingly raucous Arrowhead Stadium in temperatures well below freezing against a 9-3 Chiefs team coming off back-to-back stunning, swag-inducing comeback victories over playoff contenders. He may still become the MVP, but Carr will be an underdog at Arrowhead tonight.

The chilly weather could limit both team's passing attacks, but it won't make stopping the run any easier on Kansas City. Oakland enters Week 14 with the NFL's seventh-highest average for rushing yards per game. This is the highest-ranked running game on KC's regular season schedule. Oakland's defense should see a lot of Spencer Ware, too, which means a constantly running clock will limit snaps and make this more of a lower-scoring affair than if it were played in Oakland today.

Unpredictable play from Kansas City's offense also helps to make this game, well, unpredictable. After three weeks of scoring less against their opponent than the average points allowed by that opponent, KC scored more than that average in their last two games. It's hard to know which Alex Smith will show up tonight, but he and the rest of the offense seem to be trending in the right direction, especially with Jeremy Maclin now finally healthy enough to play.

I don't know if it'll be another timely interception from KC's secondary, a game-changing feat of athleticism from Tyreek Hill or a "welcome back, J-Mac" touchdown that will seal the victory for our Chiefs, but I still predict them to win a gritty nail-biter, 23-17. I really hope I can keep this as my desktop background for a while longer.

Doug LaCerte mocks the Raiders on Twitter @DLaC67, and he still uses Facebook.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week 13 In The Georgia Dome: Why KC Can Win

Your 8-3 Kansas City Chiefs just defeated the Super Bowl champs, but they’ll be the underdogs again today. According to, the 7-4 Atlanta Falcons need four or five points to cover the spread at the Georgia Dome this week. As I did my homework for this important meeting between two playoff teams, a trend quickly made itself apparent; the reasons why KC “should” lose this game all boil down to the coaching staff.

The Chiefs need a plan to limit Julio Jones’ effectiveness, but local media won’t let me forget that Bob Sutton’s defense never changes. Marcus Peters can shut down half the field on most plays while Jones lines up and attacks whichever part of the field the Falcons prefer at the moment. Atlanta is the league’s worst passing defense, yet we all know about Andy Reid’s stubborn and sometimes-stupefying play-calling on offense. That’s not to mention our struggling franchise QB. Then we have the injuries to not only the team’s best receiver but also one of history’s best running backs. It’s hard to pick the Chiefs to win this week. I’m still doing it.

KC’s stellar defense matches up today against the highest-scoring team in football, as KC’s recently-ugly offense faces a mediocre Atlanta defense. Last week, the Chiefs took an injury-riddled defense to Denver and won against one of this era’s greatest defenses. KC played a ridiculously incomplete football game and still managed to beat the Super Bowl champs at their house. The Chiefs needed all the tremendous help they got from the special teams and defense in order to win last week, but there’s reason to believe they’ll have more game-changing moments going forward.

Leading the league in turnover differential is not a fluky way to a winning record when those turnovers are clearly caused by a certain defensive strategy. Peters won’t stop jumping routes for picks, even if it means he gets burnt for it on occasion. A healthy combination of Justin Houston and Dee Ford, with some Tamba Hali sprinkled in, should consistently provide enough pressure to force mistakes from opposing QB’s. It’s simple when you read it here, sure, but Bob Sutton’s job is to complicate things for the coaching staff on the opposite sideline. Numerous game-changing moments like Eric Berry’s pick-six in Carolina prove that Sutton is doing so successfully. Maybe, to an extent, he doesn’t change the defense up because he shouldn’t.

The numbers indicate that Julio Jones can catch roughly a thousand passes today and still not ensure victory for Atlanta. Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders beat up on Phillip “now synonymous with toast” Gaines and the rest of the Chiefs secondary for 162 yards last week. You may remember that Denver was unable to win that game. Oakland’s Amari Cooper caught 10 passes for 129 yards while KC destroyed the Raiders in Week 6. Saints receiver Michael Thomas had virtually the same numbers against the Chiefs while KC handled New Orleans in Week 7. When a good receiver gets hot against the Chiefs, he’ll make his fantasy football owners happy, but it doesn’t spell disaster for Kansas City.

I know it undoubtedly sounds cliché, but the league-leading +14 turnover differential for your Kansas City Chiefs is a huge part of their identity, and a huge part of why they can win today. Especially after I described a team without an identity earlier this season, not mentioning turnovers would be simultaneously unsound as a journalist and stupid as a Chiefs fan trying to predict the outcome of this huge game.

The realistic chance of a KC win should give all Chiefs fans good vibes today, especially since this is the most “okay-to-lose” game of the season. It’s only a 16-game regular season, so there is never a loss that doesn’t sting, but you know what I’m sayin’.

Once I get another real writing gig, I’ll never get the chance to end a paragraph with “you know what I’m sayin’” again, so I’ll just leave it at that. Chiefs win another thriller, 26-23, and my emotional hangover continues.

Doug LaCerte tries using Twitter @DLaC67 all the time, but typically forgets about it until Sundays. He also still has Facebook.